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Trouble Runs Deep at Mission College PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez | Editor   
Thursday, 17 April 2014 05:37

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L.A. Mission College located near the foothills of Sylmar is an idyllic location opened thirty years ago to serve the area's diverse community. It is the newest of the nine community colleges in the L.A. Community College District (LACCD). The school’s website lists it's mission statement to: “Encourage students to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners and to provide accessible, affordable, high quality learning opportunities in a culturally and intellectually supportive environment.”

But a large group of Mission College students, who have been holding campus protests, believe the community college hasn’t practiced what it's preached and, instead, takes punitive action against those who have been “critical thinkers.”

The latest example they point to is the school’s denial of tenure for one of their favorite professors, drama professor Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez.

“The problems run deep,” said a long-time employee of the college, who asked for anonymity. “At the top there have been a stream of people hired to sit in the president’s chair who have been brought in to provide stability and to improve the school’s poor standing and transfer rates. Whoever is the sitting president soon finds that the college is wrought with internal politics that make the job very difficult.

“Politically, those that really run the school don't sit in the president’s chair and there are clear conflict of interests by those that do run Mission.”

Students have a long list of complaints that include a long waiting time to see a counselor, the strong law enforcement presence on campus and the unsanitary condition of the campus overall. In addition to protesting, the students have also attended the school’s Academic Senate meetings.

“As students, we are allowed to attend these meetings. But now that we are attending meetings they are sending the Sheriff ’s [deputies]. Last week there were three Sheriff's officers at the door," said student Samantha Jo Jaffray.

The strong presence of Sheriff ’s deputies is viewed as an intimidation tactic to stop the students from voicing their concerns. Jaffray said she was told by an administrator of student affairs that she would have difficulty transferring to a four year university if she continued to demonstrate.

Aviles-Rodriguez’ Appeal Denied

Aviles-Rodriguez appealed the decision to deny his tenure, but he received a letter from President Monte Perez upholding the decision during spring break. Perez has told The San Fernando Valley Sun / El Sol that he could not talk about personnel matters.

Meantime, the students at Mission College aren't giving up.

They had previously collected 1,000 signatures of support for their instructor, held demonstrations downtown, and have spoke out at meetings of the community college trustees. They said they were disappointed that they all weren’t allowed to speak at the meeting. Instead the trustees opted to give much time to honor former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

They have produced on-line YouTube videos about why they support their professor. At the heart of their concern is their belief Aviles-Rodriguez was denied tenure for not bending to an “old guard that controls eveyrthing” at the Northeast Valley's community college.

“It’s as if they want to keep all the bad professors and get rid of all the good ones,” Jaffray said.

Hired To Build Theatre Department

Aviles-Rodriguez was first hired in 2010 by then Mission College President Judith Valles. “She instructed me to build a department and write the curriculum, and that's what I set out to do,” Aviles-Rodriguez said. “We were both enthusiastic and I quickly found that there was a lot of untapped talent in the area, including students, who could make their living in the business." “Valles, a singer, had a mutual love for the arts.

“When she saw my first production,”' Crossing the Line: A Latino Kyogen,' she told me, 'I knew we had picked the right person,’” Aviles-Rodriguez reflected.

Although the campus didn’t have a brick and mortar theater or a budget to speak of, Aviles-Rodriguez rolled up his sleeves and produced “outdoor” productions and creatively costumed the actors. He quickly made his mark and he invited press and community members to the play which received media reviews, unheard of for a community college first production.

That accomplishment and enthusiasm for his work would be short-lived for the young writer and director. When Valles left the following year, praises became criticisms and the much heralded satirical play would go so far as to be labeled, “pornographic.”

The play, based on a traditional form of 14th century Japanese theater called Kyogen, was spun to address issues at the border that poked fun at stereotypical characters including “the controversial Minutemen.”

While he said he began to feel the strain of “artistic censorship,” Aviles-Rodriguez’ popularity grew not only on campus but also in the local community. He formed a drama club and began to work with the San Fernando Valley Historical Society, and for two years produced “ALMAS: Voices Of Pioneer Cemetery.”

The successful production served to educate those who attended on local history through the “voices” of the drama club students in character, narrating the possible stories of those that were buried at the local landmark. But, this too would catch the ire of the Mission College hierarchy.

Jaffray was one of Aviles- Rodriguez’ students who just could not understand why he was being denied tenure.

“It was because of him that I kept going. I am a student who is older, who works and juggles going to school. He cleverly gave me the responsibility of costuming so that I knew I couldn’t let everyone down, so even when I thought I could skip school, I went. Whenever I needed to talk to him, he stopped to talk to me,” Jaffray said.

Student Suspended

As campus protests focused on retaining Aviles-Rodriguez, student and demonstrator Ann Marie Catano was suspended.

Catano, known on campus for her activism, was not only a vocal supporter for Aviles- Rodriguez but also in the support of a Chicano Studies program and for other professors and students on campus who she said have been “unfairly treated.”

Catano appealed the suspension but like Aviles-Rodriguez received a letter from Perez, dated March 21, upholding the decision.

The letter read:

“Dear Ms. Catano, I have received the recommendation from the hearing panel regarding your appeal. They recommend that the suspension you received for Spring 2014 semester be upheld. I concur with the recommendation. You are suspended from attending L.A. Mission and the other 8 colleges of LACCD.”

What has fueled the outrage for her suspension is that Catano was accepted to UC Berkeley pending the completion of only two remaining courses and now the suspension has broken that acceptance contract and dashed her plans for entering the prestigious college as she had planned. She now has to start the process all over.

Equally outrageous, her supporters maintain, is that when Catano was suspended her small children were ordered to be removed from the campus Child Development Center and the Sheriff's deputies were called.

“When I came out of the [child development] center, there were about five [deputies] waiting,” Catano said.

At the recent Cesar Chavez March in Mission Hills, a group of supporters for Catano held up signs that read: “Banned At Mission College.” She had photos of her children on a sign and collected signatures of support on a petition. Catano is currently seeking legal counsel.

President Misses Scheduled Meeting

Perez did not show for a scheduled April 3 meeting with students to discuss the tenure process.

“We were sent to three different locations to look for him,” said Jaffray. “We finally found him in his office, and his scheduler said she didn’t know anything about a meeting. He was carrying a tissue box and said he was sick.

As usual, they didn't inform the students properly,” Jaffray added. "Some of the students had missed work or class to attend the meeting and then there wasn't one.”

Perez had written a letter to the editor in the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol announcing that he was having this meeting with students on April 3.

“Usually students are informed via email, but we never knew there was a meeting until he wrote that in his letter to your newspaper,” Jaffray said. “I asked him to please circulate the next date to all of the students and he said he would.” Jaffray said Perez has scheduled a meeting with the students on Monday, April 21 but has failed [again] to send an email blast to all students and has not provided a meeting location.

She said the president “hasn’t made good” on his many promises to inform the campus student community.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 05:48