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Accrediting Committee Arrives; Mission College Students' Protest Continues Inside and Outside Campus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez | Editor   
Thursday, 24 April 2014 07:30

M. Terry / SFVS

On Wednesday, April 23, students placed signs on the 210 freeway overpass near the Hubbard exit leading up to Los Angeles Mission College. They wanted members of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges team (ACCJC), who are expected to visit Mission College this week, to see the signs that clearly communicate all is still not well at the Sylmar campus.

The students said they want to speak directly to the team, and have made the request, but have been told that they will not be granted that opportunity, so they are “exercising their right to free speech,” and are holding protests both inside and outside the troubled college.

An “Occupy Mission College” protest and evening encampment was set up along Eldridge Avenue on the sidewalk by supporters of Ann Marie Catano, a vocal student activist who was recently suspended and told she cannot step foot on campus or any other community college in the district. Following the notice of her suspension, Sheriff ’s deputies were called to oversee the removal of her children from daycare at the campus Children’s Development Center, a move that angered the local community and shined an even brighter light on the student’s grievances.

Last year, protesting students did meet with the ACCJC team during a site visit and shared their concerns.

“We were protesting in the Quad area and President Monte Perez told us to stop. We told him we would stop protesting if we were able to inform the committee of the issues,” said Catano. "We spoke to them about the school’s poor transfer and graduation rates at the college,and the culture of harassment and intimidation by the administration.”

The accrediting committee gave Mission College a “weak” rating and outlined several problems. “The same problems have been well documented since 2006,” Catano noted.

The protesting students believe there is a direct link between the failure of the college to provide adequate counseling and failing to address student grievances with the poor success rates at the college.

“Students get discouraged when they aren’t encouraged to speak up and don’t feel like they have someone to talk to for advisement; they give up and drop out,” said Catano.

Students held signs in English and Spanish near the school’s marquee. Signs that read: “Freedom Of Speech Is A Right, Not A Suspension,” and “LAMC Report Card: Student Transfer Rates/F, Corruption/ A+,” could be seen by morning commuters driving by, and arriving students walking in front of the campus. Motorists including a passing fire truck honked their horns in support of the students. A Sheriff ’s deputy car approached; the deputy engaged the protesters in conversation and then drove off.

Protestor Jason Ackerman, wearing an ACLU T-shirt said he has been involved with the “Occupy L.A.” movement and will be camping out in support of Mission College students.

“I’m a graduate from CSUN and there is a real sense of community support here for our concerns compared to other colleges which isn’t 'community,' but ‘commuter-ty,’” Ackerman said.

Accused of behaving in a ‘hostile’ manner when she and other protestors approached two professors and questioned them about public statements they made, Catano received a letter from Perez stating that not only was she suspended from Mission College, but from all other community colleges in the district.

The action prevented her from completing her course work and ended her plans to attend UC Berkeley in the fall. Catano had received an acceptance from the prestigious university pending the completion of two classes. Now, because she isn’t allowed to step foot on the Mission College campus, she is protesting outside the college on the public sidewalk.

“When I talk with people, it’s important for me to let them know that this just isn’t about what they've done to me, but about all of what has been going on for a long time at Mission College, they punish students and professors who question or have an opinion [other than theirs],” Catano said.

One of those professors is a very popular theater and cinema teacher Guillermo Aviles- Rodriguez, who has produced successful plays on campus and in the local community

One of the plays, “ALMAS: Voices of Pioneer Cemetery,” was produced in conjunction with the San Fernando Valley Historical Society and Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center. The play also coincided with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and student members of the drama club were cast for the production.

Mission College administrators and faculty were invited to the play; but only one attended and carried back a negative report back to the college critical of the production, although it received a positive community response.

Those who work at the college have told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that they are fearful of speaking out because they “don’t want to lose their jobs.”

“Guillermo was doomed from the beginning," said one Mission College insider, who asked for anonymity. “He is creative, innovative and isn’t afraid to speak up. He has courage and that’s threatening to the group who have held on to power at Mission College.

“You are are punished for taking initative. The climate set for him is, ‘if you turn left you should turn right,’ and vice versa. Guillermo just rolled up his sleeves and started producing without asking for permission. If he hadn’t, he would've been criticized for not producing.”

