As President Janet Holmgren celebrates her eleventh year at Mills she said she feels proud of her accomplishments at the college, but many students said they felt she is not accessible enough.
According to Holmgren, Mills has had a long tradition of presidents staying in office for many years. When the Board of Trustees elected her president in March of 1991, they were planning for a long- term presidency. She said that the Trustees’ leadership has been committed to her continuing as president since then. “There is no [term] limit,” said Holmgren. “The president serves at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees. The Board reviews, and if appropriate, renews the president on a regular basis.”
She said that at first, she wasn’t thinking far ahead in terms of how long she was going to stay at Mills because she wanted to know if the position would work for her. Now, she said she wants to build a long- term presidency and that she still has the energy to pull it off. “I was 42 when I started,” said Holmgren. “I still have the energy. It’s hard work but if you learn to pace yourself, you won’t burn out.”
Holmgren said that most presidents at private institutions do not stay in office for very long. “The average tenure for presidents at a private college when I came to Mills was five years,” said Holmgren. “Now, it’s about six.”
Dean of Students Myrt Whitcomb said Holmgren has made herself very accessible to students. “She has always had an open ear with the ASMC [Associated Students of Mills College],” said Whitcomb. “She is quite accessible.”
However, some students think that Holmgren does not interact with students as much as they would like. “I’ve seen her [Holmgren’s] pictures,” said Junior Gail Hobbes. “I’ve seen her at Convocation and at Orientation. That was it. I’ve heard that she drives from the President’s House to the oval. Why doesn’t she trot around campus so we know she’s alive?”
Others say that they wished they knew what Holmgren’s intentions are.
“I know that there are a lot of great things that she is doing but in terms of what her intentions are, they are unclear,” said Junior Inez Sunwoo. “Where does she stand on issues of racial and sexual discrimination? The fact that she’s not made a strong and definitive statement on these things is in itself a statement.”
Holmgren said that she wishes she could be in six places at once but with her job, she has to figure out and set priorities.
“The great thing about this job is that you can find new ways to engage with the campus,” said Holmgren. “This year, I am trying to get to more athletic events.”
Holmgren said that during the past 10 years, she has been a part of many things that have not only moved the college into the 21 century but has also made it stronger than before. “The institution is much stronger and more stable since when I arrived,” said Holmgren.
During her first year, she had a lot of work to do. “I had to hire a new administrative team,” said Holmgren. “It was a busy first year.”
She also dealt with many student protests around the issue of diversity. “I wish that issues around diversity had not been so antagonistic,” said Holmgren. She said she not only had to defend the institution but also tell students that increasing diversity at the college would take time and that diversity was a part of her agenda.
“Her [President Holmgren’s] tenure has been marked by substantive change and innovation,” said Dean of Students Myrt Whitcomb.
According to Whitcomb, the college has had much success, under Holmgren’s leadership, in diversifying the faculty and increasing the percentage of faculty of color on the tenure track. Holmgren said that in 1989, about three percent of faculty of color was on tenure track. Now, faculty of color makes up 20 percent of all tenure track positions. In addition, there are four full term tenure track positions in the ethnic studies department, according to Whitcomb.
“We now have more faculty of color than ever before,” said Vice President for the Office of Institutional Advancement Sally Randel. “I think history will show Jan as a driving, effective force at diversifying the faculty.”
Randel also said that under Holmgren’s leadership, even the Board of Trustees has become more diverse and more reflective of Mills’ values.
In addition, under Holmgren’s leadership, many buildings have been renovated such as Mills Hall, Warren Olney Hall, and Larsen House, just to name a few. In addition some new buildings such as Prospect Hill Apartments was erected. Also, a new soccer field, aquatic center and Suzanne Adams Plaza have recently been added during Holmgren’s tenure, said Whitcomb.
“Maintaining the physical beauty of the campus is important to my work here,” said Holmgren.
Whitcomb said she would like to see the college get a better gym and a real student union. She said she is disappointed that there is not enough funding for student services. However, she realizes that student life is just one interest among many. Also, in order to get more funding, the college would have to have more students.
She and Holmgren have had some differing views on issues, although it has been seldom, said Whitcomb.
“Sometimes we agree to disagree,” said Whitcomb. “We do respect each other.”
Whitcomb said that Holmgren has also been a real voice on the national scene for women’s colleges, which has helped bring more visibility to women’s education and women’s colleges respectively. Randel said that Holmgren does a lot of work to keep Mills on the map as a quality educational institution. She does this by being involved with both national and statewide educational organizations.
“Her involvement as chair of these organizations has kept Mills in the eye of educational and governmental leaders, and given a women’s liberal arts college a seat at many tables where we wouldn’t always be considered,” said Randel.