About 190 people, many of whom were students, showed up for last week’s Mills College Fall Community Meeting to begin a conversation with the administration about using faculty and staff furloughs to address this year’s $3.5 million budget deficit.
Students expressed to President Alecia DeCoudreaux and members of the President’s Cabinet their concern that faculty and staff furloughs would impact Mills’ quality of education. Students also asked whether the $3.5 million shortfall meant Mills would reconsider going co-ed, to which DeCoudreaux answered with a quick no.
Twice a year, Mills students, staff, faculty and management come together at the Community Meeting. Dr. Joi Lewis, Dean of Students, said she looks forward to these cross-campus conversations.
“I’m always really glad for this opportunity to think together, to connect, to clarify questions or concerns that we may have, to learn from each other — because, of course, this is a learning environment,” Lewis said. “I always walk away with, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know folks had that perception.’ Or, ‘Let me think a little bit deeper about that.’ So I’m always looking forward to those kinds of insights.”
Faculty and Staff Furloughs
The College has decided to use faculty and staff furloughs to save money — a decision that institutions of higher education across the country have already been making, DeCoudreaux said.
Furloughs are temporary leaves of absence from employment. Faculty and staff would be required to take a number of unpaid days off from work per semester. A possible concern is that faculty and staff might not get the same amount of work done given less paid time. However, student services and other essential services, like Public Safety, would be staffed at all times.
“I want to assure you that faculty will be available to students,” DeCoudreax said. “Classes will not be canceled, and students will not have less access to faculty. We are very concerned about the overall reputation of the college, and we want to make sure that the work that we’re going about now to address this budget shortfall continues to ensure academic excellence and the highest quality academic experience that you could have here at Mills College.”
At the Community Meeting, DeCoudreaux reported on her work at Mills since she began in July, emphasizing her time getting to know the Mills community and interacting with students.
“I very much value the students here at Mills College,” DeCoudreaux said. “It didn’t take long for me to recognize what a vibrant group of students we have, what an intelligent group of students we have, what a committed group of students we have.”
DeCoudreaux highlighted her desire to be as transparent as possible about what the College is doing and how, and to solicit a great deal of community feedback. She stated that decision-making should be collaborative, but groups and committees usually don’t make decisions.
“We generally have decisions made by one person. Sometimes that’s me, sometimes that’s other people,” DeCoudreaux said. “But the best decisions, in my view, are those that are informed decisions. So I’m trying to reach out and hear from as many people as possible so that the decisions that we make can be really good, informed decisions.”
Financial State of the College
DeCoudreaux reminded all present that these are difficult times for colleges and universities across the country, and it is likely that all institutions of higher education are facing some sort of budget shortfall.
Mills’ own shortfall runs at $3.5 million.
One of the first things DeCoudreaux did when she assumed office was appoint the Budget Committee, which is chaired by Dr. Sandra Greer, Provost and Dean of Faculty. The committee is now establishing a budget process that will help the College prepare for a couple of years at a time as opposed to coming up with a new budget each year.
The Budget Committee has also created a space on the Mills Intranet for faculty, staff and students to contribute ideas on how to save money and generate revenue. All contributions will be published weekly.
“We’ve already seen some good and creative ideas, and I look forward to implementing those,” DeCoudreaux said.
DeCoudreaux also appointed an Enrollment Management Task Force chaired by Dr. Andrew Workman, Vice Provost and History Professor.
This task force will develop strategies to increase the student population and thus increase the overall revenue Mills collects from tuition. It will also work closely with the Budget Committee to understand the budgetary impact of enrollment decisions.
Meeting attendees had the opportunity to submit questions and comments on cards, some of which were read aloud by ASMC President Modesta Tamayo, who moderated the meeting.
“When I was looking at Mills,” one student had written, “I was not aware of the financial situation. Where does transparency come into this, and why aren’t students aware of the budget issue before they come to Mills?”
DeCoudreaux said that everyone is becoming aware of these issues at the same time.
“I talked first to faculty, then I talked to staff and here I am today talking to you,” DeCoudreaux said. “The goal is to make sure we all understand what’s going on so we all have the basic facts in front of us. To the extent that I can, I’m constantly sharing information with you as appropriate, and I’m constantly seeking your input.”
It’s important to keep in mind, she said, that budget situations like these can be very dynamic and it takes a while to obtain the full enrollment numbers and then to analyze and confirm them. Only after the facts are in place can the College quickly communicate the issues to the campus community.
“While furloughs might be necessary,” another student had written, “how can I expect a quality education from professors taking pay cuts? What about their morale?”
DeCoudreaux expressed concern for the morale of every campus community member and that these difficulties are easy for no one.
“I believe very strongly in that this is a community that cares deeply about Mills, that is very conscious of the fact that we have a mission to educate students and that we have to continue to work very hard to do everything we can to provide the best quality education we can for our students,” DeCoudreaux said. “I’ve heard absolutely nothing from faculty that would tell me anything to the contrary.”
Dawna Williams, a new transfer student, asked how close Mills is to going co-ed in light of this budget deficit.
“Mills is not going co-ed,” DeCoudreaux said to much applause. “You will hear time and time again about my commitment to Mills remaining a college for undergraduate women. So we don’t have to worry about that.”