OAKLAND – After 169 years as a women’s college, Mills College is slated to be acquired by Northeastern University in Boston next year after the schools’ respective boards of directors approved a merger this week.
Mills announced the agreement on Tuesday afternoon and stated in a letter to the school community that on or about July 1, 2022 – subject to regulatory approvals – the college would be a Northeastern gender-neutral campus and be named “Mills College at Northeastern University” will wear. ”
It would end Mills’ position as one of the few women’s colleges to remain in the U.S., an award that made a splash in 1990 when students famously led college administrators to reverse a decision to go to college do.
Now, it appears, the college will act as the Northeastern outpost, which, according to a Northeastern press release, “will take over all of Mills’ financial assets, liabilities and contractual obligations.”
Mills College President Elizabeth Hillman refused to reveal the cost of the package – the principals said nothing about Mills’ finances other than calling it “grim.”
Hillman insists the merger is not a setting for Mills, but rather an opportunity to save the school after years of financial crisis.
“We couldn’t do everything we want to do for our students,” Hillman said in an interview on Tuesday. “This gives us hope that we can keep Mill’s mission going.”
By next summer, faculty and staff at both schools will work on developing the academic programs offered under the Mills-Northeastern umbrella. Until then, Mills will continue to operate under his current leadership as an accredited institution for awarding university degrees.
Students who graduate before June 30, 2022 will receive a diploma from Mills College, while students who graduate thereafter will receive a diploma from Mills College at Northeastern University. Northeastern says it will deliver on existing financial aid pledges to Mills undergraduate students.
The employees will join Northeastern on July 1, and according to Mills’ announcement, Northeastern will meet “terms of office” for Mills faculties holding permanent positions. The future for other faculties is less certain, but a press release from Northeastern said faculty and staff would all become faculties and staff of Northeastern.
Heads of both schools also said they will create a facility called the Mills Institute, which Northeastern described as “promoting female leadership and empowering BIPOC and first-generation students.”
But further details of what this institute is have not been disclosed. Hillman said the schools were working to clarify the plan and programming of this institute, but said the goal she sees for this is “to help students in transformative times.” This could include the transition from high school to college as well as for graduates entering professional life. She said she also sees the institute offering programs in anti-racism and gender equality education.
It is part of many details that were not disclosed publicly. And the lack of transparency about Mills’ plans and the college’s financial health has caused concern among alumni and other college supporters.
In June, Viji Nakka-Cammaauf, Trustee of Mills College and President of the Board of Governors of the Alumnae Association of Mills College, filed a lawsuit against the college administration to halt the merger until Mills saw her and other Alumnae trustees the college’s financial information related to the merger. After the merger was temporarily halted, a Supreme Court judge ruled Monday that the trustees’ voting can continue.
“Many alumnae and members of the Mills community are discouraged that the Trustees have decided to abandon their fiduciary duties by blindly voting to approve this merger without a complete and clear picture of Mills’ financial position or a definitive term sheet in relation to the transaction. “Alexa Pagonas, vice president of the Board of Governors of the Alumnae Association of Mills College, said in a written statement Tuesday.
Darcy Totten, a 2003 graduate of Mills, said she was concerned that the vote of the board of trustees had given the school administration full control of the merger, which is tasked with working out the details by next summer.
“This is the board of trustees tasked with running an organization that supposedly no longer does that,” said Totten. “The board of directors has given up its control mandate. There is no feeling that we are well taken care of. “
Alumnaen and students have been concerned with the lack of transparency since the school management announced last spring that the degrees at the School of Humanities would be discontinued. At the time, the administration did not come up with any plan other than a vague vision for an “institute” and did not provide any details about the school’s financial situation other than finding that enrollment had declined.
Students, alumnae and others started a campaign on “Save Mills” as they knew it. Recently, a coalition of alumnae and college students launched an online commitment to raise funds for Mills’ independence.
Hillman reiterated Tuesday that declining enrollments were the main cause of the school’s financial hardship, but said the problems are profound and a one-time injection of cash will not save the school.
“Mills has been in financial distress since 2017. The idea that Mills needs more support from people wanting to make Mills independent is not new, but it will not be fixed with a single influx of funds, ”she said. “We have a campus that requires attention, we have students who deserve the best in technology, faculty and staff, and we have not been able to invest in Mills itself. We had to fire people to make ends meet. “
Hillman believes the Northeastern merger will help. But some are concerned about how the culture of the historical women’s college will change when it is absorbed into the university.
Mills is known for advanced education and focus on gender, race, and social justice. It was the first independent college to offer an ethnic study program in 1969 and introduced the nation’s first transgender college admission policy.
More than 58% of students identify as part of the LGBTQ community and 65% are black students.
“Mills is incredibly unique. It’s the only thing that could be born the way it was in the Bay Area – a beacon of progressive thinking. ”In the early 2000s – before I could legally marry, before I could feel safe anywhere – I had to live four years where nobody cared, where I didn’t fight for the right to be outside or to live my life. I have four years to be simple. … Mills made it possible. “
She is skeptical that the influence of the Northeast would keep this culture alive.
“What is lost is difficult to create.”