A subcommittee of the Board of Trustees finished the first stage of their review of Mills' strategic plan this week, wrapping up their interviews with student panelists. The assessment, called the Institutional Review under Presidential Leadership, will both gauge where the College is in the current strategic plan and help gather information for the next.
Trustees Sharon Tatai and Toni Renee Vierra were the members of the subcommittee interviewing students, who were selected by the Office of Student Life. The students were chosen by recomendations from staff members. Approximately 30 students met with Tatai and Vierra during four different sessions. The group included both graduate and undergraduate students, representing a wide age and experience range in an effort to represent the diversity of Mills, according to Joanna Iwata, Dean of Student Life.
The current review is the fourth Institutional Review in Mills' history. The purpose is to assess Mills' progress in achieving the goals set out by the strategic plan, a set of objectives for the College put together by the trustees in 2002, which was meant to take the school from 2003 through 2007.
Iwata sent notice of the Institutional review to both student and faculty e-mail lists. In the e-mail notice the review was mistakenly called the "Institutional Review of Presidential Leadership," instead of the correct title, "Institutional Review under Presidential Leadership." The small change in wording led to confusion among students, some of whom thought the review was of President Janet Holmgren, and not of the college.
President of the Board of Trustees, Vivian Stephenson, said that, while the title of the review had changed from past reviews "we really didn't improve it 100 percent, because it adds 'under Presidential Leadership.' This is not about the president. This is about do we have a strategic plan, and are we making progress towards what we said we would do. So next time around we'll change the title."
There was also some confusion among student panel members. Senior Tee Sullivan, who was part of the Feb. 14 student panel, said, "it wasn't what some of us expected it to be, they just asked us questions and then we gave our opinions. They had an agenda. We were misled to some extent as to what it was going to be about." Sullivan said the questions asked were "so formal, and pretty generic," and that before talking with Tatai and Vierra she thought the panel would be about "getting a variety of students to come talk about their experience at Mills. I didn't know they were going to have us answer specific questions, I thought it would be more unscripted." Sullivan said that the questions she and other panel members were asked consisted mainly of questions about faculty, classes, academics and the student's various departments.
Stephenson said she acknowledged some of the problems with the student panels, but that some of the students seemed to focus too much on personal concerns, and that "the students should not be just talking for themselves. It should have been clear to them that they should represent more than just their own personal views. They're really representing their constituencies."
Marianne Sheldon, Associate Provost and secretary to the Board of Trustees, said that the subcommittee has been interviewing the major constituencies at Mills – students, faculty, staff, alumnae and trustees to look at how the different groups evaluate the progress of the strategic plan.
The plan's current goals include increasing enrollment, mounting additional graduate programs, expanding science education possibly to the doctoral level and increasing areas of study for undergraduates. There were also financial goals set, including reassessing floundering programs. Other goals concerned building and renovating facilities, student life including fostering connections between undergraduate and graduate students and technology.
Previous reviews were done in 1995, 1997 and 2000. According to Sheldon, previous reviews have focused on similar issues to the ones laid out in the current strategic plan, namely diversity, community bonds, finances, technology and enrollment.
Six members the Board of Trustees make up the subcommittee: Myra Strober, the chair of the committee, Marc Fairman, Nan Gefen, Tatai, Vierra, and Muffy Thorne. According to Stephenson, "We wanted to have a subcommittee that could relate to the different
constituencies, and I was very pleased with the people that volunteered. We wanted a legitimate process to tell us how it was going, and I'm very confident that the subcommittee is up to the task."
President Holmgren said "I think we're doing just splendidly" in implementing Mills's first official strategic plan, and "[I am] interested to see what comes out of this review and see how it squares with what I know about what's going on at Mills."
The subcommittee was scheduled to complete all of their interviews by the end of February, and then begin the process of sifting through the information and preparing a report. Those involved refused to comment on results, saying it was too early in the process to speculate on an outcome. The report, once complete, will be presented to the full Board of Trustees at their next meeting in May.