Our Board of Trustees has thoughtfully worked with College leadership to review all information necessary to support and inform their fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of Mills College. We are united in our desire to find a new path forward for Mills that enables us to remain a degree-granting college.
While the transition of Mills is a difficult one for all members of our community, we appreciate the willingness of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae to consider the alliance with Northeastern University and explore how this partnership will benefit our collective future. Some vocal members of the Alumnae Association of Mills College (AAMC) have expressed their concerns via media outlets and the courts, but we have also received numerous messages of support from the community that have requested a voice on this topic.
Please feel free to share your support for pursuing an alliance with Northeastern University. You can choose to remain anonymous if you would prefer and list just your affiliation with Mills. We won't be able to publish every submission on this web page due to length, but we will try to utilize your submission in various other ways.
An incredible amount of hard work went into this strategic merger, and we now get to see Mills College at Northeastern University provide a transformative educational experience to students, for generations to come. In this partnership, Mills will continue to honor its long tradition of women’s empowerment and leadership, while looking toward new opportunities for college access, success, and innovation. This is a win for Mills and Northeastern, the community of Oakland, and the State of California.
Kristen F. Soares, President
Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities
As an alum who returned to live in my hometown on the east coast after graduating, my heart always used to light up at opportunities to connect, reflect, or share about Mills. Mills grads are strong. Mills grads are smart. Mills grads persevere. I hold us in the highest regard, and feel a special kind of gratitude and respect for the faculty who helped us find our strength and our power.
Lately, when I see news from Mills, I cringe. First it was sadness at the prospect of closure, now it is the angry name-calling and inability to hold respectful discourse that makes my skin crawl.
When I was a resumer and student, it was a rare day on the Mills campus when all gathered in conversation could agree on just about anything, independent thinking being a hallmark of our education. Also rare were insults or non-existent listening skills. A trend of beligerence is growing every day across our country. It is dangerous and violent.
Could the administration have done a better job of engaging us? Definitely Yes. Could we have done a better job of engaging the administration? Yes, Absolutely Yes. Could I have done better myself, personally in the last 6 months AND in the last 20 years? Yes and Yes.
In my work as a strategic planner, marketer, and communications professional, I have had the privilege of working with clients in higher education. Hundreds of small private liberal arts schools have closed in the last 10 years and hundreds upon hundreds more will close in the next 5. Mills has tried for 30+ years to make itself viable in a rapidly changing marketplace.
When I heard in March that the doors were closing, I hoped that our strong, smart, and preserving alums, faculty, and donors could mount a final effort to stave off an undesirable end, but, I never believed the school could “stay the same.” I’ve been eager to read a plan that met all the obstacles Mills faces head on and addressed the complex marketplace. I haven’t seen one yet, understandably, this is a herculean task.
In contrast, I believe Northeastern is a school that will survive the next 20 to 50 years, and I fully support the effort to merge with them.
It is time.
It is also time to do something we rarely do—come together. I believe that together, we can preserve what is so incredibly special about Mills and allow our individual experiences to guide the way. As a community we can support the development of a deal with Northeastern that is forged to hold on to as much of what makes Mills extraordinary as possible.
We are strong. We are smart and we will ALL persevere.
My hope is that Mills at Northeastern embraces our 25,000 alums—and gives us the tools to come together in support of each other; of students, of alums, and of the faculty of Mills College. And wherever Northeastern fails? We, as an association of alums—need to transform our fighting energy into a force for good to forge our own community of support for one another. We are going to need each other if we want to see the social justice, racial justice, and gender justice we seek in the coming years.
Angeline May ‘02
ASMC Vice President 2001
After several years of worry about the future of Mills due to dwindling finances, I am thrilled with the prospect of the alliance with Northeastern University. This is a unique opportunity that will allow Mills to thrive. There is hope in my heart for Mills to continue to provide each student with the environment that supports individual exploration and growth. It proved to be essential for me to know I could meet the challenges that life continues to uncover.
Nancy Sanger ‘64
Starting as a student in the class of 1980, then as an alum who was there during the 1990 strike, and finally (surprisingly) becoming employed staff at Mills, I endorse and stand with the statement given by the Mills College staff-alumnae. This has been a very difficult time. It breaks my heart to walk across the campus and think it may be no more. I believe the best course of action is for the Alumnae Association to immediately withdraw its lawsuit and join with the effort needed to make the transition with Northeastern University and to develop the Mills Institute.
Lila Abdul-Rahim ‘80, Staff
As an incoming graduate student I know I will be able to graduate before the potential closure date of Mills. However, an alliance with Northeastern University would provide me continuing opportunities in education, such as an easier transition into pursuing a Ph.D. I also believe that an alliance with Northeastern University would provide additional resources and opportunities while I am still in school. I believe and am confident that the students and faculty of Mills will be able to sustain the social justice and activist mentality of Mills beyond a partnership with Northeastern University.
Graduate Student, Class of 2023
Dear President Hillman and the Board of Trustees:
I know that there has been a lot of negativity surrounding the decision to merge with Northeastern. I just wanted to mention that I support the merger 100%, along with many of my freshman and sophomore colleagues. Right now Mills College is at a crossroads between either merging with another college or shutting its doors for good.
I was promised a Mills education, but it is out of my reach. This is as result of the never-ending lawsuits with the alums and the Save Mills Coalition. I gave up on receiving emails from them. I would rather try to remain neutral with this situation. I understand the fact that colleges must change to accommodate the ever-changing world.
I am sick and tired of the misinformation by the Save Mills Coalition in regards to the Northeastern merger. I would rather have a non-biased news source giving information about the merger from both sides. If the misinformation and the constant delays of the votes happen, then students will have no choice but to transfer. The AAMC and Save Mills Coalition say they support the students. I wonder what actions they have done besides giving misinformation and conducting lawsuits? Have the groups taken a recent student, faculty, staff, and alum survey on support for the Northeastern merger that doesn’t filter the responses? Did you do a town hall either in person or virtually to mentally prepare students for the possibility of the merger?
