Open letter: Reconsider FSP proposal and preserve Dr. Vivian Chin’s ethnic studies faculty position

By
June 20, 2017

Dear Mills College Board of Trustees, President Hillman, and Provost Oparah,

We are writing on behalf of the Mills College Ethnic Studies alumnae/i/s and members of the Alumnae Association of Mills College (AAMC), Alumnae of Color Committee (AoCC). It has come to our attention that under the proposed Mills Financial Stabilization Plan, the position of Ethnic Studies Associate Professor held by Dr. Vivian Chin—a tenured professor and chair of the ethnic studies department—would be terminated. Professor Chin has been a faculty member for more than 16 years and is also a Mills alum from the class of 1989.

Professor Chin has made—and continues to make— valuable and necessary contributions to the Mills community in numerous ways. As alums, we want to highlight Professor Chin’s unique work on the intersections of Asian/Pacific American literature, queer studies, and contemporary cultural production. This represents a valuable niche that would be extremely difficult to reproduce without multiple hires. This is the best example of intellectual diversity that we, especially as alums of color, would like to see Mills support. More specifically, Professor Chin’s teaching pushes the boundaries of knowledge production, emphasizing struggles for liberation, self-determination, and decolonization for Indigenous and colonized peoples of color.

We echo the concerns that current Mills students and other alums have expressed in their written petition addressed to the College in support of saving Professor Chin’s position within the ethnic studies department. As is evident from the over 400 signatures received to date (and growing), the students have sent a loud and clear message which we urge you to take into consideration during your deliberation. The petition also demonstrates that Professor Chin is a valued and loved member of the Mills community, in great part because they have served as an academic mentor and inspiration for generations of Mills students. As current Mills students powerfully articulate, “If Mills takes its mission to support students who are historically marginalized seriously, it needs to recognize the people who are pillars in this community: people like Vivian, who show up and do that work on a daily basis.”

As concerned alums, we want to emphasize three points in response to your proposal to eliminate Associate Professor Chin’s tenured faculty position within the ethnic studies department.

This Would Impact Student, Alumnae, Faculty, and Staff of Color Retention and Recruitment

As AoCC members, our mission is to foster the retention and recruitment of current and prospective students, alumnae, faculty, and administrators of color in order to support a thriving multicultural community where people of color are valued and empowered as full participants.

Your proposal to eliminate Professor Chin’s position goes firmly against our collective vision of sustaining a diverse and equitable Mills community for people of color especially at a time when Mills has recently become a “Hispanic Serving Institution” (HSI) because over 27 percent of undergraduates identify as Latina and Latinx. That has made Mills eligible for U.S. Department of Education grant money to fund programs like academic tutoring or counseling programs, faculty development, distance learning academic instruction, endowment funds, and student support services for first generation and low-income Latinx students. Professor Chin has mentored and advised low-income, Latinx students in both a formal and informal capacity. These efforts comprise the “invisible labor” that help students of color thrive at Mills College. This mentorship and advising is not replaceable by simply hiring adjunct faculty who are not committed to Mills College long term.

Historically, the ethnic studies department has been recognized as a major recruitment and retention tool for Mills by the admissions department, office of student life, and other college departments, including for Latinx students. Going into its 48th year anniversary, ethnic studies has been recruiting and retaining students of color long before there were initiatives like the Oakland Promise or the Mills Promise. We are two examples of students who thrived at Mills because of the ethnic studies department, each winning the Outstanding Senior Award, and going on to earn advanced degrees as first generation, low-income students from Oakland public high schools.

In fact, it was Professor Chin who connected María to a Mills ethnic studies alumna at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law for mentorship. Professor Chin was also one of the key mentors who assisted Mara in pursuing her graduate studies. The strong letters of recommendations from the ethnic studies faculty helped ensure Mara received a prestigious fellowship with full funding to complete her M.A. and Ph.D. at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. Since graduating from Mills, both María and Mara have participated in numerous career and graduate school admissions panels hosted by Professor Chin and the ethnic studies department.

