The Bay Area's oldest (and now only) women's college, Mills College in Oakland, faced another crossroads this year as they've seen a steady decline in enrollment and are now facing a $9 million budget deficit. Over 25 years ago, the school faced an insurrection from students when the school's trustees voted to admit male undergraduates instead deciding to maintain their status as one of only three dozen women's colleges in the US, as of 2017. But as the Chronicle reports, turning around and addressing their budget shortfall this year by firing tenured professors went beyond the pale in the eyes of many faculty, and no one is sure whether remaining a single-gender institution is even sustainable.
The school was founded in 1852, 16 years before the University of California, as a "women's seminary" by wealthy miners who didn't want to send their daughters east to go to college.
The vote by trustees came in June, laying off five tenured professors in the departments of history, philosophy, physics, English and ethnic studies, and as many as 18 other faculty and staff. The hope is to close the budget deficit in three years that was caused by five straight years of declining enrollment in both the undergraduate and graduate schools.
And because of the vote, the American Association of University Professors wrote a letter threatening to censure the college, suggesting that the firing of tenured professors could hurt the school in national ranks.
In 2013, the school had 997 undergraduates and 611 graduate students, per the Chronicle. Fast forward to 2017 and they have just 740 undergrads enrolling, and 460 graduate students. But those enrollment numbers are only one piece of a bigger picture.
As San Francisco Magazine discussed back in March 2016, the college's financial woes go back several years and stem also from "unstable investments [and] bloated administrative salaries." Declining enrollment has just been the latest worry.
Roger Sparks, a tenured economics professor who spoke both to SF Mag last year and for the new Chronicle piece, suggested that poor investing had cost the college's endowment some $20 million a year and lately he's been pushing the trustees to begin admitting men.
It should be noted that for almost 100 years, men have been able to enroll in Mills' graduate programs, like their well respected music program. Mills became the first women's college in the nation in 2014 to admit biological males who transitioned to female, and for several years the school has allowed trans male undergraduates to remain enrolled if they transitioned after they began attending the school. As the nation grapples with many questions around gender, it seems strange even to think of Mills as being a single-gender school, given the diversity inherent in all of the above and in fact some faculty reject the term "coed" given that it implies only two genders.
But still some faculty and trustees support the idea that being a women's college remains a selling point it's one of only three left in California and perhaps other issues, like the school's high tuition, are to blame for declining enrollment.
At least for next year, though, Mills remains an all-women's affair, and the students who might protest the admission of men only now must protest the loss of some beloved professors.