Students as sophomores and freshman will [sic] shut the door for you, as a result of delaying the decision to merge. I won’t be able to see my new friends that I have made at the transfer school and have the same class experience at another university. The professors may be different. I am concerned that some of the classes may be too big, and there may not be the same quality of support. It may be just receiving support from another peer, but not the professor.
I support Hillman and the Board of Trustees for making a decision that is essentially a financial gamble, but has great intentions for the Mills community.
Please vote yes on the merger, and mention to the AAMC and the Save Mills Coalition that the savior for Mills College financially is coming in the form of the Northeastern merger. Also communicate to the AAMC and the Save Mills Coalition with the message that the students are upset with the never-ending lawsuits.
Mayah Estrov, Class of 2024
President Hillman and the Board of Trustees:
I know you've received a lot of negativity for the Northeastern merger, and I just want to say very clearly that I 100% support the merger, as do many of the other freshmen and sophomores that I've talked to (who this merger, or lack thereof, would actually affect). I'm tired of the Save Mills group/alums pushing for this deal to fall through and delaying it, when their college futures and degrees are not on the line. They have also been spreading misinformation about the merger and what it would mean for undergraduate students and majors, as well as the endowment which is extremely frustrating to hear.
I was promised a Mills education and experience, and while I'm saddened this experience will not be exactly how I imagined, I understand that institutions must change and shift in order to accommodate an ever-changing world. The Northeastern merger gave me hope that I could still graduate from Mills—from this beautiful campus, with the amazing friends I've made here, and with the help of the best professors I have ever had. This AAMC lawsuit is hurting not only these dreams, but the entirety of Mills. The AAMC and the Save Mills group have continuously focused on how they are here to support students but are not giving us an opportunity to express our support for a merger that could save us from transferring.
Please know that all of the freshmen and sophomores I've talked to support this merger and are tired of the AAMC lawsuits—we just want an answer. We all want to graduate from Mills in any way that is possible, and that is what we deserve.
I support President Hillman and the Board of Trustees in making a decision that is not only financially responsible, but also holds the best intentions for the students and Mills community.
Please, please, please vote yes for the merger, and communicate to the AAMC and the Save Mills group that we are tired of these lawsuits and the constant back and forth.
Annalise Totten, Class of 2024
A Statement from the Faculty Executive Committee of Mills College
Recognizing that there are diverse opinions amongst the faculty about the direction of the College, the Faculty Executive Committee conducted a poll of voting members of the faculty. The results of the poll, concluded today, indicate that at least 80% of the 81 participating faculty are in favor of the following three statements:
We, the faculty of Mills College, thank the alumnae and friends of the college for
their expressions of support following the closure announcement of March 17. We are
inspired by their commitment to the College and what it stands for.
Yes: 64 No: 2 Abstain: 14
Given the College’s dire financial circumstances, at this time, the proposed merger
into Northeastern University is the best available option to avoid closing the College
Yes: 70 No: 9 Abstain: 2
Further delays in achieving a merger agreement are likely to weaken our ability to
preserve and enhance the best of Mills College.
Yes: 70 No: 8 Abstain: 3
The Faculty Executive Committee will continue to advocate for faculty interests in all of our interactions with the Mills administration and other stakeholders, and to insist that transparency and collaboration will produce the best outcomes.
Mark Henderson, Ph.D., Faculty
James Irvine Professor of Public Policy
Chair, Faculty Executive Committee, 2021-22
Faculty Executive Committee
Meryl Bailey, Educational Policy Subcommittee chair
David Bernstein, Arts & Technology Division
Tomás Galguera, School of Education Division
Jay Gupta, At-Large
Martha Johnson, Lokey School Division
Kim Magowan, NTT At-Large
Lisa Urry, Convenor, Natural & Health Sciences Division
We thank the alumnae and friends of the College for their expressions of support following the closure announcement of March 17. We are inspired by your commitment to the College and what it stands for. Like you, we agree that the Mills community deserves more transparent and inclusive leadership. Like you, we remain committed to the Mills mission of gender justice and anti-racism. And like you we are saddened by the current situation, which could lead to the closure of the College. Our current students and alumnae are the reason we work at Mills.
However, we respectfully request that you encourage the Alumnae Association of Mills College to withdraw their lawsuit.
If the lawsuit were to succeed and prevent the merger, it would not save the Mills we all know and love. It would still not be able to make payroll in the very near future. And it would still have a significant structural deficit that would limit its ability to thrive and grow.
The lawsuit has created delays that have prevented the College from reaching an agreement with Northeastern University, which would immediately alleviate its current financial stress. Additional delays could make it difficult for the College to meet its financial obligations, including payroll for both faculty and staff. Delays could also result in layoffs and the selling of its assets.
Given the College’s dire financial circumstances, we believe that the proposed merger with Northeastern University is the best available option to avoid closing the College. And we believe that keeping the College open under the name of Mills at Northeastern University has the best chance of not only benefiting the current Mills students, staff, and faculty, but also making it possible for our educational legacy to continue to evolve and thrive.
That said, while we believe that a merger is perhaps the only path forward, at this moment, we have no details about what the merger will look like and the administration continues to refuse to include us in any negotiations. If the Board of Trustees approves the merger, we must insist upon the preservation of faculty and staff jobs and full faculty involvement in the development of a new Mills. If we work together, we believe that we could be a powerful force of good, that together we could pressure the current administration to negotiate a merger that would preserve what makes Mills unique; and that we could insist that Northeastern not just maintain, but also develop our commitments to gender justice, and an anti-racist, inclusive education.
We badly need your support in this pivotal moment. And we hope that you are willing to work with us on how to sustain the best of Mills in this new environment.
Juliana Spahr, Faculty
Professor of English
Dean of Graduate Studies
David Bernstein, Faculty
Professor of Music
Music Department Chair
As the current Director of the Center for Transformative Action at Mills College, a professor of practice at Mills, Mills MBA alumna class of 2011, and two-decade-long resident of District 6 in East Oakland, the future of Mills means everything to me. I am pleased to add my voice to the many letters of support for the partnership between Mills and Northeastern University.
