FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Larissa Brown Shapiro
The law firm of Altshuler Berzon LLP, on behalf of the Save Mills College Coalition — a broad group of the College’s alumnae/x, students, faculty, and staff — has requested California’s Attorney General to pursue an enforcement action to prevent the closure of Mills College as a degree-granting college. Such an intervention would prevent unlawful and irreparable damage to the college and halt any further damaging action by the Board of Trustees, who have announced plans to stop enrolling first-year students after fall 2021 and stop granting degrees in 2023. Thus far the Board of Trustees has been unresponsive to continual requests by stakeholders for transparency and a voice in the future of
Counsel for the Coalition has determined that the Board of Trustees took a radical and unlawful departure from the charitable purposes of Mills College by announcing their plans to close the College by 2023 and stating that their aim was to instead create an undefined, non-degree-granting “Mills Institute.” Under California non-profit corporation and charitable trust laws, the Board of
Trustees is required to carry out the historic mission of Mills College, as set forth in its founding documents. Those founding documents require Mills College to operate as a degree-granting college for women as it has for more than 150 years. The College’s admissions policy has expanded to include non-binary and transgender undergraduates and if the College were replaced with the proposed non-degree-conferring “Institute,” the continued access to quality education for this constellation of students would disappear.
The California Attorney General has expansive authority to oversee the activities of nonprofit corporations in California, including to ensure that charitable assets are used only in accordance with the purposes imposed on those assets. The Coalition asks that the Attorney General enforce California law, which in this case imposes a fiduciary duty on the College’s Trustees to continue using the
College’s assets to carry out the College’s historic mission, as documented in the College’s articles of incorporation and its founders’ wills. The Board of Trustees has asserted that the continuation of Mills College as a degree-granting college is no longer feasible, citing financial strains, declining enrollment, and trends throughout higher education. Even if this were true, the Board of Trustees has not secured permission from a court or the California Attorney General to divert the College’s assets from its historic mission, as is required by law.
Since the College’s March 17th closure announcement, the Save Mills College Coalition has repeatedly asked for transparency and for the Board to allow time to leverage the talent and passion of the Mills College community to envision a sustainable path forward for the College. Instead, the Board has made decisions behind closed doors and consistently limited access to information. They are
exclusively focusing on the creation of the proposed “Institute” despite continual objections from all stakeholder groups.
Repeated calls for transparency have been ignored and irreparable damage has been done to the College’s reputation and future viability, as the announcement of the closure has resulted in only 20 undergraduate students confirming that they will enroll as first years in Fall 2021. This has left faculty and staff uncertain about the classes they may be offered, or their employment status going
forward. The Trustees’ course of action must be stopped before the harm to the College becomes irreversible.
By requesting the Attorney General’s help, the Save Mills College Coalition is working to stop the dismantling of Mills College, which uniquely serves students who are underrepresented in both public and private institutions of higher education: students of color, first-generation college students, non-traditional aged students, LGBTQ students, and parents who are pursuing degrees. Mills College was one of the first colleges in the nation to create an ethnic studies department in 1969, and in 2014 was the first women’s college to expressly welcome transgender and non-binary applicants — inspiring women’s colleges throughout the nation to follow similar suit in their own admissions policies.
While halting the President’s and the Board of Trustees’ unlawful actions would not single-handedly save the college, this pause would offer a glimmer of hope to stakeholders, who have created several alternative plans to closure. As stated by the Coalition’s attorneys, “Prompt investigation and appropriate action by the Attorney General here will ensure that a gem of the East Bay and a vital
incubator for women, non-binary, and transgender leaders in California is not unnecessarily lost.” It would allow for a proper investigation into decisions, policies and procedures that have systematically undermined and weakened the college and bring to light the critical information that will be needed to strengthen and rebuild Mills College to be financially sustainable. The Save Mills College Coalition hopes to build on Mills’ historic progressive leadership to truly become a beacon for equitable education, with systems to educate and nurture diverse students from all backgrounds across gender, identity, race, class, and other historically marginalized people.
About Save Mills College Coalition
The Save Mills College Coalition is a grassroots coalition of over 300 Alumnae/x, faculty, staff, parents, and students fighting on multiple fronts to stop the proposed closure of Mills College. It is in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status. To learn more, please visit www.savemillscollege.org.
About Altshuler Berzon LLP
Altshuler Berzon LLP is a San Francisco law firm dedicated to providing the highest quality representation in the service of economic justice and the public interest. Altshuler Berzon LLP engages in public interest impact litigation promoting economic and social justice before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. Our cases frequently involve cutting-edge issues of law with far-reaching ramifications. We fight to enforce and expand the rights of labor unions, workers, voters, and other individuals, and to protect the environment and public health. We are also at the forefront of defending against legal efforts to cut back on those rights.