2.25 22-0621 Subject: Celebrating Mills College And Investigating The Merger Between Mills College And Northeastern University
From: Vice Mayor Kaplan And President Pro Tem Thao
Recommendation: Adopt A Resolution Celebrating The Contributions Of Mills College To The City Of Oakland And Beyond, And Calling On The California Bureau Of Private And Post-Secondary Education And The Us Department Of Education To Conduct An Independent Investigation Into The Circumstances Of The Merger Between Mills College And Northeastern University
Mills's impact in Oakland and for continuing education for marginalized folks cannot be allowed to be sold away and leaving students, faculty, staff, and alums in dark in regards to the decision and the data that lead to this decision. I implore the investigation into the acquisition of Mills College.
On March 17, 2021, I received an email from Pres. Hillman announcing the closure of Mills College. Tears streamed, while my hands shook, and my lungs felt heavy. I was the only person in the country who had experienced both of her higher education institutions announcing closure. I felt like the Trustees and Pres. Hillman put a weight on my ankle and I had been pulled under water while seeing them on the dock looking down on me. I along with the other students – including my own sister, faculty, and staff were all small prices to pay for their greed. They drowned almost an entire community. They chose to ignore the pleas of our community to keep Mills College independent with its current mission. Having heard an uproar during the first meeting after the announcement, the President and Dean opted to quash student voices by turning off the zoom chat and not letting us speak in subsequent meetings. They took advantage of a pandemic that kept us from our campus and suppressed our concerns while moving forward with their plans. Promises made were broken. Our community was misled, even lied to. They chose to add more weight to our feet. They chose to murder Mills College. I am not asking for Justice, rather non-profit due process. Please be the knife to set us free, rather than another weight holding us at the bottom of the sea floor. I do not want to close my eyes and have this be the end while seeing the President and the Trustees on the dock celebrating their “win.”
Public data indicates that there were inappropriate actions taken in the merger and closure of Mills College. I strongly support an investigation.
I began my MA in Dance at Mills college fall of 2021 with the promise that I could graduate WITH MY DEGREE in 2023 and this would not be affected by the potential school closure or "merger" with NEU. I had been looking at this one of a kind degree program for years and knew it might be my last chance to attend. I supported the merger at first because the official and verbal communication with the school was that the only thing to truly change would be the name of the school and that all programs and classes and the school culture would stay intact. I love Mills, I have many friends that have graduated from there. My grandparents attended Mills and met there. It is a unique historically important institution that stands for diversity, art, and freedom of thought. A safe space for lgbtq folks and artists in an age where these things are under attack. I made many financial, life and emotional sacrifices to attend Mills and was crushed when I found out 3 weeks before my 2nd semester that my program was being cut. The official school communication was even later and the information forum was the day before classes started. I was lied to and felt totally disrespected so I chose to leave and have had to start my life over from scratch in many ways. Please protect this historical and important institution and give all past and present students of Mills justice!
The circumstances surrounding the management of Mills college should be subject to a transparent and public investigation. According to public data Mills and its auditor have submitted to the IRS and US Department of Education, Mills College’s operating revenue has not dropped below $53 million in any fiscal year on record since 2010.
Mills’ revenue is nearly double that of comparably sized schools, including nearby peer institutions Holy Names University ($28 million) and Pacific Union College ($38 million). Yet Mills announced it would close in 2021 and subsequently opted to instead gift the college and nearly all its assets, valued by some over $1billion, to Northeastern University in Boston MA.
Although Mills college is a private nonprofit, it has likely received billions in taxpayer funds over its 170-year history. The public has a right to know what happened here so that it can be prevented in the future. An investigation will likely reveal that we have lost one of our nation’s most treasured higher education institutions because of a series of preventable blunders, including: not reversing a change in the application that cost the school 50% of its undergraduate applications in 2015, not right-sizing its use of independent contractors, not right-sizing its non-instructional staff sizes, and increasing administrative spending while severely cutting investment in faculty and instruction.
Please support this effort.
Northeastern University is not yet accredited in California to teach many of the classes Mills has historically offered and is known for, including several education programs that produce a reliable portion of Bay Area teachers. While I have no doubt that Northeastern intends to update their accreditation as swiftly as possible, that process is not fast enough to save this year's class of teachers, and perhaps next years' as well. There is already a teacher shortage both locally and nationally. With this temporary gap in Mills' teaching programs, that gap has been widened by at least a year, possibly two.
How could this information have just fallen through the cracks? Who are the students most impacted by this lack of teachers? And how could any administration have been so careless to not think of this? It was shoddy planning, at best.
Please adopt this resolution to conduct an independent investigation into the acquisition of Mills College by Northeastern University. I'm no math whiz, but something isn't adding up, here.
