Mills College staff, alumnae call for greater transparency after trustees vote for merger with Northeastern

"Save Mills College," a coalition of students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and parents, aggressively fought to keep Mills College in Oakland from its pending closure in 2023. Now, many coalition members say merging with Northeastern University is not a better outcome.

"So far, a lot of people that have a lot of great ideas have been shut out of the decision-making process, and I think we're seeing the results of that in this series of surprise announcements that come down," Kalie Caetano, digital communications manager for Mills College, said. "This is the latest in that series."

Mills College announced in March it would close in 2023 due to mounting financial challenges spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, declining enrollment, and budget deficits.

But on Thursday, the college announced its board of trustees voted to begin formal talks with Northeastern University to allow Mills to exist as one of Northeastern's satellite campuses.

In the email announcing the decision to merge with Northern University, Mills College President Elizabeth Hillman stated that subject to future discussions, "a significant number of Mills faculty and staff would be offered opportunities for continued employment either on the Mills campus at Northeastern University or at other Northeastern University campuses."

Many Mills College staff members, represented by a union, are skeptical they'll have jobs post-merger.

"We would like to see transparency around what it is that the administration intends for the future of the school. How are the students that have been served here going to be served in the future? Are staff and faculty going to be retained in a meaningful way?" Caetano, who is also on the organizing committee of the staff workers union and is a bargaining team member, said.

Students currently enrolled at Mills will be able to complete their degrees or transfer at no cost to Northeastern University, according to Hillman, who added in her email announcing the merger that future degrees would be conferred under the name "Mills College at Northeastern."

"It appears you know for the current students and faculty, that this could be a really hopeful thing," Nadine Dixon, Mills College alumna and member of the Save Mills College Coalition, said, adding that she's also skeptical for why the merger has to happen at all.

After reviewing public financial audits from Mills College going back five years, Dixon said the shrinking endowment and lower student enrollment numbers are not significant enough to justify abandoning Mills as an independent college.

Mills College administrators did not respond to KTVU's request for comment.

"We believe that we can turn whatever's wrong with the school around," Dixon said. "And if you don't think so, then show us the documents that tell us that."