Mills has been a large force behind my personal growth and professional empowerment—it remains the first academic institution where I have felt seen and heard as a Black woman and I know this feeling is particularly true for many of the first-generation, people of color, lgbtq+, and intersectional identities that comprise our student body. Everyone in the Mills community has a unique experience that informs their feelings around the problem we are facing and the potential solutions. Some people are focused on the outcomes for tenure-track and tenure professors, some nostalgically wish for Mills to retain the original character that inspired their devotion, and some are willing to delay the future of Mills because the transitioning process has not been as transparent or collaborative as it could have been.
Many of us have been aware of the dire financial situation at Mills for more than a decade as this was highlighted and made public under the transparent leadership of Alecia DeCoudreaux. Of course, the closure announcement was jarring and felt like it was out of nowhere; As a parent, I’m acutely aware of how things rarely feel like the right time—including parenthood—and how change is generally met with resistance.
I was part of a Mills optimization committee in 2019 that reviewed a range of development plans, with the goal of finding a path to financial solvency and sustainability. Sadly, none of the comprehensive plans proposed by leading community developers from San Francisco to Black-led firms based in Oakland were able to develop a successful financial model that would come close to shrinking the growing deficit. The proposed options would have also likely changed the culture of the Mills campus while not adding the long-term cash flow needed for survival.
Looking to partnerships for a path forward when I learned about the Northeastern opportunity, I was optimistic that talks of closing Mills as a degree-granting institution might cease. When I learned about Northeastern’s philosophy around experiential learning I was even more excited about the opportunity to partner and double down on applied learning that enables internships and pathways into quality jobs and career opportunities.
I look at the larger implications of having a thriving Mills in relation to East Oakland and hope that Northeastern, a potential partner with a proven track record and resources, will help us continue to center underserved identities and show that development without displacement is possible.
Carrie Maultsby-Lute, Faculty
Assistant Professor of Business Practice
I was so pleased to read the announcement that Mills has the opportunity to become Mills College at Northeastern University and continue to confer undergraduate and graduate degrees. What an extraordinary way to put the question of Mills’ survival to rest, and for the College to continue to provide an exceptional education to its students.
Given the substantial issues that have plagued Mills over the years, I have no doubt that charting a viable course has been difficult, at best. That said, I’m quite certain that President Hillman and her leadership team have examined all the possibilities and worked with Mills constituents and the Board of Trustees to develop a plan based on what’s best for students, faculty, and staff going forward.
I know that change is hard and the decisions necessary to ensure a future for Mills are not easy to make. I have every confidence that the board and President Hillman have engaged thoughtfully in the important work of finding the best path to continue the legacy of Mills College and position it to continue its work toward women’s leadership, and social, gender and racial justice.
Alecia A. DeCoudreaux, President Emerita
For its educational mission to endure and be relevant for today’s students, Mills College must enter a strong partnership with a larger university. In 2020, when the College shared news of its partnership negotiations with UC Berkeley, many alumnae who have been engaged with Mills as staff or volunteers (including AAMC governors, like me) welcomed the news. We knew that Mills had been struggling to remain financially sustainable as an independent college for more than a decade. However, the announcement in March 2021 that Mills would close its doors as a college and become an institute—with no mention of UC Berkeley—caught us by surprise and was deeply disappointing.
Two months later, Mills corrected course and announced it was entering partnership negotiations with Northeastern University (NU). For me, this news meant Mills was returning to the best possible path forward. It meant that Mills had a chance to continue as a degree-granting college—exactly what the AAMC advocated for. It meant faculty and staff jobs could be saved and that future Mills students could have more opportunities than a small college could provide. I saw NU’s focus on experiential learning and career preparation, respected research and liberal arts faculty, global connections, and innovative and progressive culture (it’s the 6th most liberal university in the US, according to Niche) as a great match with the needs and interests of Mills students and faculty.
I resigned in August from the AAMC board because I do not support recent decisions regarding its lawsuit against Mills, which appears to have no logical outcome in sight other than obstructing the College’s negotiations with Northeastern. The AAMC board made the whole association a plaintiff in the lawsuit without giving members the opportunity to express their opinion or vote on this move. The lawsuit has become the board’s key priority, eclipsing other goals—such as its antiracism commitment and mission to promote connections among alumnae. It has become the pretext for vilification of alumnae trustees and others who support NU negotiations. Furthermore, I reject the hubris of some alumnae who believe they can make better decisions for the College than those with vast experience in the higher education field and years of working for or volunteering with the College.
Dawn Cunningham ‘85
AAMC Vice President 2020-2021
AAMC governor, 2017-2021
Mills College employee, 2006-2014
When we learned, in March of 2021, that Mills would likely cease granting degrees in 2023, we were heartbroken but not surprised. The College has long struggled financially, and the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic have threatened the survival of many institutions, small and large. In Mills we have found a unique intellectual environment that both challenges and affirms us as teachers and scholars of color. More importantly, the College has created a space in which students of color, queer and trans students, and first-generation college students can thrive, not despite but because of the richness of perspective, language, and experience that they bring to all aspects of academic and extra-curricular life. In the words of Congresswoman and Mills alumna Barbara Lee, “Mills College has been essential in the recruiting and retention of Black and Latin students.” The unique role Mills plays in supporting Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Middle Eastern students is clear in the range of organizations, events, and courses offered to and sustained by the interest and engagement of the College's students of color.
Now, with a possible merger with Northeastern University on the horizon, we are guardedly optimistic that Mills will not only survive but thrive. In addition to a greater and more consistent student enrollment, a partnership with Northeastern could enable the College to renew its commitment not only to its students but to its faculty and staff. A strong institutional partner should provide greater access to funding for student support as well as for faculty and staff compensation. Of course, a merger will also bring changes that we cannot predict. It is unclear which departments and programs would be retained in such a partnership, and none of us can be certain of our place in a newly configured Mills. Still, the possibility that the College will be able to continue to advance its commitment to gender and racial justice and women's leadership has, for the first time since the March announcement of its closure, restored in us a sense of hope and possibility. Centering the needs of our student body means looking for ways to carry out the College mission, even if in a different iteration than in the past. We ask the entire Mills community to join us in supporting the ongoing negotiations with Northeastern University, as guided and informed by faculty and staff leadership, and other appropriate stakeholders. At this time, we believe that this merger offers the greatest likelihood that the unique and much-needed work of the College will continue.