I am one of the many students who were left in the dark during this closure and merger; originally promised to complete my degree at Mills College in 2023. That, along with other promises and words, were grossly taken back or not kept. Instead, I lost time and money that I cannot get back. The administration, meant to guide and support students, instead kept us in the dark, strung us along with crumbs of information and excuses until the last moment. Students had to fight for their right to important information towards their education and future, much of which was rarely granted despite our efforts; something unheard of especially given the rich history of Mills. Even now, after scrambling to transfer to a new school to complete my program, it hast cost me more, as well as extended my time in school as opposed to originally planned. I am urging you to investigate this matter on behalf of the community, alumnae, staff, and students.
1) An independent audit concluded that Mills is viable financially. 2) Mills has a large endowment given with the sole intent to support the college; it is wrong to abscond with that to support a personal vision of the current president - an undefined leadership institute with her at the helm. 3) The state Attorney General rightly recused himself from investigating because of a conflict of interest but then wrongly did not assign anyone else to review the situation. Please request an investigation of this faulty and secretive process.
Mills is an important institution both for its history and its current students and reputation. Please investigate this situation!!!
5 reasons to investigate:
1. President Hillman knew the merger meant most students wouldn't be able to finish the programs they came for. Because Northeastern isn't accredited to offer 70% of Mills' programs.
2. Two months before officially announcing the merger, President Hillman joined the WSCUC committee that oversees college teach-outs/mergers.
3. Hillman knows that even if a college stays open, it has to find a way to teach out any programs it closes, so students can graduate.
Instead, she made a list showing which Northeastern majors were similar. It said the "corresponding major" for Dance students was Art. For Education students, it was Communications. For MFA students of any kind, it was an "Interdisciplinary" MFA.
Now students have to take on even more debt, for extra semesters to fulfill all the requirements of their new degrees.
Both schools should know better.
Both schools waited until January to break this news to the students. Because they wanted to leave as little time as possible to sue them.
Even if both schools were fine with that, WSCUC should've stopped them.
This system is corrupt, and students are the ones paying for everyone's fraud.
4. Hillman negotiated the deal herself. After screwing the students, she gets to stay on as campus President, for more $.
5. Even after Mills' board paid her $2,050,000, over 2.5 years, for getting rid of the school. It's been trying to sell the campus since 2013, when enrollment was at its all-time high.
As an active member of the Mills College Community for 45 years, I expect that Mills College and its history will be celebrated and honored. The "merger" with Northeastern University appears to be no more than a land grab, robbing California and the world of educational opportunities in Education, the Arts, and the Sciences, replacing the historically critical opportunities for women, students of color, LGBT students, and all who sought the Mills experience as preparation for important work around the world, with a more expensive, unclear Educational institute and possible Higher Ed opportunities. Historically, Mills has graduated Education students who have taught in Oakland, the greater Bay Area, and around the world. Child Life graduates have assisted families and doctors around the world as they navigated challenging medical issues with children. Dancers, Musicians, Artists, Book Artists, Scientists, Politicians, Attorneys and others have benefitted from the Liberal Arts Education and Graduate Programs offered by Mills College for years. Over the past 18 months, secrecy and lies have been shared with Mills Community members seeking to understand the sudden announcement of closure, then "merger." Federal and State Financial Aid were accepted by Mills as faculty were let go and academic programs were dismantled. Investigation of this "merger"is critical. The reality of the circumstances and decisions must be clarified.
I am urging you to support the resolution to investigate the acquisition between Mills and NEU. The students of Mills have been and continue to be grossly harmed by this deal. It started with a teach-out “plan” being included as a consent agenda item. It continued with the bait and switch of the acquisition finalization changing from 2023 to 2022. AFTER the date students could withdraw from Mills and expect a full refund for the fall 2022 semester. Then came the announcement in January 2022, just a few days into the new spring semester, that 70% of Mills classes would be eliminated because of accreditation differences between CA and Mass. Meetings with NEU started 8 weeks later, when the transfer deadlines for Fall 2022 were nearly all closed for most colleges in the country. The unenviable choice for many students then, was to continue attending Mills into the summer and fall and hope they can transfer in Spring 2023. Dropping out of school entirely and applying elsewhere to finish a degree in their chosen major or accepting NEU’s pathway in a different degree which could mean lengthening their time in college to take classes that fulfill NEU’s graduation requirements. All these options have serious impacts on students in their likelihood of completing their degrees timely or at all, not to mention the financial consequences of having to take out more student loans for more expensive colleges and/or taking longer to complete their degrees.
Hello, my name is Bethannee Witczak and I am a former resident of Oakland. I am part of the Mills College Community. I urge you to investigate the Mills College acquisition. As an elementary principal in nearby San Lorenzo, I am concerned about the fate of the education department at Mills. Mills has long been a pipeline for teachers in our community and our best new teachers come out of the Mills College credential program, and the local area. As we are looking to diversify our teaching force, I am concerned that NEU's current population (overwhelmingly white, cis-gendered male) will not leave room for the BIPOC students that we desperately need to go into the educational field. I am also concerned by the lack of correct information that was given to the Mills students about majors and the viability of current programs. Mills students deserve better. Mills College has long been a stellar institution in the heart of Oakland and the college has focused on supporting marginalized communities. I worry the acquisition of Mills College by NEU will destroy this focus and the goals of Mills College. I ask that you vote yes on this resolution. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Bethannee Witczak, Mills College BA 95, MA/Credential 98
Please support the resolution. Mills College is one of the few private all women's institution that has a demonstrated history of educating those of use who are often pushed out of traditional colleges. The actual financial information does not justify the Mills College Board of Governor's decision to sell our school to a degree factory.
