Four charges filed by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 (SEIU) against Mills College earlier this summer have all been either dropped or dismissed, according to a press release from Mills’ media relations dated Sept 17. However, the Mills community has continued to fight back against the college-wide restructuring that resulted in the layoffs of numerous faculty members.
These charges are brought before a labor board when there is a chance that a college has attempted to stop or slow down union efforts by actions such as breach of contract and refusing to bargain for new contracts. Two of these charges were withdrawn and the two charges that went to the National Labor Relations Board have been dismissed, according to the press release; it did not specify what the charges were.
On the same day the the press release was published, Mills Action, the student and faculty group that supports the Mills adjuncts, held a rally outside of Mills Hall. More than 30 people attended, chanting phrases like “Hey-hey-ho-ho where does our tuition go?” Faculty and students then walked to the President’s office to deliver a petition concerning fair treatment for adjuncts. The petition was covered in signatures, with some overlapping others.
The President was not in her office for unspecified reasons and Chief of Staff and Vice President of Operations, Renee Judushlever, accepted the petition.
A recurrent topic at the rally was students’ and faculty’s concern about the college’s financial restructuring and the lack of transparency that some believe has occurred during the transitions. Students said that they felt that they usually do not know about layoffs or how restructuring happens until long after decisions have already been made by the administration.
At the rally, Neha Dave, lecturer in the economics department for the past four years and member of the bargaining team, spoke about the push back unionizers have felt from the administration.
“If [the administration] support things in words, and maybe [they] have good intentions—,” Dave said, “and I want to believe the intentions were good— but after that, if members of the administration seem surprised at the examination of practices or seem resistant or shocked or annoyed, then I have to wonder whether they really support this change.”
Alum and Mills Action member Rex Leonowitch raised a question as to whether Mills is shifting away from its social justice mission and more towards a business model. Leonowitch is not the only one with concerns about how the college is run; Dave echoed similar sentiments.
“We are a business and this also requires the consideration of how we do business,” Dave said. “…social responsibility and social justice makes Mills a niche school.”
Dave wanted the administration to know the union’s commitment to working with them.
“A socially sensitive and economically savvy place like Mills should be at the forefront of this fight [for adjuncts],” Dave said at the rally. “On the bargaining table, on the first day, I told the Provost, ‘You and I are on the same side—if we are on Mills’ side.'”
A week before the rally, on Sept 10, Mills Action gathered in the English Graduate Lounge in Mills Hall for their first SpeakOut meeting. At the meeting, students and faculty discussed how the financial restructuring of the college has affected them personally.
At both the rally and the SpeakOut, students and faculty expressed concerns about the disintegration of the Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL). Until she was laid off in June, Rev. Laura Engelken was the Director of Mills’ SRL and served as chaplain. According to the administration, the College is in the process of finding a replacement chaplain; the new hire will serve only as the school’s chaplain, but not as a director for SRL.
In Engelken’s absence, students of the Mills Interfaith Alliance (MIA) have been running spiritual and religious clubs on their own.
Professor at Berkeley and graduate student at Mills, Angelo Sphere, also spoke at the SpeakOut meeting about the lack of spiritual support for students who need it on campus.
“In addition to providing a lot of multi-denominational and non-denominational programs, like a safe space for people to express and experience their spirituality, [Engelken] provided pastoral care, which is a safety net for…anybody who’s a resident here,” Sphere said.
Sphere read excerpts of a letter written by Rose Lopez, a member of the MIA, addressed to President DeCoudreaux. The letter, which can be viewed on The Campanil‘s website, expressed great concern for how the lack of SRL leadership has impacted the College.
“We started the year without a chaplain/director to provide ‘pastoral care, counseling, and community support,'” said the letter. “According to the College, in unofficial and not widespread terms, Spiritual and Religious Life ‘does not exist’ as a department.”
Junior Deellan Kashani spoke at Mills Action’s Rally to voice her concerns on the lack of spiritual leadership on campus and how students are being forced to run their own programs.
“It’s not fair to have students carry [this] weight,” said Kashani.
Lopez’s letter also said Mills alum Jasmine Herrick, previously an intern at the Chapel, contacted Dean Stiglitz to volunteer her services as an interim chaplain during the transitions; Herrick’s offer was allegedly declined.
“Refusing [Herrick], without another candidate in mind or search imminent, shows a lack of concern for the spiritual needs of our community,” said Lopez’s letter.
The lack of SRL leadership was not the only topic of discussion at the SpeakOut and rally. Many students and faculty came to talk about the struggles their programs are facing.
According to second year MFA art student, Malena Lopez-Maggi, several issues arose for the art department as a result of the transitions. Changes included fundamental art classes such as Sculpture 1 and New Genres being canceled due to enrollment not being high enough to meet new classroom minimums, faculty member Amy Franceschini resigning, and TAs being shifted into classes they were not originally assigned to.
“We are all making the best of what we’re given, but it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous,” Lopez-Maggi said at the SpeakOut.
Another speakout meeting will be held on Sept 30 in the Graduate Lounge in Mills Hall.