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Staff Editorial: Teacher turnover and student instability

Students are impacted in many different ways when faculty leaves Mills .
Students are impacted in many different ways when faculty leaves Mills .

In the summer of 2017, Mills college lost five tenured professors due to the Financial Stabilization Plan introduced at the same time. In 2018, 14 professors were no longer on-campus.

It seems as though more professors are leaving Mills, which is causing students to worry about their academic futures. Professors at Mills have many different roles within the College, allowing for a stronger engagement across the student community. Students are greatly affected by the absence of teachers, making teacher turnover a very visceral experience.

Mills is a very small liberal arts college. With 1,255 students enrolled, Mills college is in a unique position with its small student body. With an 11 to one student to faculty ratio and an average class size of 16 students, we experience a very individualized learning environment. Mills prides itself for providing smaller class sizes to facilitate student and professor engagement.

As a student, you get to know your professors and build strong, lasting relationships that are fundamental to a successful learning experience. With smaller class sizes, professors are more involved with their students because they have the availability to provide attention to everyone. At the larger colleges and universities, you lose that close professor-student dynamic because of class sizes. When you are able to create a bond with your professor, you engage more which in turn will reflect how much you retain from a class.

While this one-on-one student-teacher relationship is beneficial, the loss of professors during a semester can be more noticeable. At Mills, professors do so much more than lecture. Many professors are advisors for students, providing guidance and mentorship. Most advisors at Mills have a strong sense of how the school works, and are able to communicate the ins and outs effectively to the students. Professors who act as advisors to students can offer valuable information about a student’s major field, bringing a student clarity on their potential future.

When professors leave, the students lose advisors in the process. Being placed with a new advisor can be difficult, as students who build trust with their previous advisors must then start over. This can be a startling change, especially if students are placed with a new advisor during their first or senior year. Not only will the new advisor be a quick change, but they might also lack the knowledge of Mills that can only be obtained through years of experience. While Mills provides many student support services, navigating the school without an advisor can be difficult. Many students don’t know how to access or reach out to receive the support they need or if there is a student support option that will fit with their needs.

Professors are also involved with the community outside of the classroom. Clubs create a sense of community which is necessary to combat otherness. Mills offers a wide variety of clubs on-campus that helps to bring students into making connections with their peers who have similar interests and life experience. While many clubs and organizations are student run, professors participate and offer support as club advisors. When professors leave, they also leave the organizations that they advise.

With the loss of professors, students have had to compromise with their major and minor fields. While some departments at Mills retain many professors, like the English department, there are departments and disciplines that are held up by one professors, such as philosophy. This leaves the smaller departments at risk, if multiple professors under certain disciplines leave, the major or minor within that department will no longer exist until replacements are found. Students will then have to change their major or minor, restricting their academic interests or come up with an individualized major.

Professors do not simply lecture at Mills College, their responsibilities extend well past this aspect. Professors juggle being advisors for students and clubs, while being a representative of a major or minor department. All of these aspects contribute to the culture and stability of a college. Professors at small colleges are far more engaged with their students and create strong ties in order to help their students with their future at Mills. Without the stability students rely on from their professors, the student support system becomes insecure. Mills needs to practice transparency when it comes to teacher turnover, as students deserve the right to know who is staying and who will not be returning next semester.