Bay Area/ Oakland/ Community & Society
Published on August 06, 2021
Judge halts Mills College merger with co-ed school Image: Jennifer1121 via Wikimedia Commons

Oakland liberal arts university Mills College is arguably one of the Bay Area’s most historically significant educational institutions.  Established in 1852, it was America’s first women’s college west of the Rocky Mountains, and in 2014 was the first women’s college to accept transgender women students. To this day, Mills College remains one of only 37 surviving women’s colleges in the U.S.

Yet the school is not just drowning in red ink, Mills College announced it would be closing in March of this year, and would stop accepting applications this year and dissolve in 2023. That death sentence was commuted in June when Boston’s Northeastern University offered a merger deal that would bail the school out — and controversially, start admitting men to its undergraduate programs.

But now even that commuted death sentence has been commuted. The Chronicle reports that an Alameda Superior Court judge has put a restraining order on the merger, halting the deal, and giving a Mills trustee who is suing the school more time to review documents. That trustee, Viji Nakka-Cammauf, is also the president of the Alumnae Association of Mills College (AAMC), and argues the school is not in the dire financial straits it claims.

“This is a relief, and we’re very grateful to the court for taking this seriously,” Nakka-Cammauf’s attorney Lisa McCurdy told the Chronicle. “The goal is to find out what’s really going on, and to find out what is necessary for the college because the defendants [Mills College] have not been forthcoming with information.” 

In a statement to Hoodline, Mills College President Elizabeth L. Hillman said, “This lawsuit to obtain records that the College already offered to make available to the plaintiff is an unfortunate side-show engineered by the AAMC and its lawyers. More broadly, it is deeply disappointing that the AAMC claims surprise and seeks to assign blame for financial challenges that the College, and smaller liberal arts institutions like it all across the nation, have been facing – and publicly addressing – for many years. At a time when the College needs to focus on the path forward, we sincerely hope the AAMC will stop its divisive efforts targeting individual trustees and officers of the College, and will instead devote its resources to partnering with us in creating a future of opportunity.”

Opponents of the merger note that Mills has a “sizable endowment” of more than $187 million, and argues its 135-acre campus is an asset that can be leveraged. They also argue that Biden bucks could bail the school out, as an appropriations bill moving through Congress would provide additional funding for women’s colleges.

The restraining order is just a temporary halt. Mills’ statement notes that the court will continue considering the matter at an August 16 hearing.