Ajuan Mance, Faculty
Professor of English and Ethnic Studies
Dean of Digital Learning
Wendi S. Williams, Faculty
Dean, Mills College School of Education
Darcelle Lahr, Faculty
Professor of Business Practice
Elfenworks Lectureship in Leadership & Ethics
Ashley Adams, Faculty
Assistant Adjunct Professor of Public Policy
We are Mills College staff-alumnae who collectively represent 91 years of employment at Mills and have dedicated our professional careers to supporting the faculty and staff of the College so that Mills can continue to educate students to think critically, communicate responsibly and effectively, and acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to effect thoughtful changes in a global, multicultural society. Our first-hand experience with the current Mills College administration differs from the AAMC’s or the Save Mills College Coalition’s characterization of it as exhibiting poor leadership, lack of transparency, and fiscal mismanagement.
We retain trust in the Mills College administration and believe it has acted in good faith, without misfeasance. We have regularly attended Presidential Town Halls and Mills Commons meetings led by the President that provide faculty and staff with regular reports on the status of the budget, enrollment, and the irrefutable fiscal and demographic challenges facing higher education as a whole.
Additionally, in our role as alumnae among Mills' 25,000 living graduates, we have received regular communications (email and print) from both current and past administrations regarding the state of fiscal realities and strategic endeavors, and have been invited to partake in discussions (in-person and virtual) about the state of the College and its future.
We object to criticisms by the AAMC and the Coalition that College administration has not been forthright in communicating fiscal dilemmas.
With the awareness that there are many unknowns and that there will be many changes in store, we support an alliance with Northeastern as the most sensible path forward for Mills to continue serving students and providing employment for faculty and staff.
Gabriela Powell Cervantes ‘19, Staff
Division of Academic Affairs
Angelique Felgentreff ‘90, Staff
Division of Strategic Communications & Operations
Joyce Hilton ‘12, Staff
Division of Academic Affairs (former staff)
Cynthia A. Jackson ‘88, Staff
Division of Academic Affairs
Kellie Kendrick ‘09, Staff
Division of Finance & Administration
Corrie Klarner ‘07, Staff
Division of Finance & Administration
Alexandra Littlefox ‘21, Staff
Division of Student Life
Sarah Nash ‘92, Staff
Office of Institutional Advancement
Anonymous ‘13, Staff
Note: In advance of the August 16 hearing, a version of this statement was sent to His Honor Stephen M. Pulido with a formal request that he lift the injunction and permit Mills College to move forward in its quest to achieve sustainability as an institution of higher education.
I know there are conflicting feelings about the possibility of Mills College entering into an alliance with Northeastern University, but here’s my personal perspective. I have been at Mills for the past nine years and I have seen the irreparable toll that a series of painful cuts, pivots, and increasing workloads have had on my colleagues. I have seen people deal with anxiety, stress, frustration, and constant uncertainty while simultaneously being unexplainably loyal to this place and working themselves harder and harder trying to reverse the course. It is heartbreaking. I've seen my colleagues show a great amount of resilience, but years of working in limbo have taken their toll. I've seen firsthand just how vulnerable my colleagues are right now, and I am hoping for a timely resolution that will allow us to move ahead with the merger, to start creating again, and focus our energy on the future.
I am looking forward to the merger that will help Mills enter its new chapter. The chapter where we envision possibilities, innovate, and focus our attention on how to scale what has been developed at Mills over the years.
I got to meet the Northeastern team during its visit to Mills, and this experience was much different than other collaborations we’ve explored. The team included senior leadership, such as the president and provost. Some things genuinely surprised me, including the level of excitement, curiosity, and respect they showed toward our campus and everyone they met during the visit.
The team also came across as genuinely wanting to help Mills stay true to its character while becoming a part of the Northeastern family. Yes, there was an elephant in the room—the issue of all-gender admissions—and they acknowledged that it would be a big change. They did not try to trivialize it, but showed understanding of the need to preserve the Mills legacy in imaginative ways.
The experience uplifted me. It gave me renewed hope in a smooth organizational transition that will allow current students to graduate, preserve Mills employees’ dignity, and show respect for our alumnae/i community. I realize that this transition will be a lot of work, but I am sticking around to see it through. As a favorite colleague said, “I’m enjoying thinking about what the future will look like, both short- and long-term—the difference between March 17 and June 17 is palpable.”
I know that many folks who deeply love Mills are trying to preserve it “as-is,” which is understandable because Mills came through for them when they needed it most, uplifted them, and helped them find their voices. Of course, they want Mills to be available for generations to come—I want this as well. But I also see that keeping Mills “as-is” means overworked and underpaid staff and faculty struggling to maintain the status quo in a rapidly changing world. We do need to save Mills and preserve it for future generations; we also need to help Mills change and transform into an institution that makes it possible. Partnering with Northeastern does not mean we have to surrender what we love about Mills. Let’s work together and make sure we can offer transformative experiences to future generations.
It will be a long couple of years, and it will take all of us to make it work—but I am hopeful.
I send my love to all who deeply care about the future of Mills, even if we disagree on the best way to ensure it.
With deep respect toward my faculty and staff colleagues, my students, and our wonderful alums,
Kate Karniouchina, Faculty
Dean, Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy
Mills College has been in my life as long as I can remember. As a multigenerational Bent Twig, pictures of my teenage grandmother lurk in the Reinhardt Alumnae House archives. My mother's 10-year Mills reunion photo includes my three-year-old self amongst the Class of 1985, and Mills Quarterly articles feature us three generations together throughout my tenure as a Mills undergraduate in the early 2010s. Today, I am a Mills faculty member, and I teach a myriad of classes across multiple departments and academic divisions. In short, I am as invested in saving Mills College as a person can be, since Mills represents pieces of my heritage, identity, and spirit.
