By Ken Epstein
The Oakland City Council this week unanimously passed a resolution celebrating Mills College as the oldest women’s undergraduate college in the West and called for an investigation of the decision of Mills’ board and administration to merge the institution with Northeastern University – saying that the merger was “sudden and had very little transparency.”
At a press conference on City Hall steps, hosted by Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Mills’ alums and members of the Save Mills Coalition vowed to continue to continue pushing for an investigation of the deal even though it was finalized on June 30.
Said Kieran Turan, vice president of Save Mills College Coalition, “It’s deeply troubling how little oversight there is in California for non-profit small colleges, even those with the historic importance of Mills. (This council resolution) will help us take this issue up to the state and federal level. Mills College deserves justice. Women’s colleges are particularly at risk.”
Claudia L. Mercado, Mills alumnae and advisor of the Save Mills College Coalition, said, “This historic women’s college and Hispanic-serving Institution was intended to serve women’s education for generations to come, not traded on the open market for pennies.
“We must hold the Mills administration leadership accountable who were responsible for actively undermining a viable California higher-ed ecosystem and safe space for women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students. Bad higher-ed leaders should not be allowed to fail forward and monetize on the hardships of students and community members.”
In her remarks, Thao said, “As a Mills Alum, I was deeply troubled when the university declared it was closing after 170 years of service. With women and the LGBTQ+ community under attack across the country, it is incredibly important that institutions like Mills be preserved.”
“This merger was sudden, confusing, and done with very little transparency,” she continued. “Many faculty members (including tenured faculty) lost their jobs while students from around the world suddenly found out the programs they were in were cut. This process has been incredibly disruptive to the lives of thousands of people.”
In a prepared statement, Kaplan said, “Without warning or attempt to work with the student body, alumni groups or any other stakeholders, in March 2021, the Mills College Board and administration announced that the school was going to close because of financial hardship? All of a sudden? Without warning?”
She pointed out that Mills has “always been on the cutting edge of women’s rights (and) equality,” the first women’s college to offer a computer science major and the first women’s college to openly accept transgender students. Famous alumni include filmmaker Sofia Coppola, the late actress Olivia de Haviland and Oakland’s member of Congress Barbara Lee, she said.
Kaplan called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the California Bureau of Private and Post-Secondary Education.
“From the beginning, students and alumni have asked questions that haven’t been adequately answered. But the process continued, and the merger with Northeastern was proposed. Still, student and alumni questions were not answered.”
“But an independent investigation will bring everything into the light,” Kaplan said.
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