Ethnic Studies was founded at Mills in 1969 as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. As the first Asian American faculty member to be tenured at Mills College, Professor Chin represents a part of that legacy. Eliminating this ethnic studies faculty position would be yet another example of the historical and present day academic settler colonialism that is so rampant within academic institutions. We see an insidious pattern across academic campuses repeat itself: when a financial “crisis” arises, the academic disciplines that are among the first to be targeted for cuts are usually ethnic studies, gender studies, and other non-conforming academic disciplines that came into existence as a result of a long legacy of resistance from people of color. The fact that this decision will disproportionately impact some of our most vulnerable student populations—including students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and differently abled students—is an insult and disgrace to the many women and people of color who have historically and presently fought long battles to carve out and maintain these academic spaces of resistance in academia.

As proud alums we want to believe that Mills, as a liberal arts college, is invested in helping to lead the way for other academic institutions by being at the cutting edge of working to dismantle the institutional and systemic oppressive structures that undermine, dismiss, and target people of color.

Our AAMC Alumnae of Color Committee Would Be Particularly Impacted

Eliminating a faculty of color position in the ethnic studies department will have a negative ripple effect on the sustainability and future support base of the AAMC Alumnae of Color Committee (AoCC). The ethnic studies department has a history of high student enrollment and as a direct result, a loyal growing pool of ethnic studies alum scholars who actively give back to Mills as donors, tutors, mentors, guest panelists, internship providers, employers, and more. Indeed, the ethnic studies department has been a major recruitment and retention tool for Mills ever since it became a full-fledged department with multiple tenure-track positions. The impressive quantity and quality of the ethnic studies department’s contributions—which go beyond the classroom and academic advising to include campus events, internships, and non-academic support services—would not have been possible without tenured full-time faculty such as Professor Chin.

Moreover, besides being a critical component for the successful recruitment and retention of students of color, the ethnic studies department and alums also support the College’s fundraising efforts. The ethnic studies department’s commitment to fostering the next generations of social justice leaders—including women of color leaders—means ethnic studies graduates have a strong ethos of working to transform their communities and mostly importantly, giving back to Mills. In this time of financial constraints and declining enrollments, it simply makes no sense to weaken one of the college’s strongest programs.

Reconsider Your Proposal and Preserve Professor Chin’s Ethnic Studies Position

We respectfully demand that you please reconsider your proposal to eliminate Professor Chin’s position. Preserving and protecting this position would send a message that you acknowledge the unique strength and fundamental importance of the ethnic studies department at Mills. An attack on the future sustainability of the ethnic studies department is also an attack on all students, alums, faculty, and communities of color committed to social justice and equitable education in Oakland, the Bay Area, across the United States, and globally.

We are aware of the financial challenges we face as a college and that this will entail making tough decisions in order to sustain and keep the institution financially stable. Yet, this also presents an opportunity to do things differently. In the spirit of moving forward with transparency, integrity, and open dialogue with all the stakeholders, it is important that those most affected be included at the decision table. In these moments of financial uncertainty, it is imperative that you tap the collective power that can result from fostering the creativity and imagination of as many diverse voices and perspectives. It is this unprecedented spirit of collaboration and inclusiveness in the leadership of institutions of higher education that will help yield the best results for the future of Mills and that of present and future generations of scholars to come.

In closing, we would like to affirm our commitment to working with you to support the mission of our beloved Mills College and the ethnic studies department during these challenging times and beyond.

Sincerely,

María D. Domínguez, J.D.
B.A. Ethnic Studies, Class of 2008
AAMC Alumnae of Color Committee, Co-Chair

Mara Chávez-Díaz, Ph.D.
B.A. Ethnic Studies, Class of 2004
AAMC Alumnae of Color Committee, Member


Open letter: Reconsider FSP proposal and preserve Dr. Vivian Chin’s ethnic studies faculty position was published on June 20, 2017 in Letters to the Editor, Mills in crisis, Opinions

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