Mills College has always been a place of fluid and dynamic change. I know this because the Mills in my grandmother’s time was not the Mills that existed in my mother's, and the Mills that my mother knew was not the same Mills known in my own time. Even today, only seven years after my graduation, Mills College is noticeably evolved.
For all their value, things like tradition and ceremony do not define Mills College. Rather, the experience of Mills College defines its institutions. Ever-changing and striking, the Mills experience exists because of the rippling legacy of its faculty, students, alumnae, and their communities. And while the future of Mills College is uncertain, there is one thing that I know to be true: the Mills experience will fade to a permanent silence when Mills’ faculty are scattered, its students severed from their academic empowerment, and historic lands sold to the highest bidder for development.
It is up to us—those enriched by our own versions of Mills College—to ensure that
generations to come have a chance to find their own Mills experience. The circumstances
for these generations may be radically different from what we may envision, but radical
change is Mills’ nature.
I plead with my fellow alumnae to accept any circumstance in which the Mills experience can live on and be shared. As such, I fully and wholeheartedly support an alliance of Mills College with an institution like Northeastern University.
Camille Kaslan ‘14, Faculty
Assistant Adjunct Professor of Chemistry
This is my sixteenth year as a faculty member at Mills. It has been my life, my passion, and my honor to teach here. Through Mills, I have had the ability to inspire and mentor many individuals. In turn, I have been educated by these same individuals. Undeniably, I am a better person because of Mills. However, Mills has been dying for a long time. Faculty, staff, our administration, all of them have taken pay cuts or no pay increases, no pension matches, etc. which makes living in the Bay Area challenging. In addition, we struggle with budget cut after budget cut, trying to maintain our high standards and ensure an amazing experience for our students.
When I heard the news of our closure in March, it was heartbreaking but not shocking. I think I had already acknowledged Mills was done. I hear many voices saying: the students are out there, you can recruit, you can attract them. I’m here to say you are wrong. I’ve worked with Admissions for fifteen years with the Hellman Summer Bridge Program. Sure, there are some that find Mills is their destination, but for many, it’s not. For example, I could not award $38K in financial aid from a grant that I wrote to persuade students to come to Mills, or when they came—convince them to stay, even with that money. Because sadly this experience is not always what current students want.
Our lack of infrastructure doesn’t help. Mills students are frustrated with not being able to receive answers to questions in a timely manner: registration, financial aid, admissions, etc. A lack of money does this. It gradually erodes not just buildings but also the staff needed to run those buildings and offices. We have made cuts to staff and fired tenured faculty; nothing, unfortunately, has helped.
I am exhausted. My fellow faculty are. Staff are struggling to pay bills. We are all tired. I can’t say that I agree with everything that’s happened. Who could? I’m certain that’s accurate of any complex situation. However, what I do appreciate is that we cannot keep going as we are. Like anything on this planet, biological and non, if you want to endure you must evolve. For us, that evolution is a merger.
I believe in our Board of Trustees when they have apprised us that they have accomplished whatever they could to make Mills work. I know that our trustees bear fiduciary responsibilities and that they can be held liable for any breach of that duty. I understand that not all board members might be financial wizards, but I expect them to ask the questions when they need to, to understand and fulfill these responsibilities. However, I am confused why a board member appears not to have performed their due diligence before the announcement and then took the college to court causing more uncertainty in its staff and faculty.
To the few alums that are protesting the merger with Northeastern University, please note that you do not represent me, and I do not agree with your current trajectory. I support the merger. Please consider putting your energy and your money, into supporting the vision of a Mills Institute. Stop wasting money lining a lawyer’s pockets. Mills College at Northeastern gives us hope. The merger gives a chance at awarding our staff the salaries they deserve, recruiting faculty to continue this amazing work, shoring up our infrastructure, and allowing the current students to graduate from Mills. The alternatives do not.
The future is what we make it, even if we don’t know what it will look like. Mills is a strong college, but to grow it must evolve. Do not hold it to the ideals of the past.
Helen Walter, Faculty
Visiting Associate Professor, Biology
Small World Initiative Principal Investigator
Director, Hellman Summer Science & Math
I sympathize with alumnae wanting to retain Mills as an independent college (faculty do too) and agree that the administration has not always been forthright; however, having lived through decades of under-enrollment, deficits, and underpayment, I know that the only chance of retaining any of Mills as a degree-granting institution is through a partnership.
We don't know what a partnership would bring, but we know that the only alternative is all of the faculty and staff losing their jobs and dispersing. However nobly minded, anyone trying to block a partnership is damning the faculty and staff who have given so much.
Ellen Spertus, Faculty
Professor of Computer Science
Elinor Kilgore Snyder Professor
I have been on the Mills faculty since 2010 and I fully support Mills' efforts to pursue an alliance with Northeastern University. While it is sad that Mills cannot continue as an independent institution, the status quo is not viable.
If Mills is prevented from pursuing an alliance with Northeastern there will be no future for Mills after May 2023 and the next two years will get more and more challenging for those of us who are left. Faculty and staff are underpaid, overworked, and concerned about their own futures.The uncertainty is demoralizing for faculty, staff, and students and many have departed or plan to leave if the situation is not resolved soon.
We need to move forward with a vision for the future that is viable, even if it's not everything that some would hope for. The Northeastern alliance has generated more hope and excitement than I've seen at Mills for a long time. I firmly believe that it is the best hope for a future that can sustain Mills' mission for generations to come.
It would be tragic to have such a promising option derailed by a small group of disgruntled alums whose views don't represent those of us who are at Mills every day.
Carolyn Sherwood Call, Faculty
Professor of Practice
Business Department Chair
I have been very concerned for some time now about the direction that the AAMC is headed as it pursues legal action against Mills College. I want to let the Mills College community know where I stand as a former president of the AAMC and a former College trustee:
There has been some speculation as to why I decided to resign as Mills College Trustee last year. Please know that it was not because I had disagreement in any way with the decisions the Board of Trustees were making regarding the future of the College.
