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Second open forum raises further questions from student body

Mills community members filled the Student Union to participate in the second open forum on proposed curriculum changes. (Monika Sabic)
Mills community members filled the Student Union to participate in the second open forum on proposed curriculum changes. (Monika Sabic)

Dance performances, a faculty and student funded lunch, and a packed Student Union met the members of administration who led the second open forum for students regarding the recent announcement of curricular cuts at Mills.

The forum, once again led by Interim Provost Sharon Washington, Dean of Students Chicora Martin, and Assistant Provost Chinyere Oparah, included student questions about the Oct. 19 memorandum sent out by President DeCoudreaux regarding curricular changes being proposed at Mills.  Students passionately spoke out against these cuts from all departments, most noticeably the Book Art, Dance, and language departments.

Before the forum began, the Dance Technique class met on Holmgren Meadow in protest, while other students from all different departments held signs showing their support for faculty and the programs that will possibly be cut.  Signs read phrases such as: “Take Back Mills,” “I’m Happiest When I’m Dancing,” and “We Stand With Faculty.”  Attendees also chanted, “The students united will never be defeated.”

In addition to the protests and signs, the student and faculty funded a pizza lunch so that students would not have to “break bread” with the administration by eating the food offered by them.

Once questions began, Martin, who prefers the pronouns they/them, apologized for the fact Reg Fest was canceled for this meeting.  They also clarified about an email they sent to the faculty requesting that those who attended allow this to be a student space so they could hear the concerns of solely students.

“This is part of the decision making process,” Martin said to attendees.  “I appreciate your voices.”

Many of the questions presented to the panel of administrators centered around the departments that are proposed to be cut or consolidated into concentrations.  Washington repeated what she said at the last forum that no decisions have been made, and they are still trying to find the best possible plan financially.

Senior Erica Veitch, who released a survey regarding the changes last week and got 100 responses, raised budgetary and curriculum based questions. She cited professor of economics Roger Sparks and his ideas around Mills’ endowment. Mills is currently spending about $4 million in investment and accounting firms per year; this is while the endowment is not growing.

Dr. Martin announced two forums for students to learn about the budget, Nov 9 12-1 p.m. and Nov 14 4-5 p.m. After Veitch’s questions concerning the endowment, Dr. Washington said that she would pass on the information Veitch shared to the board of trustees.

Psychology major Tiara Jackson brought up a point outside of the curricular changes and asked about how the psychology department was going to be expanded.  According to Jackson, the programs that are being proposed to be cut or changed are already marginalized majors.  She also mentioned that the psychology program attracts the least amount the least amount of students of color.

“You are trying to get rid of the diversity,” Jackson said.

Dr. Oparah thanked Jackson for her passion and said this was something she herself had been working on for 17 years to address at Mills.

A first year Dance MFA student asked Washington about how much President DeCoudreaux’s salary is and if she herself has taken any cuts in this financial situation the school has found itself in.  The Provost declined to answer the question based on privacy reasons.  However according to the college’s 990 income tax form from 2012, the President has a salary of 401,539 dollars with an additional compensation of 100,717 dollars. According a report from Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University, who presented a financial analysis of Mills College in Feb 2015, as of 2014, full time faculty receive $118,626, associate professors receive $94,368 and assistant professors get $65,605.

President DeCoudreaux did not attend the open forum.

During student questions, a flash mob of dancers began.  Students also continued to hold up their signs throughout the entirety of the meeting.

The meeting wrapped up with ASMC Student Body President, Rachel Patterson taking the mic and explaining what she believes students should do to combat these issues.

“I would charge you to act,” Patterson said.  “Please leave here and organize.”

She added she had wished students would show this much passion and support during the Black Lives Matter protests two years prior.