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Students fight the plan to close historical Book Art program

Zoe Bulick's "Black Hole" is a metaphor that offers a space for mediation on everything and nothing at the same time. (Zoe Bulick)
Zoe Bulick’s “Black Hole” is a metaphor that offers a space for meditation on everything and nothing at the same time. (Zoe Bulick)

Mills students and faculty are disappointed that the administration and trustees are voting to cut the world renowned Book Art program in the middle of November 2015.

In a memorandum from the president on Oct19 a set of changes to the curriculum were outlined, as well as a list of programs to be taught out of the school’s academic offerings.  This list of cuts include the minor and MFA in book art.

According to the memorandum, changes to the curriculum are designed to help prepare Mills for the future — to create new innovative programs that will help the college continue to offer a high quality liberal arts education.  However, faculty sources have said that the cuts and restructuring are part of a 3 million dollar budget cut.  

“This is exactly what has been happening on a national scale. Colleges are slashing arts, while administrators salaries and tuition skyrockets. It’s frustrating that the school would betray its roots like this,” 2015 book art alumnae Beck Levy, said in an email.

The Mills College book art program was instated in the early 1980’s. But the true start was in the 1930’s when Rosalind Keep wanted to start a private press on the Mills campus and created the Eucalyptus press.

Today, the historic Eucalyptus press and its sister facility the Florence Walter Bindery house the internationally recognized Book Art program that helps to make Mills so unique. Very few programs exist in the country and the Mills program balances both the mechanical and scholarly aspects of Book Art in a way that no other program does, according to both faculty and students.

Mills has long been pushing for more interdisciplinary classes and programs in all departments.

“Mills has been looking for innovative interdisciplinary programs with a national reputation, and not only are we national, we are international. We are doing what the college wants,” Head of Book Arts, Kathleen Walkup said.

According to students, what it seems the trustees and administration are missing is that ultimately the Book Art program is one of the main things that makes Mills competitive. With no other program like it in the world, losing this would make the Mills education just that much more similar to the hundreds of other small colleges in the United States.

“Mills is definitely going through a major overhaul towards industry productive majors and concentrations, and I’m really worried that its historical place in the arts is at stake,” studio art alumnae Sarah Knight, said in an email.

Mills is going through large changes that are being decided by what some faculty call a top down administration. Moreover, several key administrators are either leaving at the end of the year, have an interim position, or have just arrived and do not understand the realities of what is happening on the ground at Mills. 

“This is coming from a president who is leaving early, I’m just upset in general that she won’t be around for the impact of her decisions,” Knight said in a Facebook comment responding to the proposed cuts.

Right now, the community is mobilizing and is determined to not let this historical program go down without a tough fight.

“As the sole purpose of my attendance at this school I find it ultimately degrading that my passion [book art] is being belittled to a budget solution. My educational validity will not be demolished for a free ride in saving this institution money... I don’t doubt that our strong and empowered community will fight for our devotion to book art. This is the beginning of four weeks of unbridled community building and paper power!” Selena Matranga, a studio art and book art minor said in an email.

By Tuesday morning, the Book Art MFA alums had created a petition to save the book art program, as well as a blog for students and alums to write testimonials and memories. Approximately seven hours after the petition went live, it reached over 750 signatures from across the country.

“This department is strong and unique, something that sets Mills apart from other schools and fosters an amazing community. The idea that it could be gone, so quickly and with so little regard for its worth, is unbelievable,” Isabel Duffy, Book Art and Creative Writing MFA  alum, said in an email.

Twenty three current students, from many disciplines across campus, met on Oct. 20 to discuss plans of action, ideas and talking points for the open meeting being held on  Oct21 in the faculty lounge.

Multiple students pointed out that they chose Mills for its diversity and commitment to a truly liberal arts education and that by cutting one of Mills most unusual program, Mills is becoming significantly less diverse.

Sophomore Katie Gross came to Mills from across the state because of book art.

“While many schools offer [creative writing], the Book Arts minor program at Mills is what really tipped the scales for me when I was deciding where to attend,” Gross said. 

Beyond that, many students feel that the Book Art program is the community and heart that Mills promises its students.

“The Book Art program is a supportive community, the professors and students I have met have changed the way I approach my science classes. They have improved my critical thinking skills and have made me a better Mills student,” Ruby Fisher, a Biology major and Book Art minor, said.

The ultimate decision of what will happen to the Book Art department lies in the hands of the trustees, tenured faculty and administration when they vote on the proposed changes in mid-November.  The next open meeting is on Oct. 28 in the student union from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.