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Petition against layoffs

Three faculty in the language department may not have their contracts renewed, inspiring a wave of student and faculty outcry.

In response to the shrinking endowment the board of trustees decided cuts would need to be made, most falling on campus personnel.

However, there is increasing speculation that these cuts will be aimed at the modern languages department, according to Mario Cavallari head of the department. Some worry that Arturo Davila, Mary Jorgenson, and Rosemary Delia all professors in the modern languages department whose contracts are up in December will be targeted.

Although no decision has been made, Cavallari said, that the modern languages department has been pressured, and received implicit threats of possible layoffs because of enrollment in those classes.

“In order to attract students the school advertises small classes, yet the administration tells me that my department is under-enrolled. I already have twenty students in each of my classes,” he said.

These issues were brought to light last Monday to language students as the modern languages department held its open house.

Ironically in the midst of cries of under-enrollment, Cavallari noted at the meeting, that in his seventeen years with Mills, the attendance at the open house was one of the highest in years.

Thirty students sat in sofas, crowded the floor, and stood against the walls as Cavallari, Brinda Mehta, assistant professor of French studies, and other faculty discussed the importance of the modern languages department at Mills.

Among those in the audience was Tiffany Thigpen, a Mills sophomore and resumer, sat in the back and listened intently before becoming “enraged,” according to her own accounts, and speaking up.

“I came to Mills to study Francophone literature. As an African American, that is particularly important because it exposes me to the Diaspora and allows me to bring my culture to a world wide note,” she said. “Not only have I put my life on hold, my family’s life on hold, but now they want to cut the program?”

After an hour and a half of talking, students and faculty came to a consensus that action must be taken immediately to save the program.

“We want you to use any form of resistance to support us,” said Mehta.

This prompted various students to organize to engage and confront members of the administration.

Meghan McKearny, a sophomore, went around campus asking students to sign a petition. By asking students to sign if they supported the language department, which was already vulnerable from future faculty cuts, she received more than 146 in signatures in two hours.

“I started today, and I was able to get over a hundred signatures in just over two hours, which is kind of amazing, because there aren’t that many students,” she said.

As a philosophy major, McKearney feels that this issue is especially pressing for non-language majors.

“If you’re a non-language major it’s really hard to fit language courses in your schedule. In my case, it conflicts with my general education requirements and major requirements,” she said.

Because of lack of finality in decisions, many school officials assert that it’s too early to know for sure whether the speculated cuts will take place. “Plans haven’t been finalized. There are some very premature things but nothing that I would want to make public,” said John Brabson, Provost and Dean of Faculty. “If we had 200 additional students the college would be in a much better situation.”

Brabson added, that decisions are being made with the students’ benefit in mind. “We look at long term patterns and student interests. If there is low enrollment in an area of curriculum then students are paying for something that they aren’t using.”

Freshwoman Amethyst-Eve Sheffield a French language student, doesn’t believe that faculty cuts would be in the school’s best interest.

“Granted we all know about budgets. But its embarrassing for Mills that they are considering these cuts, ” she said.

Sheffield added, that a decision to cut faculty from the language department would especially be crucial for Mills considering the role of the United States in the global community.

In a letter written for the Mills community, President Janet Holmgren stated, “There are dual realities of the diminished value of our endowment and the prospect of modest returns on our investments require us to plan carefully.”

The letter went on to say that there are several guidelines in place for building a new operating budget for the Mills future. “The board of trustees has mandated an effort at reducing core costs… to establish a framework for preserving student financial aid and for providing better support for renewal and replacement, technology needs, and competitive salaries for faculty and staff.”

Cuts to faculty in the modern languages department would limit the amount of upper division literature courses, which are taught by professors in that department. These cuts would also affect ethnic studies courses, as many of the classes are cross-registered.