I was a grad student at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, 1974-76. The Music Department at Mills is world-renowned and legendary. It is just one of the many innovative, one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable things about Mills that will likely not survive the conversion of this historic institution to just another "profit center" by way of corporate acquisition. Some say this was unavoidable because Mills was broke; others say that Mills was anything but broke - in fact, stronger financially than the entity trying to acquire it. I think the truth ought to be researched and made known to everyone.
The way in which Mills College Leadership gave the 170-year-old College and its billions in assets to Northeastern without any financial transparency warrants an investigation. Legal documents and recorded videos show that Mills' leadership:
1. Failed to conduct any independent financial analysis.
2. Filed misleading and false financial statements with an Alameda superior court judge.
3. Failed to conduct any additional fundraisers, despite claiming Mills was in a “financial crisis.”
4. Misled faculty, staff, and donors about ongoing talks with UC Berkeley, all while pursuing a backdoor deal with Northeastern, an out-of-state, predatory college with a history of aggressive college takeovers.
5. Fraudulently convinced donors to donate to Mills while knowingly pursuing an acquisition.
The Mills Board of Trustees allowed the removal of millions from Mills' $220 MILLION endowment for a potentially for-profit private "Institute" (“think tank”). The President of Mills, who brokered the acquisition, is now a paid President of Northeastern University. However, no self-dealing paperwork was ever filed with the Attorney General, who has a 30-year friendship with the Mills President and was a paid member of the Mills faculty within months of the acquisition announcement. The AG publicly announced that he might recuse, but did not.
Clearly, this acquisition involves numerous conflicts of interest and potential corruption. This predatory acquisition needs to be investigated.
For nearly two centuries, Mills College has been intertwined with the fabric of Oakland community and its predecessors. The founders of Mills College were committed to bringing education for young women to the West. Since the time of its founding, Mills College has grown its offerings around the needs of a changing world and a changing community. At its core, Mills College has maintained its unique commitment and ability to support communities that are in need of something different than what is offered elsewhere. Mills College grew into the only Historic Women's College that also held the distinction of being a Hispanic Serving Institution. Mills College was on the forefront of embracing the trans and non-binary community. Oakland and the world are being robbed of this precious, unique and endangered resource. Please do not allow a cookie cutter format to replace what is the robust, dynamic and visionary place that belongs to Oakland, and through which Oakland projects its own unique influence onto the rest of the state, the nation and the globe. Please vote yes on this resolution and support the effort to hold those accountable who would tear Mills College from the fabric of the Oakland community. For those who would argue that Northeastern University in any manner is a surrogate for Mills College, they would mislead you.
Respectully, Ariana Merlino
The Real Mills College Class of 1997
Mills College Board of Trustees did not fulfill their fiduciary duties. Before announcing the closure, no feasibility studies were done, no experts were consulted, and no studies or independent reviews were commissioned by either the College or the Board of Trustees. An independent investigation is required!
It will shame California to lose this stronghold for women's leadership.
We need the legislature to investigate and evaluate the irrevocable impact on queer, BIPOC and first generation students. At a time when women's access to health care, LGBTQ safety, and the rights of BIPOC people are under attack, transparency and oversight in the closure of MIlls College must be a priority.
The legislature must investigate why the acquisition timeline was rushed. Mills manipulated students so they would stay enrolled and pay tuition even if it was no longer in the best interest of the students' education.
Mills is a pipeline for teachers and educators in Oakland. Students of NEU, whose largest demographic are white, upper class males, will increases educational and social inequity in Oakland. The loss of the undergraduate degree in education is a huge loss to the community and will negatively impact the district’s teacher shortage.
Mills and NEU have engaged in rampant deception throughout the merger. Students were promised that Mills would stay open through the spring of 2023 and that their majors would be protected. Yet many undergraduate degrees were discontinued (Education, Early Child Development, Business Administration, Ethnic Studies, Women's - Gender and Sexuality Studies, Art History and all six separately accredited MFA programs), collapsed into a single NEU degree called "Interdisciplinary Arts."
Mills Students deserve better, Oakland deserves better.
The sale of Mills College to Northeastern is heartbreaking. It seems like the claims of financial hardship are about mismanagement and will not be addressed by selling to Northeastern. Additionally, the sale will hurt Oakland by increasing gentrification -- Northeastern is more expensive, does not offer good financial aid, and has such bad diversity ratings that they're buying Mills to increase their diversity. Their policies -- to run it like a for-profit, charging students the full cost of attendance -- will override whatever gain they manage to achieve in the short-term with this sale. It will be a huge loss for Oakland without truly addressing the problems Northeastern has.