My fervent hope is that now that the AAMC President has the financial information about the College as requested by the lawsuit, the AAMC will pursue no further legal action against Mills!
N.T. Lucy Do ‘75
Trustee, Mills College Board of Trustees, 2013-2016; 2017-2020
Chair, AAMC Travel Committee, 2009–2019
AAMC President, 2013–2016
AAMC Board of Governors, 2009–2016
AAMC Treasurer, 2012–2013
Chair, AAMC Nominating Committee, 2011
It saddens me to think about losing this campus and it's rich history, but more will be lost if we don't act now and act quickly. Raising a certain amount of money to remain open and independent will only keep us floating along for a few more years before we arrive at the exact same circumstances we are seeing today. For me, it is not just about keeping the college open. It is about providing better access to resources for students, staff, faculty, and the larger Oakland community. Mills has shown that they cannot do this while remaining an independent institution. Mills has ideals and values it holds but cannot live up to under current financial constraints. To pursue a partnership with Northeastern gives me hope that Mills will become an even stronger institution that can better support its community.
Alana Guth, Staff, Class of 2022
I am withdrawing my support from the AAMC's lawsuit. Looking over the court documents between the College and the AAMC, and reading comments from folks for and against the NU merger, I feel strongly that the AAMC's lawsuit is no longer a useful endeavor. I initially supported the lawsuit during conversations re: UC Berkeley and the Institute, but the situation has evolved. We are not in March 2021 anymore. The AAMC says it is fighting for Mills to remain a degree-granting institution. NU merger is a path toward that—likely the best option that will come our way.
Since my time as a student at Mills starting in 2010, during my tenure as an employee from 2012-2016, and during my time as an active and involved alumna, the College has been in a dire financial situation. During my time as an employee in the Office of Institutional Advancement I went through two layoffs—layoffs which have continued to occur every few years since I left. While I disagree with a number of the decisions the Board of Trustees have made (and a strong distrust of trustees who have served for longer than five years)—cutting admissions and fundraising staff in particular—I do believe their decision to announce a teach-out plan and solicit negotiations with NU to be the right move for the College at this time.
I encourage the AAMC to do your best to regain a working relationship with the College and ensure that alumnae voices are heard during the merger discussions. We should be careful not to burn the bridge the AAMC so recently rebuilt with the College in developing and adopting the 2017 MOC.
I encourage the AAMC to return to the roots. Listen to alumnae, rejoin the conversations in good faith, and continue to advocate for alumnae interests. Dragging alumnae, the College, and the AAMC through a prolonged lawsuit is not in anyone's best interest. Don't let your pride become *our* fall.
Allison Marin ‘12
Transfer student, English-Creative Writing, El Campanil Club donor, 5-year employee
In this time of tremendous challenge for small liberal arts colleges, I am eager that Mills’ uniqueness and educational values are preserved for future generations. An alliance with Northeastern University appears to provide such an opportunity.
Efforts over the recent past to preserve Mills as a small women’s liberal arts college have floundered. The opportunity to merge with Northeastern as a satellite campus seems to offer an exciting future for Mills.
I am horrified to see that AAMC resources (financial or otherwise) are being wasted on a legal challenge, rather than to collaborate with Mills’ leadership in their effort to forge a dynamic new future for the institution that we all value.
Lisa Taylor ‘64
Having recently witnessed the decline in Mills’ ability to support students, and fairly compensate faculty and staff—and as much as it breaks my heart for Mills to lose autonomy—we need this partnership with NEU. Mills was once a seminary that transitioned to a college; it’s the course of evolution in higher education for women and gender non-conforming folks. It is time for the alum community to shift focus towards collaborative efforts with the admin and NEU to preserve as much of the Mills identity in this deal as possible, while also allowing the significant changes that will allow Mills to continue its legacy as a competitive and collaborative educational space.
It’s time we do what’s necessary to take care of the people who have been the heart and soul of Mills in staff and faculty positions. NEU is an opportunity to finally give raises and resources they so deeply deserve.
I wholeheartedly support the merger between Mills and Northeastern. As a staff alum, I felt the heartache and uncertainty firsthand when the financial woes of Mills was brought to light. I interacted with the president and fellow staff members in the campus-wide meetings discussing the financial woes. I was asked to assist my department in cutting our budget to streamline spending by 10%. I lived through Mills with no cost-of-living increases for many years. As the deficit grew, our benefits lessened but all the while I stayed for a love of the college and students. As a student I did not feel the budget cuts as severely as staff did. My educational department worked hard to keep the students focus on learning to think critically and understand the world as a whole. Don’t think of the merger as a loss of anything but a collaboration of two institutions with a century’s worth of expertise and knowledge of educating young minds. Thusly, Mills will gain some of that expertise while keeping the social justice aspect that Mills students are wholeheartedly behind. Think of it more as a marriage. Not one of convenience but of love and hope. It brings hope to the overworked and stressed faculty and staff who are still working because they have an overwhelming love for the students and teaching.
Joyce Hilton ‘12, Staff
I am grateful for the transformative experience I had at Mills, and for opportunities to grow throughout my adult life as a member of the amazing alumnae community. Naturally, I have often thought of Mills through the lens of my experiences and desires as an alum, but I recognize that decisions about Mills’ future must center on the needs of students, faculty, and staff. I have had the privilege of serving on the Board of Trustees and seeing firsthand the deep challenges Mills has been facing. Mills has not had a sustainable operating model for years, and has not been able to fully meet changing student needs, provide appropriate compensation, or invest in needed maintenance. I’ve observed Trustees give generously of themselves and their resources, supporting numerous strategies to put Mills on a sustainable path. These efforts have gone on for decades, often with the active support of the Alumnae Association. It is painful to realize that Mills must make significant changes, and I know they come as a surprise to some. I am hopeful that the alliance with NU will allow students, faculty, and staff security about their future. I trust the Board of Trustees’ judgment in making the hard decisions only they can make, and I urge the Alumnae Association and all alumnae to support this work.