Aviles-Rodriguez was also criticized for producing Latino themed productions but he has pointed to the demographics of Mission College which is considered “a Hispanic-serving” institution.

“Guillermo does what he is supposed to do for the community we serve, but they quickly set a plan get rid of him after the President [Judith Valles] who hired him left,” the insider said.

Aviles-Rodriguez appealed the administrative decision to deny him tenure, but was not successful and has been notified that June 30 will be his last day teaching at Mission College. He is currently seeking help from the union and failing that will consider taking legal action. Aviles-Rodriguez said while he was told by a union rep to simply resign and seek employment elsewhere, he believes that it’s important to fight this decision and is hoping that his union will assist him, “so that no other professor will have to go through this.”

Catano is also seeking legal counsel.

Los Angeles Mission College was placed on “warning” status last year and cited in 14 areas for problems ranging from poor relationships and a “bullying” administration to the school’s paltry transfer rates. Currently only 6.4 percent of Mission College students transfer to larger colleges.

Students attending the college complain of a "complacent" administration that has set a tone for professors and students to "not rock the boat" or suffer the consequences.

Students told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol they believe the suspension of Ann Marie Catano was also a message sent by the administration “to stop protesting.”

On Monday, April 21, Perez met with students about the tenure review process and students said he emphasized the importance of the upcoming accreditation. Students attending the meeting told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that they were surprised that Perez couldn't sufficiently answer their questions and said he told them that he would check on information and he would meet with the student again in May. “We asked him what the period of time is that a professor under tenure review should be observed in the classroom. He said he wasn’t sure but thought it was about an hour. When we told him Professor Aviles-Rodriguez was observed for only fifteen minutes, he said ‘others handled this matter and that matter,’ to the point where we wanted to ask him, ‘If you don’t do any of this and don't know the answers to our questions, then what do you do and why don’t you know the answers?’

In addition to wanting Professor Aviles-Rodriguez to continue teaching at the college, the protesting students want the campus facilities issues to be addressed. They point to filthy bathrooms that aren’t stocked with toilet paper and have broken tiles, holes in walls and threatening graffiti that isn't removed.

Mission College minutes indicate that inadequate bathroom facilities have been brought to the administration’s attention since 2011 but the matter has been bounced back and fourth between committees and for now, according to the most recent minutes, has been tabled.

“We want a college that we can feel proud of,” said Jaffray. “Right now, Mission College isn’t a college to feel proud of.” Students hope the accrediting committee visiting the campus will do more than take a staged tour and limit their conversation to those handpicked by the administration.

“We will be visible on campus, and [in addition to the students outside of the campus] we will be in the Free Speech area and we want them to talk directly to us,” Jaffray said. “Some of us will be graduating in June and we don’t want to be threatened with suspension or jeopardize graduation, so we will be staying in that area.

“The college is supposed to serve students. We are the students and we need them to hear us and get a better picture of what's really going on.”

More Students Relate Unhappiness at Mission College

Ed. Note: The April 17 story, “Trouble Runs Deep At Mission College,” generated a variety responses from students yjay appearded on our website. The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol reserves the right to edit said material for space.

My bad experiences at Mission College has been when I worked at the Mission College library. My co-workers and I always found it odd that our supervisor used to come in at any given time he wanted, when he had his set schedule. He wouldn’t train us the correct way, and several times we caught him sleeping on the job, in his cubicle, with his feet up on the dashboard, and constantly criticizing our work.

As a result, when I associated with the group to save professor Guillermo, I was let go and told that they didn’t have the budget to keep me on board. Although the very next week, I went back and saw they had hired and replaced me, because I was associated with the protest group.

Hugo Sanchez

Dr. Perez I want to say that the students aren’t against you. You were one of us, you were judged, you had to fight for your education. You can be a role model to the students that go to your school. You are a Hispanic male with a Ph.D! In case you forgot the majority of your school population is Hispanic.

The students never wanted a war, but you fired first. A simple plea Dr. Perez, get it together! You can still fix what is wrong.

Lisette Asturias

Ms Catano’s activism is her American right. She should not be punished by withholding her educational progress.

Alonso Arellano

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 April 2014 07:43