Oakland's historic Mills College will live on as Mills College at Northeastern University, and a vote by the Mills College Board of Trustees solidified the merger with the Boston-based university on Tuesday morning.
Mills has been in the news for the last several years due to its financial struggles, which at one point prompted a controversial proposal to end its run as a women's-only college and go co-ed. Back in March, the school announced that it would, of necessity, cease to confer degrees after 2023 and stop taking new incoming students after this fall, though now that announcement looks like it might have been made in order to court merger offers.
Northeastern emerged as the top contender by June, at which point the Mills board began formal negotiations for a potential merger. This was met with some pushback from the Mills Alumnae Association, which included objections from four board members, and they filed suit in July to stop the merger from moving forward.
In early August, a judge temporarily stopped the merger, based on a motion from current trustee and president of the alumnae association Viji Nakka-Cammauf, and former trustee Tara Singh, claiming they were not given access to adequate financial documents to make a decision on the closure or merger of Mills. College President Elizabeth Hillman referred to all this as "an unfortunate sideshow" by the alumnae association, and the court injunction expired on September 3.
Now, the merger has passed muster with a majority of trustees, and Hillman is celebrating.
"This is a big leap for Mills and an exceptional opportunity for our entire community," Hillman said in a statement. "An alliance with Northeastern empowers Mills to continue doing what it has done since its founding in 1852 — offer exceptional educational opportunities to students who want to make a difference. It also means that the Mills campus will remain a vibrant center of learning with deep and meaningful connections with the broader Oakland community. As we embark on a new path, we will honor our roots as a historic women’s college."
Under the agreement with Northeastern, faculty and staff from both schools will collaborate to establish a Mills Institute "to carry on the Mills legacy of advancing women’s leadership and empowering BIPOC and first-generation students."
The newly merged school, which will join nine other satellite campuses of Northeastern University, including campuses in Vancouver, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, will be co-ed.
The next year will be spent with faculty from both schools developing the undergraduate and graduate degree programs that will be offered at the new school, highlighting the existing strengths of both Mills and Northeastern.
"Together we have an opportunity to create something truly unique in higher education," said Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun in a statement. "We aspire to build a comprehensive, bicoastal university that leverages the complementary strengths of Mills and Northeastern for the benefit of students and society. Our world is in desperate need of what great colleges and universities provide: knowledge, discovery, innovation, inclusion, and service. By joining together, Mills and Northeastern can reach new heights and have broader impacts on our world."
Students who complete their degree work by June 30, 2022 will graduate with degrees from Mills College, and those who complete their work after that date will get diplomas from Mills College at Northeastern University — and the school is pledging to work with all existing Mills students on that transition. Depending on the degree program, no-cost transfer opportunities may exist to continue studies in Boston or elsewhere.
As for the Mills faculty, tenured faculty are being guaranteed continued employment, as well as those with continuous contracts. But tenure-track and adjunct professors may not get such guarantees — the news release simply says they will be offered "opportunities for employment."
Board Chair Katie Sanborn issued a statement endorsing the merger, saying, "From the onset of discussions, Northeastern has consistently demonstrated that it respects and values the vital contributions that Mills offers, voicing strong support for integrating the powerful mission of Mills through the Northeastern network. The Board sees the merger as a positive step forward that will enable the legacy of Mills to endure."