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Director’s aid to AAP will not be considered

By Menaka Fernando and Charlotte Hsu

March 20, 2005 9:00 p.m.

Chancellor Albert Carnesale told students and staff Friday that
the university would not weigh two decades of accomplishments in
deciding how to sanction the Academic Advancement Program’s
director for having a relationship with a student.

Carnesale spoke with about 100 people regarding Adolfo Bermeo,
whose involvement with a student allegedly violates a UC Board of
Regents policy passed in July 2003 which bans consensual
relationships between students and faculty who have “academic
responsibility” over them.

Carnesale said he decided to set up the dialogue after meeting
with a group of students concerned about Bermeo’s future,
only to be greeted by another worried crowd.

Attendees, many in AAP, packed a Campbell Hall room so tightly
that some students stood in the hallway listening through two open
doors.

AAP offers tutoring and counseling, among other services, to
roughly 6,500 students, and faculty and administrators credit
Bermeo, associate vice provost for student diversity and
AAP’s leader of 20 years, with turning it into a nationally
distinguished institution.

“I recognize and appreciate the extraordinary value and
the remarkable leadership that Adolfo Bermeo has brought to
AAP,” Carnesale said before hearing grievances.

“I do not need to be persuaded.”

But just as deans’ fundraising abilities have no place in
inquiries into policy violations, the university will not consider
Bermeo’s UCLA record in deciding how to punish him, Carnesale
said.

“This is not a job evaluation,” the chancellor
said.

“We don’t determine right and wrong and fairness by
how well the person has done their job,” he added, saying if
Bermeo had been a dean, he would have been “out of
here.”

Citing the need to keep personnel issues private, Carnesale
offered no indication of when the university would sanction Bermeo
or what measures it was considering.

About a dozen students shared stories with Carnesale, some
hoping their voices would have some sway.

Josue Cruz, a fifth-year Chicana/o studies student, said when he
felt like dropping out and had nowhere to go, Bermeo, who also
teaches, offered encouragement. Cruz plans to graduate next
quarter.

Mario Escobar said when he came to UCLA after living through war
in El Salvador where family members were killed, it was Bermeo who
listened and pushed him to excel.

“It’s hard to say a young man like me has hope. …
But there was somebody who had that door open,” said Escobar,
a third-year Chicana/o studies and world literature student.

“If you punish Dr. Bermeo, you are not punishing him. You
are punishing me.”

The regents’ policy defines six levels of sanctions Bermeo
could face, ranging from a letter of censure to dismissal from the
UC.

Carnesale said while he understood students’ concerns,
AAP’s future should not rest squarely on Bermeo’s
shoulders. The program has already suffered because of the
director’s relationship with the student, he said.

“No matter what happens in the near term, Adolfo Bermeo
will not be here forever,” Carnesale said. “I will not
be here forever.”

Though the student-faculty relationship was made public due to
an alleged invasion of Bermeo’s privacy, Carnesale said how
it came to light is irrelevant. Police are handling that part of
the matter, he said.

Emphasizing that Bermeo had committed no crime, Carnesale said
he violated UC values.

The chancellor pointed to the age difference and
“extraordinary” power gap between the director and
student and said what Bermeo did “doesn’t miss
statutory rape by that much.”

A focus of Friday’s discussion was what it would mean for
AAP if Bermeo left his post.

Several students said Bermeo was vital to AAP, and that his
dedication pushes many minority students to consider masters and
doctorate programs. Several women said they didn’t feel
threatened by Bermeo and that they felt the UC policy, not Bermeo,
was wrong.

But others, like Christina Chala, an AAP tutor and alumna, said
Bermeo’s actions have compromised the academic environment.
Saying she wanted to stand up for those not present Friday,
“the voices we’re not hearing,” Chala said
it’s possible some no longer feel comfortable around
Bermeo.

She added that AAP is built from “all of us,” so
treating the success of the organization as contingent upon
Bermeo’s presence is unfair.

“We’re selling ourselves short if we’re
defining ourselves as one man,” Chala said.

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