Mills College President Janet Holmgren announced Monday she will be stepping down next spring after 20 years in the position.
Holmgren made public her decision to students, staff and faculty who filled the Concert Hall Feb. 22. She sent out a sudden e-mail that morning which stated she would be making a special announcement later in the afternoon.
“19 years ago, I came out on this Concert Hall stage for my first public appearance as the elected president of Mills College. It was an overwhelming moment, truly exciting and some of you were here that day. And were here when I was introduced to the community by the Board of Trustees,” she began, reminiscing on her first day on campus in 1991.
“All of you have grown with the institution, and you have grown with me. I have to say that I am a little fatter than I was 19 years ago and I’m not any taller, but I am a lot more experienced. And I am even more committed and even more proud of the work I do today than I have ever had imagined when I first came to Mills,” she said to the assembled crowd.
Holmgren did not offer any concrete reasons for her departure from the presidency, saying only that “This is definitely a good moment for me, because I am at the peak of my energy and my spirit and my sense of wanting to tell the story of higher education, tell the story about Mills, tell the story about women’s education and women’s leadership.”
She said she would like to continue to teach at the College at some point.
In a published message the next day, Holmgren said she has been “called to resume writing and research that I have put on hold for nearly two decades.”
After the meeting, she said she came to the decision after a lot of thought.
“I have been thinking about this and I’ve talked to my daughters. This is both for myself and for Mills. There is never a right or perfect time, but this is a good time,” she said. She added she wanted to make the announcement the right way and on her own terms, before “anyone came knocking on my door,” she said.
Athletics Director Themy Adachi has been at the College for 28 years, and remembers when Holmgren arrived.
“I’m sad in the sense that she has had a tremendous leadership for much of the time I’ve been here. I am confident that Mills will find a strong leader,” she said. “I remember when she first got here it was close after the strike, and she was really saying that absolutely that there is a place for women’s education. It was a really critical period of time when she came. She was not only for leadership for women, but leadership for all women.”
Many students were also curious on the future of the college’s leadership.
“I hope that the transition doesn’t affect the students, or the faculty in a bad way,” said sophomore Zainab Shabbir.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Giulietta Aquino, a College alumna from the class of 1993, talked about first seeing Holmgren when she was appointed.
“I remember sitting in the Concert Hall and she was introduced to Mills College and I remember feeling excited and just have chills because I was just excited. I feel very honored to have worked with her, and will continue working with her,” she said.
Director of Student Activities Courtney Young-Law also commented on Holmgren’s future plans.
“I think I appreciate her commitment to a thoughtful transition, and I appreciate her contribution to strengthening the Mills community,” she said.
Holmgren is the College’s 12th president. She took office during the summer of 1991 after administrators and staff exited following a failed attempt to turn Mills into a coed institution.
“In the history of Mills College, there are three important eras: Cyrus and Susan Mills, Aurelia Reinhardt and Janet Holmgren. And those are the three major leaders in the history of Mills College. We have a task to find someone who can replace Janet Holmgren,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Sandra Greer.
She currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Princeton University, after graduating from the school with a master’s in linguistics and PhD in the field in 1974. She currently teaches a linguistics course at the College.
An overview of Holmgren’s accomplishments has been published on the Mills Web site.
According to staff in the President’s Office, Holmgren’s assistant was laid off in the beginning of February, and the office’s two administrative assistants will also be laid off, one on March 1 and the other on April 1.
Ramon Torrecilha, whose formal title is now Executive Vice President, recently moved to the President’s Office, after he was previously in charge of the Office of Institutional Advancement.
– Jennifer Courtney contributed to this report.