SEIU 1021 Joins Communitywide Effort to Maintain Higher Education at Holy Names: HNU officials indicate willingness to consider placing HBCU on campus
By Ken Epstein
In the wake of Holy Names University’s sudden announcement that it will close the institution at the end of the semester and sell the 60-acre Oakland hills property to the highest bidder, a local union that represents some HNU faculty is working with city officials and other community leaders to save the campus as a center for higher education in Oakland.
In a recent letter to California Attorney General Rob Bonta, SEIU Local 1021 President Theresa Rutherford called on the attorney general to join those who are committed “to preserving higher education for the residents of Oakland.”
“As the collective bargaining representative for the adjunct professors at Holy Names University, we support the call by members of the Oakland City Council to maintain a nonprofit college in Oakland geared towards educating first-generation college students from the East Bay as well as training workers in education and health care fields specifically. We want to preserve jobs and services,” the letter said.
The SEIU letter disputes HNU’s rationale for closing its doors.
“We believe that the Holy Names Board … decided to close without exhausting every possibility to keep the school open and without transparency to the community about the basis for their decisions. Holy Names can and should remain open,” the letter said.
The union’s experience with other higher education institutions indicates that these small universities did not need to close. “We have come to believe that each of these schools actually closed not because of the pandemic or unavoidable national trends, but because of lack of transparency in decision-making, and administrators and board members complicit in a combination of self-dealing and negligence. Holy Names was no exception,” the letter said.
Further, the letter said that if the board does not want to continue operating HNU, “they should step aside in favor of others who want to preserve the school and its function.”
As an alternative to continuing HNU, SEIU supports the goal of Oakland City Council members to bring a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to take over the campus and operations.
“SEIU stands ready to work with all stakeholders to maintain vital educational resources in Oakland and to make history by bringing an HBCU to Oakland,” the letter said.
In a reply to the SEIU letter dated March 7, Holy Names leadership has indicated that it may be considering turning the campus over to an HBCU as the union and city leaders are proposing.
“The HNU board continues its efforts to find a successor university for the HNU campus. Each of the Historic Black Colleges or Universities has been contacted by HNU in the hope that the HNU campus will continue to be used for educational purposes,” according the HNU letter signed by Board Chair Steven Borg and Acting President Sister Carol Sellman.
Responding, Kimberly Mayfield, deputy mayor of Oakland, told the Oakland Post, “It would be an amazing opportunity for the city to be home to an HBCU.”
A former faculty member, who served on the HNU Faculty Senate, speaking in an interview with the Oakland Post, thanked the Post for publishing truthful information about what is happening at the university.
“All the other news media just repeat what the university puts in its press releases,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Based on his experience, he said he remains skeptical of statements and promises made by HNU’s leadership.
“The Faculty Senate has been completely shut out of the process. Many faculty members have had to leave. We’ve asked for transparency for years, but the stories shift, and there’s no accountability and no transparency.”
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