Mills College supporters demand board reverses decision to close school

A grassroots movement of Mills College students, alums, and workers will rally on Friday to demand that the institute’s board of trustees reverse their decision to close the school in 2023. 

Organizers of the "Rally to save Mills College" say that they do not like the trustees' announcement earlier this month that they have to dismantle the historic college for financial reasons and replace it with an undefined institute.

"Students have not been provided with a clear pathway on how to complete their education or receive the degrees their tuition dollars are paying for," staff union bargaining team member Kalie Caetano and  a digital communications manager at Mills, said in a statement. "Neither the staff nor the faculty—over 65 percent of whom are adjuncts—have been provided with any guarantee or incentive for work retention over the course of this ‘transition’." 

Even Congresswoman Barbara Lee called on the school to rethink its decision. 

Lee attended Mills College between 1969 and 1973 as a young single mother raising two sons. She was receiving public assistance at the time and often brought her boys to class when there was no one to care for them. 

Lee said she owes "a debt of gratitude to Mills College" for helping ignite a passion for public service and politics. 

But in mid-March, Mills President Elizabeth Hillman said the reason for closing was not made easily and it was because of "the economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural changes across higher education, and Mills' declining enrollment and budget deficits." 

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Hillman wrote a letter Thursday to Mills students and employees saying that 200 UC Berkeley freshmen will live on the Oakland campus next fall.

Mills College has educated women since 1852, moving to its present campus in East Oakland in 1871.

In 1969, it became the first independent college to establish an Ethnic Studies Department—the result of Black Student Union organizing, which succeeded in broadening the school’s curriculum despite attempts to criminalize their advocacy.

In 1990, students went on strike for two weeks to compel the board to reverse its decision to go coed. The students won. 

Today, 51 percent of undergraduates at Mills identify as LGBTQ+ and in 2014, Mills made history by becoming the first women’s college to embrace transgender students in its admissions policy. 

"Alums and unionized workers at the College are calling for transparency from the administration around institutional finances and decision-making," Kate Robinson Beckwith, a staff union organizer, said in a statement. "If Mills College were to collapse, the effects would be catastrophic to our students and workforce, putting staff and faculty at risk of losing their livelihoods and shuttering a school that serves women, people of color, resuming adult learners, and the transgender student community at much higher rates than other higher ed institutions."