Melissa Stevenson Diaz ‘91
Alumna Trustee and AAMC Board of Governors 2013-2016
Co-Chair of AAMC Task Force on Fundraising 2004
AAMC Nominating Committee 2001-2002
AAMC Vice President 1997-2000
AAMC Board of Governors 1995-2000
ASMC President 1990-1991
As a Mills alum and tenured professor in a consortium that includes a women’s college, I’m disheartened by the lawsuit led by the AAMC. At this point it seems fueled more by anger than a feasible vision for the College. Mills helped me learn the importance of coalition-building and transformative justice to communities committed to social justice. While I respect fellow alums’ service, I have been disappointed that the AAMC has chosen to go it alone instead of reaching out to faculty, students, and staff to gather their perspectives so we might work together to help save Mills. I also see a disregard for the service and expertise of those on the board. In solidarity with the majority of faculty and staff at Mills, I support an alliance with Northeastern as a means of continuing the granting of degrees, preserving faculty and staff jobs, offering students continuity in their educational experiences, and supporting growing student interest in community engagement and internships that align with the College’s core values. I do believe, however, that it is essential to preserve faculty oversight over the curriculum as it is re-envisioned for the next generation of students. Carving out a meaningful seat at the table for Mills faculty in negotiations with Northeastern is the single best way to ensure that Mills’ commitment to racial and gender justice remains a signature part of the undergraduate curriculum for years to come. Thank you to all for their stewardship of the college during these very difficult times.
Andrea Scott ‘98
I'm a 1987 graduate whose first job was at the AAMC as a fundraiser. I was there for the strike in 1990. This is different.
In 1990 the AAMC genuinely worked WITH the College and President Metz to provide an option for reversing the coed decision. I do not believe for one second we would have been successful as full adversaries.
I understand the desire to obtain information. That's fine. But at the end of the day, decisions rest with the Board of Trustees. The AAMC can use its independence to lobby and negotiate with pledges and commitments, but we are not the entity with the right or responsibility for managing the College.
I am heartbroken by the circumstances, but I do not believe the Trustees nor the President deserve the vilification I see from some vocal alumnae online. We can argue and debate the factors that led Mills to this place, but that doesn't change where we are.
In 1990, the Board of Trustees voted to go coed not because Mills was at immediate risk of closure, but because it would be at risk in 30 years. We protested and insisted they were wrong. They were not. We have an opportunity now to preserve the campus and the name as a place of higher education via the NEU absorption/alliance. My hope is that AAMC will again work WITH the College to ensure that the best path forward is taken.
Please do not waste any more of the AAMC’s money and status to further a divisive and fruitless legal campaign against the College.
Cheryl L. Reid-Simons ‘87
While I am deeply saddened that future Millsies won't get to experience Mills in the exact same way I did, the news of the potential partnership between Mills and Northeastern brings me so much hope. Mills cannot continue the way it has, and this partnership is a way to build up a new future so that others can experience Mills too. Will it be different? Yes, definitely. Is that a bad thing? No, change is clearly necessary if we want Mills to survive. Northeastern is an incredible school, and Mills will make it even better. I fully support Mills pursuing this option, and I sincerely hope that this partnership comes to fruition so that we don't lose Mills for good.
Mira Mason-Reader ‘15
I am very grateful for the Mills education I received and for all the ways the unique character and quality of my education has informed my professional and creative life. AND I see the need to welcome change in the face of the financial stressors and demands of our time. I want to be a part of shaping the future of a Mills College that, although coed, continues to fight for women's leadership, gender inclusion, and racial equity through the 21st century.
Deirdre Visser ‘94
I trust the Mills College trustees to be doing everything they can to keep Mills alive and moving forward in a positive direction with its mission intact. One can only imagine the complexity of the process underway, and the pressure the trustees must be under. The AAMC lawsuit has the potential to undermine that process, leaving Mills with no path forward and no way to recover. As such, it adds another enormous weight to the burden that is already, no doubt, overwhelming. The lawsuit serves no one and should be withdrawn immediately.
I strongly support a relationship with Northeastern University. Their values and those of Mills align very well. I am very disappointed in the actions of the AAMC.
I totally support this partnership because it answers Mills' direst needs. It secures a degree-granting Mills College, retains an excellent faculty and staff that has supported Mills for decades, provides support for current and incoming students, and settles Mills' lengthy financial instability. I do not support AAMC leadership that fights instead of working toward collaboration. I do not support recalling hard working Alumnae Trustee VOLUNTEERS who voice independent and critical thinking. I trust my fellow Dance, Music, and Theater alums agree.
Y.L.P. Daniel ‘75
I agree that Mills should move forward with the alliance with Northeastern University. This is a time for change so future students will have the opportunity to experience the liberal arts education we all enjoyed plus the options of what Northeastern University offers. Mills will continue as a degree-granting institution and will continue with the legacy of our great educational experience.
The proposed alliance between Mills College and Northeastern Research University is fortuitous for both institutions. It allows Mills College to continue into the future in collaboration with a university that will provide for students of both institutions complementary experiences that broaden their educational experience. It provides the needed financial support that Mills needs now to enhance its beautiful campus, enable students to continue academically, and faculty to engage with an even more diverse student body. I am fullly committed to this collaboration for both institutions.
Cynthia Facer Clark ‘64
As one alumna, I support the potential alliance between Mills and NU. We need to move forward, move with the times, and look toward progress, not adhere to a model that is no longer viable and risks Mills' closure altogether. It's a shame that Mills is forced to waste its limited resources on legal expenses when those funds could and should be put to more productive uses.
Linda Bodlander ‘69
I wish I could say I didn't see this coming for Mills twenty years ago. But given the declining interest in attending an all-female institution, Mills must change because the status quo is not financially sustainable. The alliance with Northeastern, which will retain the Mills name, feels like a way for all of us to have our memories, while looking to the future.
