Last Update: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mission College Students Voice Protest Of Ousted Professor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Samantha Jo Jaffray and Lisette Asturias   
Thursday, 27 February 2014 03:48

Photo Courtesy

For Mission College students, the last two and a half weeks have been very eye opening. It has been made clear that L.A. Mission College is run like a private college belonging to a group of people who have done practically nothing to help increase our school’s dismal 6.8 percent Transfer Rate.

It all started when a Professor named Guillermo Aviles- Rodriguez made the mistake of producing plays for, with, and about the Latino community in Sylmar, and for this he was denied tenure.

In his four years at L.A. Mission, Guillermo put on eight plays that have brought new students interested in theater to L.A. Mission and he has done this despite an unexplained reduction in funding for theater each of the four years he has been at Mission. Anyone who has ever taken a class from Guillermo knew something was wrong with all this.

During Welcome Week (Feb. 10-14), a group of students gathered to make our point of view and presence felt, and to collect signatures in protest of our one and only Theatre Professor. Students are not stupid; we know a good teacher when we have one, and so we had to stand up for what is right.

The president and some faculty have called this unjust denial of tenure a “faculty driven process” and have said that an instructor is at the mercy of their committee, who can if they wish get rid of people. But this is not the case with Guillermo; what we have in this case is a targeted hit on a professor who does work that his committee has called pornographic! How any of the plays that we have put on at Mission can be called this is a mystery to every student who has been in the plays.

So we students organized our schedules so as to always have more then one person at our designated table, giving up any available free time to support Guillermo. The response from the student body was overwhelming.

Many times throughout the day we had students rush up to our table, asking “is this the table for Guillermo? How can I help?” Even students who were unaware of this injustice, or had never taken a class with Professor Aviles-Rodriguez, were intrigued as to why the school was getting rid of an instructor that so many students love and support, a professor that is working so hard for the college, students and community; a professor that broke no laws and committed no crime.

It did not take long for the administration to send intimidating messages to try to frighten us.

On the first morning of Welcome Week, a sheriff ’s deputy approached a student, telling them to make sure that if they were discussing the matter at hand both feet “better” be on the grass that marked the free speech area and not the concrete. At this moment, some of us students were unsure of what to make of that statement.

What did this have to do with a group of students voicing their opinions and exercising their right to petition to save an amazing professor? The reason for this intimidation would become very apparent in the coming days. We continued to gather each day, speaking directly with students, faculty and community members, speaking about our experiences with Guillermo. We also spoke about some of the reasons why we believe his tenure was unjustly denied, and why it is important to have theatre at LA Mission.

In our first week, we spent all day, every day, on campus; we collected over 800 signatures! Unfortunately our College President, Dr. Monte Perez, never once approached us.

The strategy was to ignore us and to periodically send armed sheriff ’s deputies to talk to us. The group of determined students reached 40 people at a rush, and many of us spent 8+ hours on the campus each day, yet the only acknowledgment from Dr. Perez came in the form of deputies resting their hands on top of their guns while scowling at us.

We started the following week with more of the same, making our presence known, speaking with the students and gaining even more signatures. Throughout the week, we stayed inside our freedom of speech zone with our feet firmly planted on the grassy quad, continuing to show our presence and our fight for our teacher.

At the end of this second week a really amazing and powerful coincidence happened, one that would make us truly understand the importance of keeping us contained and confined to a grass quad. We made a plan to chant peacefully, sing and walk through the school when we were re-routed when Professor Leslie Milke, a member of the committee that denied our professor tenure, was spotted near the quad.

Some students respectfully approached Ms. Milke and began to ask her questions about the situation; she stammered to come up with answers that, despite her best efforts, were illogical and all mixed up.

It is clear that the injustice tha Ms. Milke and the rest of the committee perpetrated is weighing heavily on their conscience. Everyone knows that Guillermo has a stay at-home wife with two small children, but they did not care and instead of transferring him, they made a choice to end his career in the district.

This cannot be defended. After the conversation with Ms. Milke, students continued on, chanting and singing around the campus, finally stopping at the President’s office to deliver a copy of our student written newspaper as well as copies of our petition to show him. While Dr. Perez was in his office he did not take the time to come out and speak with us, nor did he say anything when his secretary closed his office door, so we could not approach.

