Thursday (Dec. 1), students gathered in the Student Union to express collective outrage at the uniltateral decision on behalf of the Mills College administration to abruptly lay off six staff members, without having given the community notice nor an opportunity for input until the dismissal was completed. While the loss of Jess Miller and Gina Rosabal was widely addressed by the community in radically courageous acts of speech, I would like to broaden the scope of our outrage.
The decision to dismantle Career Services by laying off Kate Dey, without providing explicit and effective alternatives to students seeking career advice, demonstrates a level of negligence I have never before witnessed at Mills. As a student preparing to enter the job market, I am in a vulnerable position without the support of a fully-staffed Career Services department.
Fellow student Myles Luber pointed out in a Facebook video post that “many of these staff members are more than just heads of departments; they essentially are the departments themselves.” Dismissing Kate Dey carries an exceptional message of indifference to students and alumnae as we struggle within a vicious job market while shouldering immense loan debt.
Now is not the time to pretend that the transition from student to salaried worker will be easy or gratifying. Some of us will have the luck and opportunity to get the jobs we want, probably through private connections. But many of us will face months of unemployment before we are hired or enter graduate school. Others among us will get part-time or full-time positions that are unrelated to our greater career goals. For most of us, the outlook is dark. Our college degrees do not have the clout they once did.
That is because there is an abundance of college graduates in the job market, and unemployment levels for our demographic are climbing to all-time highs while our salary growth potentials decline, according to a New York Times article from May. Young people across the country collect dismal unemployment checks, wind up engineering espresso drinks while shouldering six-figure loan debt, or desperately freelance several jobs to make rent. Meanwhile, graduate school is sought as a shelter from an uncharitable economy, transforming the admissions process into a cutthroat competition for placement and funding. Simply put, there are no certainties.
Last week, basic career services were being offered by a qualified professional director and knowledgeable interns, and today they are not. Perhaps what is most disturbing about this lightning-paced retrograde is that the College has yet to inform students when the restructuring of the lost services will begin. It makes me wonder if the administration’s plan is never to recreate them in full. If my prediction is incorrect, I would not know it; the College has failed to communicate effectively to the Mills community about its motives and plans.
In President Alecia DeCoudreaux’s campus-wide dispatch on Dec. 1, she directed students seeking career advice to Lesa Hammond of Human Resources, but the e-mail lacked essential details about the series of events unfolding on campus.
For example, what compelled the College to determine Dey’s position was expendable? Why were students not consulted on this, and when will they be? What qualifies Hammond to serve as interim director of Career Services? Does Hammond have experience responding to the breadth of questions, anxieties and uncertainties facing Mills students? Why didn’t the memorandum include the administration’s rationale for the cuts, beyond citing financial issues? Does the administration take seriously the economic plight facing students and alumnae, or does it only choose to recognize its own budget crises?
Let me be explicit: these questions need to be answered immediately, by President DeCoudreaux and Dr. Joi Lewis. The answers they provide need to convince the entire student body that the services we students rely on are being offered without delay.
Transparency and community involvement should guide the administration in their next steps, not budget shortfalls, paradigm shifts and disempowerment.
On Nov. 30, the College manifested the worst aspects of corporate industry in its use of secrecy, disrespect of staff and absence in student discourse. It was an insult to the entire student population when President DeCoudreaux left the Student Union after listening to a fraction of the statements being shared by her students— what engagement could have exceeded the importance of staying?
Not all of the comments shared were kind or even rational, but as the hour progressed, people stopped firing off reactionary insults. They began to share their deepest identities, because, though they felt betrayed, they still trusted Mills to make the right call and listen to their voices. I hope that our trust does not prove misplaced.