On Monday, May 3, the Mills College faculty passed a resolution of no confidence against the Mills College Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Chinyere (Julia) Oparah, President Elizabeth Hillman, and the Executive Committee of the Mills Board of Trustees.
The resolution came in response to a March 17 email informing faculty and students that the college would stop accepting new students in the fall and become an institute rather than a degree-granting institution.
Musicologist, performer, and Mills’ music professor Nalini Ghuman called the vote of no confidence a “momentous” step.
“It passed overwhelmingly with 73 percent [16 percent voted no, and 11 percent abstained],” she said. “This was an important action for us to take because it publicly demonstrates that voting faculty are not supportive of the decision made behind closed doors without consultation with faculty.”
What faculty want, Ghuman says, is for the administration to rescind the March 17 announcement and to investigate a different path forward that involves faculty, staff, students, and the large, dedicated alumni network.
In a statement responding to the no-confidence vote, Hillman wrote the administration recognizes people are struggling with the decision to stop granting degrees, but that the college’s enrollment has declined steadily, and it has “long-term structural deficits.”
“Moving forward, we are inviting members inside and outside the Mills community to be part of co-creating a new Mills Institute that continues to advance Mills’ pioneering dedication to women’s leadership, racial and gender equity, and student success,” the statement continued.
David Bernstein, chair of the Mills music department and of the Faculty Executive Committee, calls the idea of an institute “token at best.”
“It’s not well-defined,” he said. “They’ve interviewed us, and they talk to us about it, but we don’t really have a role, and we don’t know what it’s going to be, and it’s not preserving Mills.”
The Mills music department has an international reputation, and both Ghuman and Bernstein say there has been a groundswell of support from alumni concerned about the school’s legacy.
“They’re worried about the Center for Contemporary Music,” Bernstein said. “They realize how important the whole legacy of Mills music is and they want to preserve Mills as a degree-granting institution. The cultural loss would be really horrendous to the Bay Area and on a larger scale, basically internationally.”
The no confidence vote has no formal authority, Ghuman said, but she thinks it’s important to show alumni and students where faculty stand as well as join more than 1,500 academics around the world who have signed a petition to support Mills.
Ghuman says the vote shows the faculty’s overwhelming support to keep Mills open and should pressure the trustees. She also says it could influence future legal actions.