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Testimony to Mills College Board of Trustees: Alumni of Color Committee Co-Chair María De Los Ángeles Domínguez

My name is María De Los Ángeles Domínguez, Ethnic Studies alumna, born and raised in East Oakland less than a half mile from here, along with my sister, Ana Dominguez, who is a current ethnic studies student. My history goes back to Mills in 1998 when I was part of Mills Upward Bound program. I am here on behalf of the Mills College ethnic studies alumnae, alumni, and alums and on behalf of members of the AAMC Alumnae of Color Committee. I am the new AoCC co-chair.

(Photo courtesy of Chad Lutz) María De Los Ángeles Dominguez, an ethnic studies alumna and incoming co-chair of the Alumni of Color Committee, testifies against the proposed layoffs of faculty members before the Board of Trustees at Mills College on June 22, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Chad Lutz)
María De Los Ángeles Dominguez, an ethnic studies alumna and incoming co-chair of the Alumni of Color Committee, testifies against the proposed layoffs of faculty members before the Board of Trustees at Mills College on June 22, 2017.

For the record, I am fundamentally opposed to the proposed faculty layoffs, and especially tenured faculty, and most especially, I am fundamentally and wholeheartedly opposed to the proposed lay off of tenured Professor Dr. Vivian Chin, who graduated from this school 28 years ago and as your website documents, has been at Mills since 1993.

As I wrote in the letter that my fellow Ethnic Studies alumna Dr. Mara Chavez-Diaz and I sent to you last week, Dr. Chin is the first Asian American faculty member to be tenured at Mills. Eliminating this ethnic studies faculty position would be yet another example of the historical and present day academic settler colonialism that is so rampant within academic institutions. We see an insidious pattern across academic campuses repeat itself, even here at Mills: when a financial “crisis” arises, the academic disciplines that are among the first to be targeted for cuts are usually ethnic studies, gender studies, and other non-conforming academic disciplines that came into existence as a result of a long legacy of resistance from people of color and historically marginalized people.

In your draft FSP, you lay out nine measures. Dr. Chin does not fit measure number six, which I have been told is the measure under which you are proposing to lay them off: “Modifying some academic programs and eliminating some programs.”

How can you “lay off” (the sanitized neo-liberal word choice to describe termination and elimination) Dr. Chin when, as stated in the June 15 letter to you from numerous faculty members, Ethnic Studies has 23 majors and its average course size is 24.3, one of the highest at the college. Furthermore, the average enrollment for Dr. Chin’s classes in the 2016 to 2017 academic year was 25 students, considerably higher than the college average. If the goal of the FSP is to balance Mills’ budget, then why is a tenured faculty member whose courses are clearly generating revenue for the college be considered for layoffs? Dr. Chin teaches at Mills during Winter break and right now during the summer break. Dr. Chin is scheduled to teach six courses – six– this fall. Your return on investment is clear here. The numbers don’t lie.

What is the real reason? Is it implicit bias against the only faculty member on campus with expertise in Asian American studies and comparative ethnic literature, whose unique work on the intersections of Asian/Pacific American literature, queer studies, and contemporary cultural production represents a valuable niche that would be extremely difficult to reproduce without multiple hires?

As an ethnic studies alumna who also studied public policy – and who took Marc Joseph’s Philosophy of Law – and as I learned in law school at my other alma mater, UC Hastings College of the Law where President Hillman came from, I can tell you that your implicit bias is showing when you didn’t factor in equity measures into your calculus. Where is your equity indicator in your nine measures?

For these aforementioned reasons and because eliminating Dr. Chin would one: impact the retention and recruitment of students, alums, faculty, and staff of color and two: in particular, impact our AAMC Alumnae of Color Committee, we respectfully ask that you, in good faith, preserve and protect Dr. Chin and in so doing, send a message that you acknowledge the unique strength and fundamental importance of the ethnic studies department at Mills. An attack on the future sustainability of the ethnic studies department is also an attack on all students, alums, faculty, and communities of color committed to social justice and equitable education in Oakland, the Bay Area, across the United States, and globally.

We are aware of the financial challenges we face as a college and that this will entail making tough decisions in order to sustain and keep the institution financially stable. Yet, this also presents an opportunity to do things differently. In the spirit of moving forward with transparency, integrity, and open dialogue with all the stakeholders, it is important that you seek us out for solutions, including the proposed alternative plan that has already been presented to you.

Last, as President Hillman recently stated, the potential and reputation of Mills is in the hands of each of us. Unfortunately, your draft financial stabilization plan and its proposed cuts is a global embarrassment to Mills. I am embarrassed for my beloved Mills right now as I read headlines such as, “Mills College’s Plan to Ax Jazz Legend Roscoe Mitchell Draws International Outrage.” This is a disgraceful reason to be getting the attention of The New Yorker and other media outlets. Your plan would lay off the music department’s only Black instructor, your plan would lay off the ethnic studies department’s only Asian instructor, and it is an embarrassment. In the spirit of restorative justice, restore the harm. Change the course, change your draft, change history once again as you did when you decided not to go co-ed at the undergraduate level. Be on the right side of history. We will not be moved. Thank you