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Institute for Civic Leadership abruptly canceled

Mills College officials announced the cancellation of the Institute for Civic Leadership (ICL) one week after program administrators admitted a new class of students for the 2008-2009 school year.

ICL began in 2001 as a primarily grant-funded program that led a small group of students in civic education work each year, giving them a mentor and placing them in community internships. It was canceled, according to the Provost, because not enough outside funding was found after original grants ran out.

“It has nothing to do with the quality of the program,” said Vice Provost Andrew Workman. Yet, he added that “When you look at the whole academic program, ICL-although it’s a very successful and very valuable program-is in some ways added onto the core academic programs.”

Thus, he said, “[with] the economy the way that it is, we have to make projections that are made conservatively,” he said.

Students met the news with anger and disappointment. Junior transfer student Shoshana Perrey was admitted into next year’s program. She said she was originally attracted to Mills because of ICL, which for her represented a way to gain academic support for her work in food justice. Perrey created her entire college major around ICL.

Because of her dedication to the program, Provost Mary Ann Milford sent her a personal letter informing her of its closure. “I broke into tears, crying,” she said. “It really swipes the rug out from under your feet when you’re told that all the work you did was for nothing.”

Nadine Dixon, a current ICL participant, stressed the ability of ICL to “create networks and bonds with other people,” at April 13’s ASMC meeting.

Current and accepted students informed those present of ICL’s importance to Mills. “I think it’s an incredible loss,” Dixon said, adding that as a resuming transfer student, ICL helped give her a sense of community, with both alumni of the program, current students, and future ones.

Michaela Daystar, the Program Coordinator for the Center for Civic Engagement and Women’s Leadership, and an alumna of both ICL and Mills, says she and ICL Program Director Krista Smith were not a part of the process that determined ICL’s cancellation.

“That’s part of what was painful-transparency wasn’t necessarily afforded to us,” said Daystar. “I don’t say that in an accusatory way,” she added, including that she did not know the protocol and processes of such budgetary decisions, and understood the difficult financial situation the college is currently facing.

Smith echoed a similar sentiment. “I just don’t know how those decisions are made here exactly,” she said. She added that they went ahead with the admissions process for next year’s cohort because “until we heard the official word, we were operating under the assumption that [the program would continue].”

In hindsight, Workman said ICL should not have gone through with the admissions process. “But at the same time we don’t want to cancel something prematurely, if it has a chance of running,” he said.

Workman also said that the College’s annual budget allocation was not on the same time frame as ICL’s admissions cycle, so the decision to cancel the program was not made until after the fact.

The Provost met with Smith and Daystar on April 2, 2008, and sent a letter to the newly admitted students on April 4, explaining that the program had been cut. Daystar said speaking with the students after they found out was “absolutely difficult.”

“Two students in particular had sacrificed a huge amount,” she said, including Perrey, whom opted not to travel abroad to Madagascar for a semester to participate in ICL. “The rest of them were just beautiful, wonderful people,” whom she said responded with “more love and acceptance than I hoped for.”

“I was prepared for more harshness on their part,” she added.

In the fall of 2007, the Provost guided the program’s change from a one-semester to a two-semester program, and only Mills students, with the exception of exchange students from the University of California, Berkeley, could be admitted. It had a large impact given that 40 to 60 percent of past applicants were outside of the college, said Daystar.

In all, ICL, whose motto is “Preparing tomorrow’s leaders for a democratic society,” has worked with 102 past students.
The cancellation came after the institute’s main source of funding ran out, and the college paid the program’s full costs for the 2007-2008 school year. During that time, Smith said they looked “very hard” for sources of outside funding, but such efforts have “not been able to bring in the types of funds needed to be able to continue the program.”

ICL received an original grant in 2000, which totaled an up-front sum of $930,000 from The Atlantic Philanthropies, according to Dean for the School of Education Joseph Kahne, who authored the grant proposal and is Founding Director for ICL. It ended in 2004, after one year of planning and three years of operations.

He said when it came time to renew the grant, they could not do so because the organization had “moved out of funding” such higher education programs. But, an additional $500,000 was raised from various sources to continue ICL.

In 2005, the college received a federal earmark, which Mills alum Congresswomen Barbara Lee helped secure, for $317,000 to pay for ICL’s program costs that year. It is in the last two years that the college has had trouble gaining funds.

Now that the program has come to an end, Daystar and Smith say they look forward to conversations about how to continue civic education at Mills.

“We are very heartbroken about the loss off this program, but we do hope that the college does figure out a way to continue the leadership development, civic engagement, and service learning opportunities that this program provided here on campus,” said Smith.

“What the college is now exploring, and will explore over the next year or so, are ways in which we can really, in a sustainable way, support service learning, support interaction with the surrounding community,” said Workman.

Perrey said the College needs to make a greater effort to institutionalize the program into its budget. “Mills talks a lot about leadership,” she said. “It makes me feel the school is more talk and not so much the walk.”

This year’s group-which will be the last-contains 11 students. The budget issues have affected them, as well: they will not be receiving their $1,000 grants when they graduate from the program. Workman declined to comment as to why, and Smith said the reason was that the money just wasn’t there.

On April 12, ICL held a grant conference day during which seven past students presented their work. Among the projects were a current Mills senior who created a movie on how to have supportive, fulfilling relationships as opposed to unhealthy ones, and a participant who created geographic maps of resource organizations for women and youth in Oakland.