In April of 2015, President of Mills College Alecia DeCoudreaux announced she would be stepping down in the spring of this year. Recently, The Campanil sat down with President DeCoudreaux to talk with her about her memories of Mills and what she will miss about the school.
The Campanil (TC): What have you taken away from being President at Mills?
Alecia DeCoudreaux (AD): One of the first things I’m taking away from being President of Mills is how challenging the world of higher education is right now … Students are learning differently; students need to know things other than what they needed to know 50 years ago; students have different opportunities for which they need to be prepared for ahead of them.
I never expected that as a part of my work I would have to defend the value of a liberal arts education. I can’t think of anything more valuable than a liberal arts education that prepares students for many different careers — to tackle the big issues in the world…And yet there are people out there, whether they are members of Congress, or parents and students who are questioning what value is there. I have learned that Mills students demonstrate that all day every day. I watch Mills students grow through their time here. …I can’t say it’s been easy to defend because it has been a contentious subject in many circles, but I would say our students demonstrate that value.
TC: Did you have any specific goals when you came to Mills in 2011, and do you feel you accomplished those goals in your time here?
AD: When I first came to Mills, I was aware that it, like all women’s colleges, like all liberal arts colleges, needed to look at its business model. There were lots of questions about the sustainability of the new business model, and so I knew that was something I was going to need to address. What I didn’t know was the extent of our financial issues. When I first arrived I didn’t come with any specific goals…I came with a goal to help us arrive at a new business model. But I didn’t know that in order to do that, we would have to do whatever we could to stabilize ourselves from a financial standpoint. While it’s been challenging, I think we were able to put in place a strategic plan that was designed primarily to help us stabilize ourselves and prepare ourselves to put our new business model in place.
TC: What are your plans for after Mills?
AD: Sleep is top of the list. Also getting me and my mother back to the East Coast. I think my top priority is getting her home, and getting me on the East Coast so I am closer to my husband, and then I’ll figure it out. I have never used the “R” word – retirement, so I will figure out what comes next once we’re settled on the East Coast. I do serve on a couple of boards here in the Bay Area, and I do plan to stay on those, so I know that there will be that board work. I’m very engaged with the work with the Hewlett Foundation, so I will continue that. For the first time in my life I’ll just kind of figure it out, once I get to the East Coast, which is very liberating.
[My husband and I] are also going to drive across country…I’m excited about this chance to relax and reflect. I’ve learned a lot since I arrived here at Mills. I have learned an enormous amount from our students. You don’t have nearly as much time to reflect [as President], and I look forward to really being able to reflect on what I have learned, not only what I have learned about social justice that our students here are so engaged in, but what I’ve learned about myself and my own interests.
TC: What are you most proud of with what you’ve done during your tenure at Mills?
AD: There has been a lot of controversy about transparency and whether or not there is any. In my view, we are incredibly transparent about matters of importance to this institution. There are no secrets about our financial circumstances, there are no issues related to how we have, can, and will address those circumstances that are not out for our community to be knowledgeable about and to engage in it. I think this is something that will help the College go forward.
TC: What will you miss most about Mills?
AD: One of the things that I have so valued is the ability to walk out the door of whatever building I’m in and to interact with students. I’ve learned so much from interacting with our students. I don’t have children of my own, so I enjoy interacting with people of a different generation, people who care so deeply about the world.
TC: Has Mills changed you in any way?
AD: One of the reasons I was so pleased to have this opportunity to change careers and come to a place like Mills, is that while I have always been a strong advocate for women’s colleges … I had a lot to learn when I came here. Just learning has changed me, knowing more. I’ve learned a lot more about various issues related to social justice. One of the places I have learned a lot … is gender justice.
TC: Any last words?
AD: This is a chance for me to say thank you to the students, for making Mills the kind of place that it is. Our students are what make the classes as robust as they are. Our students are what make the community what it is. I am very grateful to our students for doing that, for being open, for being honest, for standing for what they believe in, for challenging me. It’s through those challenges we grow.