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Civic leadership program reinstated after abrupt cancellation last spring

The Institute for Civic Leadership was reinstated for the upcoming school year, after the program was abruptly canceled last April due to lack of funding.

Changes in store for this year include decreasing the number of classes from three to two, reducing the program’s budget, and finding more ways to involve the Mills community beyond the students enrolled in the program, according to Civic Leadership Coordinator Michaela Daystar.

She said the program also hopes to work on joint programming with the Women’s Leadership Institute, Social Justice Living Learning Communities, and the Public Policy program, as well as foster partnerships off-campus.

Vice Provost Andrew Workman said the decision to bring the program back came in May, at the end of the spring 2008 semester.

Daystar, now the program’s sole coordinator, sent an e-mail to the Mills community on June 16, which read in part, “The sudden news of ICL’s closure was followed by the strong efforts of students, staff and faculty to save the program. These efforts were successful in demonstrating the ways in which ICL is essential to the college’s mission to develop the civic and leadership capacities of women.”

Daystar said the College decided to reinstate the program after current and would-be incoming students worked hard to get the message out about its cancellation and held meetings with the Provost. The first was held near the end of the semester, and was spearheaded by Tracy Peerson, a member of last year’s cohort.

A broader meeting with ICL stakeholders was then held, with about 15 in attendance according to Daystar. Going into that meeting, Peerson said she and her fellow classmates had a feeling the College would present a reduced version of the program.

Also active in the meetings and helping to spread the message was transfer student Shoshana Perrey, who opted out of a study abroad trip to Madagascar to participate in the program before learning it would be cancelled.

In an e-mail, she wrote she was part of the many alumni, professors and students whom spoke up for the program because “it has made a meaningful difference in their academic and civic career.”

Daystar said students and faculty in attendance pointed out that the program helped in retaining transfer students, and had the ability to integrate community participation with coursework.

“We still had to express what was important to us about the program,” Peerson said.

Following that meeting, Daystar and Smith met with Workman after the semester ended. “The Provost and the vice-Provost realized they had to do something,” Daystar said, adding that the College wasn’t going to break a promise to students who were planning on participating in ICL come fall.

President Janet Holmgren also supported carrying on the program. She “believed that we should find the money in the College-which we did, from gift funds-to continue it for at least another year, while we looked for other funds,” said Workman.

So Daystar and the Office of the Provost worked out a compromise that left the essential components of the program intact, including a personalized internship, female mentors, and two courses, one in the fall and in the spring.

The College will also help with fundraising efforts, including staff from the Office of Institutional Advancement. “Prior to that, we were pretty much on our own in terms of seeking funds,” Daystar said. “Over the last year, obviously, we were unsuccessful with that.”

Yet the long-term fate of ICL is uncertain. “There’s no guarantee that after this year the program will continue to exist,” Daystar said.

Workman says that the College has a “good chance” of finding additional funding “because it’s such a strong and interesting program and it’s actually different from a lot of these kinds of programs out there because there’s such a strong academic component.”

Peerson said the program is still in a transitory place. “It still feels like the fight isn’t over, the work isn’t done,” she said. She added that a steering committee should be put together to “build a foundation for how decisions are made” and cement the financial integrity of the program so that there are no surprises.

ICL was canceled in April, after 10 students had already applied and been accepted for the 2008-09 school year.

Seven out of the 10 original students accepted to this year’s cohort chose to continue with the program, with the anticipation that the total number of students in this year’s group will reach 11, said Daystar.

One of those seven is Perrey. “I’m happy that we’ve saved the program for this year and look forward with great enthusiasm to working with the amazing women that were accepted, and [with] Michaela,” she said.

The decision to end ICL affected last school year’s cohort as well, as they were denied the $1,000 grants to fund their community projects, an extension of the year-long program.

As part of the compromise, the students were allowed to apply for their grants. With the reinstatement, four students applied for and received funding. It was an unusually low number, according to Daystar, due in part to the timing.

Peerson is among those who will pursue projects. She said she wants to start a national hate crimes memorial in the Bay Area, creating a public space around the experience of violence, where people “can have space to grieve and to learn.”

The previous program director of ICL, Krista Smith, is no longer with the program. She “[voluntarily] moved on to another position,” according to Workman.

Peerson said that it was made clear that only one staff member would be able to continue.

She said she was sad they could not give more light to the importance of having both Smith and Daystar on staff. But she added the leadership that she and the other students practiced in trying to save the program “had a lot to do with how close our cohort was” and was “living proof of what [Smith and Daystar] had done for us.”

Daystar says she misses Smith, and that her status as “a staff of one” has made it “a huge challenge” to recruit additional students and catch up on work that would have been done last semester had the program remained intact.