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College proposes merit raises despite current economic conditions

Mills College has expressed commitment to make its education attainable for people of all socio-economic backgrounds and to retain students experiencing financial hardship, while providing the highest quality of instruction. With these goals in mind, and because the College is facing a shrinking endowment, the administration should take a hard look at what to cut and what to keep in the upcoming fiscal year 2010 budget.

With budget cuts of 10 percent per academic department imminent, and a staff hiring freeze that might leave some who are currently employed on contract without a job come June, it is perplexing that President Janet Holmgren announced in a campus-wide budgetary meeting on Wed., Feb. 4 that certain staff and faculty would receive merit raises.

Before this, Holmgren said there wouldn’t be the usual across-the-board salary increases, but that the College would commit itself to “promotion and retention opportunities.” The money would come from the half a million dollars the College will save from the hiring freeze and not having salary increases for all.

Someone familiar with the College could easily speculate to whom those raises will be awarded-an inner administrative circle that surrounds the President-but regardless, we question why anyone should be receiving higher salaries in this time of fiscal crisis. Meanwhile, the College seeks an ever-larger undergraduate enrollment to boost its revenues, stretching the financial aid and resources badly needed by students already at Mills.

Financial aid petitions to get more money have increased exponentially, while some students seem to have left Mills due to lack of adequate funds.

Mills’ website says 95 percent of its students receive financial aid, most of which comes out of our endowment. The College’s investments that comprise the endowment have decreased by over 35 percent in the last 18 months.

Additionally if, as Holmgren has insisted, every position at Mills is a necessary one, why implement an indefinite hiring freeze? Those positions deemed “mission critical” will be filled, but the biases inherent in such decisions are apparent.

For example, is a new dean of the Graduate School of Business critical to the mission of the MBA program? Apparently so. What about on-the-ground teaching assistants for math and computer science courses? Apparently not.

We saw the severance of the Institute for Civic Leadership and Women’s Leadership Institute, both which developed fiercely capable, community-engaged female leaders, and the shocking departure of Daphne Muse and other beloved figures (though ICL seems to be hanging on for at least another year).

With all we have to lose-and have already lost-how can raises for a privileged few be justified, while other jobs are lost or left unfilled? We recognize sacrifices will have to be made, and that our budget situations will only be worse in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, but they must be made responsibly and in the best interests of the students.

This version has been updated on 2.18.09 from the one that appears in print.