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“Address the facts and figures”: A Northeastern alum’s letter to President Hillman

The views and experiences shared in this letter are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of members of the Campanil.

Dear President Hillman,

I read the article about the Northeastern merger shared in the most recent Inside & Out newsletter, and as an alumni of Northeastern University, I would like to offer some thoughts. While I was an undergraduate student in Boston, I thoroughly enjoyed my college experience, as well as the opportunities my alma mater provided me. When news of the merger between the two schools was announced, I heard it with an open mind for all of the reasons that the article you shared describes. It is undeniable that the model of education must change and that all transitions carry a degree of difficulty, especially for those who are charged with their implementation. In keeping with the “both/and” theme, I also understand the concerns of my peers who are afraid of what the next phase of Mills may bring, while at the same time recognizing that all entrusted parties are doing their very best to address the expressed concerns of every student. And I also see why there remains a disconnect. 

While I was a student at Northeastern, the school was in the process of its own transformation. Tuition greatly increased and its rank significantly jumped among the best U.S. colleges and universities. The school started admitting many more monied international students, allowing it to revamp its entire infrastructure and expand its physical presence. All the while, the cost of real estate around its campus priced out working-class people, as well as the establishments that have been around the school and served its populace for decades. Northeastern also purchased those buildings that housed restaurants and bars, corner stores, pocket galleries, local newspapers and a YMCA, and converted them into more dormitories and classrooms. These places had dedicatedly served generations of every kind of student. For many of us, they were the backbone of campus life. But they could not keep up with the school’s meteoric growth. Perhaps it is impractical and naïve to hold back such future-oriented momentum for humble places with lesser profits in an unpredictable, survival-driven world, but at some point we have to ask ourselves: is it really worth it? When growth of an entity trumps the existence of the communities that have contributed to its rise, one’s own integrity and commitment to their original principles are often next on the chopping block. 

We as a larger society have seen this trend so many times — for example, with Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods, another place which I was once a part of. When I was an employee, we received labor surpluses, employee discounts and team-building activities. There was an understanding that treating employees well was an important part of the company’s bottom line. However, at some point, that attitude changed and those employee benefits were drastically reduced, if not entirely eliminated. By the time Amazon came along, Whole Foods was already ripe for further corporatization. Today, many locations, including the one down my street, have trouble filling vacancies because of the reversal of so many of their original practices. Whole Foods’ drifting away from its original identity as a co-operative has proportionally resulted in a lower quality of produce, and preexisting long lines and labor shortages have only exacerbated been by inflation.   

I say all these things that you may already be aware of because after the passage of the Citizens United decision in 2010, it’s been difficult for the common person to trust that corporate entities and conglomerate organizations are working on behalf of their welfare. We turn over our taxes every year to a government that says one thing and does something else behind the opaque shield of bureaucracy. It asks us to have faith and keep voting because it says it knows what is best for our future. Meanwhile, for decades, a great many in this first-world country have not had access to clean water, healthcare and other basic necessities. This is all to say that this similar pattern of not explicitly addressing bureaucratic and budgetary concerns, no matter how difficult, impractical, complicated or uncomfortable, is what continues the sentiment of distrust among the Mills student body, like it does with our own citizenry. I do understand that it is difficult to reveal behind-the-scenes information while a transition is still underway, but when there are two opposite pictures painted of the same scenario, we can’t help but scratch our heads. 

I’m sure you are aware of the many critical articles of the merger, such as the recent one in SFGate, which describes a very different financial situation than the one that has reportedly led to Mills’ current circumstances. The article states that Mills’ operating revenue has been quite healthy, even after the pandemic and acquisition announcement, and that excessive administrative spending is the actual cause of untenability. What follows are concrete numbers to back up these statements. But if Mills administration and trustees are describing the merger more accurately and have, in fact, done everything in their power to restructure and reduce excessive costs, then clear away our doubt and confusion by helping us understand the extent to which Mills has attempted every effort to operate more economically. Address the facts and figures in the SFGate article to the same extent of detail that they have provided. Describe to us how wrong we have all been about what’s taken place behind the scenes of the merger. After all, my instructors at Mills have always told me that if I show my audience the facts and figures, and let them decide what’s happening for themselves instead of telling them what to believe, my message will be that much more effective.   

In the end, I’m writing all this because I’m rooting for Mills and Northeastern to make this partnership work, and because I love both of these schools very much. Like Mills, Northeastern was a school that made me feel at home as a result of how diverse the community was. It gave me my first experience of belonging, which is due in no small part to the people of Boston, without whom such institutions could never aspire to any measure of greatness. If I attended Northeastern today, I am unconvinced that I would have been able to have had the same enriching experiences. Those invaluable things that I loved most about the city and the school have been diluted and displaced for higher rents and the cost of doing business, just as in so many other places. At some point in our trajectory, the cost of it all won’t justify what we’re paying for. We’ll have forgotten what those very priceless things were, all because they didn’t turn a dollar. I am hopeful Mills will not suffer a similar fate. And in light of all the circumstances, myself and many here at Mills would appreciate more than hope and reassurances.


Meena Ramakrishnan

Mills College ‘22

Northeastern University ‘13