Editor’s note: This letter was sent to The Campanil from the media relations office at Mills College, regarding a recent article in San Francisco Magazine that features Mills, and mentions The Campanil. The letter is shown partially in this print issue and can be found in full online.
The following open letter to the editor was sent to San Francisco Magazine in response to an article titled, “Academic Probation” that appeared in the April 2016 print issue, and titled “Can Mills College Save Itself?” in the online version.
San Francisco Magazine Article Unfairly Sensationalizes the State of Mills College
March 22, 2016
An Open Letter to the Editor of San Francisco Magazine
Despite the recent headline to the contrary, Mills College is most definitely not on academic probation. While these types of cheeky sound bites may make for good copy, they lead to very real angst for the school’s students, alumnae, parents, faculty, and leadership. It is for that reason that we feel compelled to write to set the record straight.
It is true that Mills, like many women’s colleges, faces profound challenges borne out by the changing landscape of higher education. Virtually all colleges—big and small, private and public, coed and single sex—are struggling to manage student fees, maintain enrollment, and innovate for a new generation of students and careers. In our backyard alone one can witness the struggles of our major public universities all the way down to our community college districts. Mills’ challenges are further compounded by its desire to maintain its commitment to undergraduate women’s education.
Unfortunately, this story ignores the bigger picture and instead the reporter chose to cite just a small, skewed fraction of the data she was provided by external parties to paint a decidedly lopsided story. It is simply inaccurate to imply that Mills is being cavalier in its approach to dealing with the school’s finances or that it has failed to take its fiduciary responsibility seriously. While it is too cumbersome to now correct all the inaccurate numbers in the story, we do want to make it clear that the allegations regarding the underperformance and mismanagement of the school’s endowment are completely off base. According to the NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers), a survey of 812 schools from 2010-15 showed Mills’ endowment performance consistent with and, in some cases, outperforming comparable schools and NACUBO averages.
On the other hand, it is fair to say that Mills has been struggling to manage a long-term systemic deficit, one inherited by this administration and compounded by the Great Recession, which has proven intractable. Prudent choices are being made to right the ship and to bring expenses in line with revenue. But these choices can be painful and sometimes controversial, as evidenced by the anxiety of those who are devoted to areas of study being considered for reorganization. The need to reimagine programs like dance or book arts in no way diminishes the value of those fields, but it does reflect the reality of falling enrollment and budget mandates.
At the same time, Mills is also looking for opportunities to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st-century student. Program opportunities for women in leadership, STEM fields, business, and language are on the rise and will bring a new generation of students to Mills’ front door. As such, Mills has re-envisioned its general education requirements and created a new core curriculum that will launch in fall 2016. The new core curriculum was developed by faculty to provide a 21st-century liberal arts education that aims to create engaged global citizens—Mills graduates with the confidence and tools to think for themselves as well as the grace and compassion that compel them to care deeply about the needs of others. The core curriculum will prepare students to participate in a rapidly emerging and evolving world community and to develop their sense of responsibility for the needs of the planet and its inhabitants.
According to the Women’s College Coalition (WCC), women’s colleges are ahead of the curve in serving the increasingly diverse group of women seeking college degrees. Women’s colleges currently enroll a more racially and ethnically diverse population of students than public universities or private coed institutions. Mills is one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the United States and is committed to helping students overcome obstacles that might impede their access to a rewarding education. The Mills undergraduate population is comprised of 51 percent students of color and 33 percent faculty of color; 17 percent of undergraduates are 23 years of age or older; and 30 percent of our students are the first in their families to attend college.
Mills College also prides itself on its long legacy of firsts, including having established the first laboratory school for aspiring teachers west of the Mississippi in 1926, becoming one of the nation’s first liberal arts colleges to grant a modern dance degree in 1941, becoming the first women’s college to offer a computer science major in 1974, creating the first BA/MBA program at a women’s college in 2001, launching the nation’s first MFA in book art and creative writing in 2009, and in 2015 changed its admissions policy, becoming the first women’s college to consider an enrollment application from any individual who self-identifies as a woman.
Mills has a long history of producing graduates who have gone on to make meaningful contributions across the globe, with a legacy of accomplishment spanning many fields and disciplines. Mills alumnae/i include prominent businesspeople and entrepreneurs, internationally celebrated artists and performers, US ambassadors and members of Congress, scientific innovators and leading professionals, informed parents and community volunteers, philanthropists, and social activists.
As we continue serving our existing students and look toward the future, we expect this list of “firsts” to grow. We are committed to finding new ways to attract and retain students to Mills, and to providing them with a rewarding academic experience which sets them up to become the real world leaders of tomorrow.
Alecia DeCoudreaux, Kathleen Burke
President Chair, Board of Trustees