As we exited the President’s office, a person told us where a meeting was happening on campus at that very moment, so we headed in that direction. Many people at L.A. Mission know that what is being done to Guillermo is wrong and unjustified, but people are intimidated by the bully administration and thuggish Senate leadership.

But we students are not. We pay their bills and put food on their tables, so the least they could do is have a little respect for us and our voices. When we found the meeting, we entered the room.

This was an open meeting that should have student representatives, but like many other meetings at L.A. Mission they are not made welcoming to students. Again, we were ignored, so we lined up against the wall and began chanting, pausing to ask if we could take some time to ask questions.

We were ignored repeatedly. Rather then respect students’ legitimate concerns, V.P. Daniel Villanueva and V.P. Michael Allen closed the meeting and left. This was a turning point in our situation.

It was in this meeting that students felt our power, and saw the only thing that seems to work. After spending two weeks on campus, peacefully speaking with students getting our information out, we ventured off of the grass and went and tried to get answers — answers that could have easily been brought to us. Why was no one addressing us? Why was no one addressing this situation? It was after this incident that Joe Ramirez, V.P. of Student Services, approached us and informed us of the Mission Colleges Rules of Student Conduct, and told us we had to stay on the grass, in the “Designated Freedom of Speech Area.”

Telling four students that we needed to think about our actions because if we wanted to continue on and transfer, behavior like this would make that “very difficult.” What this administration should be thinking about is what will happen to our college if they continue their poor leadership. One student, Ann Marie Catano, was suspended from school until February 25th.

When we returned to campus [on Feb.24], there was an increase in sheriff ’s deputies on campus, many of them obviously armed, as we continued to sit and support our Professor. Joe Ramirez approached us again, stressing the importance of us staying within the confines of the “Freedom of Speech Area,” and that there would be consequences if we dared to venture out. That night we held a candle light vigil, with students, community members and faculty, taking place entirely within the quad. When a large group of students had gathered, the deputies were sent to intimidate us, informing us that if we were not gone by 10 p.m., “something would happen” to us.

We continued to show our support, chanting, singing and projecting a video we made about our work to save our Professor. It was shortly after that that news reporters and cameramen appeared and interviewed two students. The reporter and cameraman stuck around long after the interview, because they were interested to see what the deputies would do next.

Conveniently, the news van was parked near to the sheriff ’s station on campus, and we never received another visit from these deputies. The next day, the students returned to campus to find all of our hand made signs torn down and strewn across the ground. Some banners had been up for the entire two weeks and were knocked down as a warning to us.

A trusted advisor was then served with papers that were taking away her “permission to be on campus;” deputies escorted her off campus. A few hours later, Ann Marie Catano’s suspension hearing took place and she was told she would be suspended for the rest of the Spring Semester! Ann Marie is finishing her last semester here at Mission before transferring and now, two weeks into the semester she is being denied a full semester of her education.

To add to the trauma of this event, it was ordered that her two children be removed from the Child Care center on campus, escorted by deputies! Something is wrong when law enforcement officers are sent to humiliate a woman who is going to pick up her children. That is the leadership that Dr. Perez is showing us students.

We students gathered peacefully within the confines of Mission Colleges defined “Freedom of Speech Area” for two weeks without any acknowledgment from Dr. Perez or any of the Board members of the Los Angeles Community College District.

Only when students were forced to seek answers and went to participate in a meeting were students acknowledged.

Is this how LA Mission wants to treat students who have done nothing wrong but ask to be heard? Suspending a student, escorting a beloved community member and advisor off campus, and further intimidating students with a large sheriff ’s presence can only fuel us.

Our cause is just and our resolve will not shake to this administration’s poor leadership tactics. If the L.A. Mission’s President wants people to keep enrolling, but does not pay attention to the student’s needs, then he will lose even more control.

Why can’t President Perez answer any of our simple questions? The administration and this tenure committee have bullied Professor Aviles-Rodriguez, and now they are trying to turn their threats on the students.

We are now seen as menace by this administration and why? Because we exercised our right to have a voice. This is not right; no one can contain the voice of justice, not in the back of a bus, and not on a patch of grass — not anywhere.