AR Nicholas ‘79
While I am disappointed that this is the juncture we have arrived at, to save Mills, to save jobs, to save our campus as an institute of higher learning—this is the way forward. We can maintain our mission and with the financial support, can also use this as an opportunity to share and uphold our values. To those alum trying to stop this alliance—please think beyond yourselves and consider the livelihood of those of us trying to serve our students. We want to be here and we want to be paid fair wages and we want to teach new leaders what it means to be a part of Mills.
I fully support the statement of the 14 alumnae Trustees. Mills current and prospective students, faculty, staff, the Oakland-East Bay community and a sustainable future for the campus are harmed by AAMC statements and this legal action. As a former Trustee myself I am aware of the duties and how thoughtful and thorough Trustees are. Let's continue to faithfully deal with 21st century higher education realities.
Gayle Rothrock ‘68
As a Mills alum and intermittent adjunct faculty member of the college, I am of the
belief that an alliance between Mills College and Northeastern University is the best
known and most pragmatic and expedient way to advance the mission of Mills College—in
essence, the way that stands before us to save Mills. I have been very concerned that
the AAMC lawsuit, however well intended to keep Mills alive, will result in a dissolution
of negotiations with Northeastern and ultimately therein, an end to Mills College
as a degree-granting institution after 2024. I’m relieved to learn negotiations between
Mills and Northeastern can continue despite the lawsuit.
In gratitude and admiration for your efforts on behalf of Mills College and in support of a flexible but sturdy vision for its future preservation and expansion.
I continue to have confidence in the efforts of Pres. Hillman and the Board of Trustees to find a sustainable solution for the problems which have plagued Mills for many years. Mills today is not the Mills my friends and I knew in the 1960s, nor should it be. It saddens me to know that many members of the AAMC feel the school should remain frozen in an image of the past, to which there is no return. The opportunity to enter into an agreement with Northeastern University is exciting, and offers hope for financial stability and new curriculum opportunities for students. I support those efforts completely.
Susan M. Mckenna ‘68
This is adapted from my statement at the Trustees' listening session:
I am a proud member of the class of 68, the undisputed best class ever. At Mills, I learned to use my voice and stand up for what I believe, no matter how unpopular. I speak out now because I think I am uniquely suited to understand and appreciate the situation that Mills faces. For seven years after the strike, I worked for Mills Admissions as the So Cal Regional Admissions Officer. For more than 30 years I have been an independent college counselor, working with both private and underserved students.
Despite my profound sadness and sense of loss at seeing Mills cease to exist as we know it, I have known for many years that this was both inevitable and unchangeable. This is not a time for blame. Presidents, Admissions Officers, Development Officers, and Trustees have come and gone. Some have been better than others, some close friends of mine, but it doesn’t matter. They are not magicians. No one can control that the students are just not there, and that Mills does not have the financial strength to support those who do come. Even when enrollment numbers were at their strongest a decade or so ago, Mills was struggling financially. No reasonable sum that we can raise can change the inevitable.
Liberal arts colleges, especially women’s colleges, simply cannot survive without endowments in excess of a billion dollars. Many have failed, and others will soon fail. There are only 33 women’s colleges left and few are thriving. Most that are, are affiliated with, and/or adjacent to, coed colleges. As much as I have promoted Mills, in over thirty years, neither I nor my partners, one a Wellesley graduate whose sister is a Mills alumna, could convince more than a handful of students to attend women’s colleges. Only two have attended Mills.
I do not want to see Mills become a housing development or worse. I want to see students on the Mills campus, even if they are Northeastern students. I would love to see a Mills Institute, much like the Radcliffe Institute on the campus. I say this not because I don’t love Mills, but because I do, and I know there is no choice. And I am not alone. Our voices may not be the loudest, but I have the support of, and speak for, many of my classmates and others, some of whom have written to AAMC and/or the Trustees, who accept the reality of our situation and support the Trustees’ efforts to create the best future possible for Mills.
Patti Abelov Demoff ‘68
Let’s let go of the past and support Mills to grow according to the needs and the times. Be courageous and carry on with these plans to join with Northeastern.
Savitri Bess ‘61
I wholeheartedly support the President and her entire team, as well as the members of the board, who have worked so diligently to find a solution for Mills. I am grateful that Mills will be remaining a degree-granting institution, and I look forward to hearing more about the alliance with Northeastern in the months ahead.
Anonymous ‘95, Staff
Mills has been part of my life for over 50 years. I came here as a freshman, graduated, and returned permanently to Oakland after graduate school. My Mills education was the foundation for a long and rewarding career. I‘ve enjoyed the beautiful campus, the historic and “new” buildings, all kinds of events, and two generations of my family have enjoyed swimming lessons, summer day camp, and just playing on the grounds. I‘ve been active in AAMC by serving on my class reunion committees, as well as several other AAMC committees. Oh yes, I've also been a small but steady donor to both Mills and AAMC.
With this long-term investment of my time, talent, and treasure, it has been difficult to watch Mills‘ long-term financial problems push it to the brink of closure. I would love to keep Mills “as-is”, i.e., as I remember it, but that's suicidal for Mills. When a system stops changing and responding effectively to internal or external pressures, it gradually declines into disorder/dies (entropy). Mills has been in financial decline for years, and I join with many other alumnae in supporting the efforts by the Board of Trustees and President Hillman to move ahead with a partnership with Northeastern University, which, despite all the misinformation swirling around, appears to offer many rejuvenating opportunities for Mills to (1) return to doing what it does best (providing a high-quality education for a diverse student body) and (2) become a model 21st Century liberal-arts educational institution.
Finally, I am in firm opposition to the lawsuit brought by AAMC, which has now attracted a cross-complaint from Mills. This strategy of keeping Mills an independent college runs a very high risk of more financial damage to both Mills and AAMC, which neither can afford. It also is doing irreparable damage to the 142-year-old interdependent relationship between the College and AAMC. AAMC should turn its focus from “winning” at any cost to collaborating in critical short- and long-term problem-solving that will ensure the survival of both organizations.