The financial state of Mills College: Could it have been saved?

June 6, 2022

Despite dropping the legal case, members of the AAMC and SMCC continue to raise concerns about the financial state of Mills College. However, Mills’ president indicated that, based on both internal and external assessments of the situation, she believes the solution to their financial issues — due to decreasing enrollment, pandemic struggles and more — is complex and difficult to solve. 

Annual audits have been supplemented by additional external assessments over the past decade that helped the College consider enrollment strategies, partnership and monetization opportunities, and campus development,” President Hillman wrote in an email statement to The News May 26. “Trustees, faculty, and staff have been at the center of these efforts, with community and alumnae leaders as well as donors also receiving regular briefings and updates. Despite these multipronged efforts, Mills was unable to increase enrollments or achieve positive revenues over the last ten years.”

Revenue losses, exacerbated by the pandemic, have forced Mills administration to make cuts to institutional spending, including to their education budget, according to . 

The merger with Northeastern University offers concrete and meaningful opportunities for our students, faculty, staff, and alumnae — opportunities that Mills could not offer on its own,” President Hillman wrote in an email statement to The News May 25. “Mills is already benefiting from Northeastern’s support: After signing the merger agreement last fall, Mills’ workforce received its first across-the-board compensation increase since 2009.”

Faculty and staff appear to be more supportive of the merger than many students and alumni — as of last September, a poll of the Faculty Executive Committee of Mills College showed that 86% of faculty felt the merger with Northeastern is the best available option for the college. 

However, according to an April 21 letter from the Mills Faculty Adjunct Union, many of these staff members may not be teaching after the merger — 89 faculty members, which is over half of Mills current faculty, were told in a letter April 15 that their contracts would not be fully renewed for the 2022-23 academic year. The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Board against Mills. 

“Needless to say, the Mills Faculty Adjunct Union stands in opposition to such cavalier terminations, done with little or no consultation with department chairs, in a moment of transition to a partnership with NU that could only stand to benefit from continued inclusion of diverse, beloved and loyal faculty, who have devoted years of service to Mills,” wrote David Buuck, an adjunct professor of English at Mills and the union’s steward, in the letter. “This action shows little regard or respect for the work, talents, and job security of the faculty who have helped make Mills what it is today.”

The future for students and professors alike is up in the air until July 1, when the merger will be officially completed. But according to Mills’ alumni and students, the fight isn’t over yet. 

“There’s one thing about Mills alums, and that’s that it ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” said Stacy Varner, an alum who graduated in 1993 with a degree in book art — another degree that will be removed in the merger. “I think that’s the attitude that many of us have — this deal is not final, there’s always room to hopefully do something, either to, frankly, stop it entirely or improve the way it’s being handled and improve the outcome for current Mills students.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated June 8 at 9:50 a.m. to correct a date related to the class action lawsuit. 

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