Note: This opinion is written to the best of our ability with the information available to us. As of the publication date, our staff believes that every statement we made in this op-ed is true.
In light of Vice President of Strategic Partnerships Renee Jadushlever’s correspondence with Measure AA: Oakland’s Children Initiative campaign staffers that resulted in Mills College being added as an endorser on their website, The Campanil staff felt it imperative to address the case. We discussed the matter itself and what factors may have led to the series of bewildering communications—which seem to illustrate more generally some of the issues facing our college at the moment.
If you would like more information on the initial situation that sparked this article, please read our headline story on the front page of this issue.
The level of confusion surrounding Jadushlever’s communication with Measure AA staffers indicates something broader than what could be seen as—hopefully—an isolated incident. Our staff agreed that the situation itself suggests a broader issue of transparency and clarity within the institution.
However, this time we are not referring just to how students and patrons of the College interact with the administration, but are calling for transparency and clarity within the administration as well.
When a representative of Mills College corresponds with a campaign staffer and somehow Mills ends up on a list of endorsers—allegedly unintentionally—it shows there should be a policy and process for how Mills engages in local politics.
There is not a policy in place for Jadushlever to follow. Without a policy, this leaves Mills vulnerable to mistakes, as Jadushlever contends it was, of this kind. Other nonprofit educational organizations, like Peralta Community Colleges and the Oakland Unified School District also endorsed the measure. The Peralta Community Colleges Board of Trustees makes decisions regarding endorsements, and the board includes two student representatives.
In contrast, this communication between campaign staffers and Jadushlever, which resulted in Mills College appearing on the Measure’s website as an endorser, seemed to have fallen to the responsibility of one college officer.
To have this amount of responsibility placed on one person’s shoulders with what seems to be no external input speaks to a lapse in foundational planning and the confusion of the transitional period that Mills is currently in. Additionally, there does not appear to be any student, faculty, staff, or legal input on the decision Jadushlever made both in strategic partnerships as well as how she represents Mills. The Campanil staff has been led to wonder where the ready and relevant legal support exists within the administration.
With no policy in place, this leaves Mills open to another issue: institutional amnesia. Institutional amnesia, in the context of Mills, is when issues within the institutional system either reoccur or are left unaddressed because there is no memory, recourse, or action taken that would remedy the issue. These difficulties could be changed with the development of internal policies that would allow for a structure for recourse. The Campanil staff believes that much of the institutional amnesia that we have seen stems from turnover and a gap in the subsequent transfer of knowledge to the next person.
Institutional amnesia is a common topic among students who experience difficulty because of staff turnover within departments that support and regulate college policy. From the students’ perspective, frequent changes within the staff seem to go hand in hand with difficulty to access information about various policies at Mills including major and graduation requirements, class schedules, etc. The confusing situation with Mills’ involvement with Measure AA reflects this similar experience on a higher level: the College is undergoing dramatic change and so much policy falls through the cracks.
The absence of a policy of this kind exacerbates all the problems of a small school, especially Mills, which needs to operate efficiently with the funding that we have. Policies of this kind will take the stress off of those in the administration, ease the confusion and streamline operations.
The Campanil staff suggests that we take a cue from other nonprofit organizations that partner on initiatives and form a board where faculty, staff, and students review and give input on issues of this kind. With or without a board, we hope that in the future ultimately policy issues of this nature will not fall to the responsibility of one individual. Even if Mills never makes endorsements of any kind, avoiding situations like this can only serve to increase transparency and help prevent the kind of institutional amnesia that happens when policy decisions are left to be made somewhat arbitrarily. This also contributes to Mills’ marketed message: that we are a college that strives to uphold the values of social justice.
This story is less of an isolated mistake than it is an example of the shortcomings of Mills’ policy. Although some comments Jadushlever made implied she felt that endorsing a measure as a nonprofit was against IRS regulations, subsequently contradicting herself multiple times in e-mails and interviews with our reporter, there has been no reason to believe that the IRS would revoke the college’s 501c3 nonprofit status.
Jadushlever appears to have been within bounds, in terms of IRS code, to have represented Mills to endorse Measure AA even if she claims that was not her intention and the staffers misinterpreted her statement. Mills College endorsing Measure AA would have been within the bounds of IRS code and posed no threat to our status as a nonprofit institution. However, Jadushlever asked campaign staffers to remove Mills as a supporter—after the ballot measure had already failed. It confuses us why her narrative was inconsistent if she was doing nothing wrong.
The deeper issue comes in when looking at what this example means: Mills is severely lacking in policy regarding endorsements and what Mills plans to support, or if Mills plans to support anything at all in the future.
President Beth Hillman took her position in Fall 2016. The summer of 2017, Mills declared a financial emergency and the administration released the Financial Stabilization Plan (FSP) in the hopes of making Mills more appealing for prospective students, increasing enrollment, and advancing Mills’ financial situation.
Summer 2017 was when Jadushlever moved into her position as the VP of Strategic Partnerships. When asked for a statement on the situation and Mills’ policy regarding endorsements, the office of the president pointed to Jadushlever for more information.
Although Jadushlever stated that she has been at Mills for over two decades, she has only been in this new position for a little over a year.
While this situation was relatively low stakes, the IRS does not allow nonprofit colleges to endorse political candidates. If Mills had been listed as an endorser for a political candidate instead of a ballot measure, the IRS could revoke Mills’ status as a 501c3 school, which would block Mills from receiving federal funding, something crucial for many students’ continued attendance.
Fortunately, this was not that case, but it becomes increasingly imperative that Mills create policies for a sustainable administrative future and for a sustainable campus future.