President, trustees and faculty fail to illustrate leadership

By
December 8, 2008

Throughout its history, Mills College has advertised its ability to create socially responsible leaders who affect change. Unfortunately, there are few on campus today who actually do.

The expeditious cancellation of the Women’s Leadership Institute, the probable firing of Daphne Muse, and demotion of Business School Dean Nancy Thornborrow illustrate a failure of leadership on several levels.

The Campanil questions the efficacy of President Janet Holmgren’s tenure. She conducts affairs as if she is above transparent governance. Staff and students often complain they are unaware of the functions and processes of other divisions on campus. We believe this is a policy of secrecy the President has carefully created to shield controversies and remain in control.

Perhaps our criticism would not be so harsh if she showed a more genuine interest in student affairs or if we knew her priorities. But due to her own secret, unilateral decision making, we are inclined to evaluate the outcomes of her actions given as much information as we have access to.

It is also clear that the coziness between Holmgren and the Board of Trustees has prevented the board from objectively doing its job. The trustees may be titans of business and paragons of the community, but they are failing to safeguard the College’s reputation and economic welfare.

Additionally, while many professors dedicate their entire academic careers to this institution, far too many refrain from speaking up about abuses of power and other problems within the school. Even some tenured professors shy away from voicing their concerns, either for fear of retribution from the President and her senior administration officials, perceived powerlessness in solving conflicts, or because they unwisely think it best to stay away from problems outside of their own department. This culture of fear and detachment is worrisome and detrimental to our shared goals of creating transparency and community. Professors should not succumb: how can the faculty successfully train young leaders to fight the status quo if they themselves do not?

It is apparent that students emulate such behavior and this lack of agency is defining our campus culture. For example, when Campanil reporters spoke to students about Thornborrow’s proposed departure as dean, few were willing to go on the record, even though a large, discontented group is mobilizing against this injustice. This has been a recurring problem for newspaper staff.

On their own campus, students are fearful about the possible consequences of expressing their dissatisfaction with this institution, a place that purports to foster the empowerment of women.

As long as our community continues to submit to a bureaucracy that caters to personal agendas and maintaining a facade of unity, we fail to uphold the legacy of a true Mills College education.


President, trustees and faculty fail to illustrate leadership was published on December 8, 2008 in Opinions

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