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College and AAMC Deal Expected

While negotiations over the alumnae association appear to be nearing an end, speculation is heavy and parties remain tight-lipped about the expected outcome.

What is clear is that the Office of Institutional Advancement is preparing to start its own annual fund on July 1, and there’s a group of alumnae with a lot to say about that.An agreement is expected to be announced by May 14.

The Alumnae Association of Mills College, or more precisely its fundraising, has been at the center of a debate that began last year when concern was raised over a “perceived disconnect” between the College and the AAMC, and an evaluation commissioned by the College determined that AAMC fundraising was not equivalent to that of other colleges. The two began analyzing and negotiating of the structure of AAMC and its relationship to the College.

Of the expected agreement, Mills College President Janet Holmgren said, “It provides for an independent, strong alumnae association in Reinhardt House, with additional resources for their programs, and fundraising for the College under the auspices of OIA.”

In March, Holmgren and AAMC President Thomasina Woida issued a joint statement, which said, without providing details, that some of the items being discussed included the College’s “firm intent” to start its annual fund, and its “strong commitment to provide the Association with resources for its alumnae/i relations, functions and related issues.”

The statement, combined with staff changes on both ends, is what has many concerned about the negotiations.Woida confirmed that the director of Special Giving, Mary Poppingo, has assumed the position of director of Annual Giving since Cecily Peterson’s departure on April 15, and that no other search is currently underway for a replacement. But Poppingo has also turned in her resignation, and will be leaving in June.

The Mills Web site currently lists three positions for hire related to the Mills College Fund: director, production coordinator and telemarketing manager. Woida denied any implication that the AAMC will no longer be fundraising for the College. “As of today, we’re still fully staffed, we're still fundraising and we’re still the alumnae association we were last year,” she said. “As a part of its mission statement, [AAMC] is a fundraiser.”

“We’re both negotiating in good faith with the hope that the result will benefit both,” she said, “with both receiving the maximum amount of benefits.”

Poppingo said that since the Mills College Fund is starting regardless of negotiations, “The alumnae probably won’t run a competing fund. It wouldn’t make any sense.” But, she said, “It would still be great to allow alumnae to raise money for things like special programs and alumnae scholars.”

“I hope that the alumnae remain independent, and the College gives the association great funding for even better programs,” Poppingo said.

Other topics referred to in the letter, again without detail, were AAMC’s continued use of the Reinhardt Alumnae House, both parties agreement that an independent association is “essential to Mills’ long-term health,” as well as, “[h]ow the AAMC can best maintain its independence and financial health” while ensuring both parties “can succeed with their financial goals.”

Woida said, “There is no agreement at this time, and I can’t anticipate when there will be one, but we are proceeding in that direction.”

But a number of alumnae are convinced that the Board of Governors, presumably on the recommendation of the Core Committee appointed to negotiate the matter, is prepared to “hand over” the annual fund to OIA.The problem with that, they say, is without financial independence, the AAMC loses much of its power to be heard.

Entering the mix is a group of alumnae who have started a petition and letter-writing campaign to the two boards, protesting the expected compromise.

The anonymous group Alumnae for an Independent AAMC published, and said on the site that, “Due to the power of President Holmgren and her well-known unfavorable actions towards those that don't share her point of view, this Web site and its founders must remain anonymous.” The site also says they are not responsible for the recent anonymous flyers around campus referencing the 1990 strike.

“If we don’t control our money, we don’t have a voice,” said Alexa Pagonas, ’91, spokeswoman for the Web site’s organizers, and co-president of the Los Angeles AAMC chapter. She did not create the site, she said, but was contacted to be its spokeswoman after a letter she wrote to alumnae garnered some attention. The letter stated, “The College has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. By stating over and over again that Alumnae are “confused” while simultaneously starting their own annual fund in competition with the AAMC’s annual fund they have thereby created confusion where there was none.” The group is pushing the Board of Governors to present the decision to the entire association for a vote.

“The purpose of all this is to force the Board of Governors to have some sort of democratic procedure,” she said. “[The decision] should be given to the alumnae at large.”

“It may be a longer process,” Pagonas said, “but I think it needs it.”

Pagonas, a student during the strike and former member of the Board of Governors, has been president of the L.A. chapter for two years.

"I have a lot of faith in the Board of Governors and the AAMC,” Pagonas said. “I believe they all have the best interests of the alums at heart. I just think they need a little help.”

Both Holmgren and Woida said they “don’t want to engage” until negotiations are finished.”But personally, I’m deeply disappointed with the misinformation and inflammatory language used,” Holmgren said.