October 16, 2020
TO: Mills College Faculty and Staff
FROM: Beth Hillman
SUBJECT: Mills: Inside and Out
During another week of heat and high winds, the drama at Mills extended beyond the weather and ongoing environmental crisis. Early Tuesday morning, a water main that runs under Richards Road broke, temporarily flooding the area as water pressure lifted the asphalt on the road several inches. Mills' intrepid facilities team acted fast to assess the situation and make repairs while Mills' housing, dining, and student life staff shared information and provided water and bathroom options for those working or living in the twenty buildings that lost water because of the break. I'm grateful to everyone who supported the campus community—and kudos to our engineers for restoring water before the sun set.
Wednesday morning brought a different kind of tension, as we waited for Christie's to auction Mills College's complete First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, one of the most important collections of literature in the world. When Brooklyn book dealer and antiquarian Stephan Loewentheil's bid ended a six-minute competition among three telephone bidders, the result was a new world record price for any work of literature: $9.98 million! Mills had held the Folio, first published in 1623, since 1977, when alumna and trustee Mary Louise O’Brien '34, together with her husband James (also a Mills trustee), quietly gave the Folio to Mills to honor her father, Professor Elian Olas James, a Shakespeare scholar and beloved English professor who inspired students at Mills College for 35 years. Mills College was fortunate to hold the Folio for these past decades; it was treasured by the students, faculty, staff, and scholars who studied and preserved it. At a time when cash flow and budget deficits are bedeviling the most creative and resilient institutions of higher education, both the O'Brien's gift and those who cherished the Folio at Mills, have provided a much needed, if bittersweet, boost to the College. In an ordinary year, the proceeds from the sale would provide funds to invest for the future. In this extraordinary year, the proceeds will enable Mills to reduce, but not nearly eliminate, a record budget deficit for the current fiscal year. We will share more about Mills' budget, and the impact of the Folio sale (we have not yet received the exact amount Mills will realize from the sale), as our finance team analyzes the year underway and plans for the future.
Amidst this drama, the steady, essential work that makes learning possible at Mills continued this past week as well. After hosting a student town hall with the Division of Student Life on Tuesday, our provost and dean of the faculty's office was busy communicating with students and coordinating with faculty about spring semester courses, which will, like the fall, be taught primarily online with some specialized in-person experiences. And our ITS staff continued to support the technology needs of students, faculty, and staff, including through this year's new iPad programs. Nearly 300 students have either purchased or borrowed iPads from Mills, and ITS has loaned nearly two dozen iPads out to faculty and staff, including a few to support the learning of staff and faculty children who are in online school this fall. Sharing information, resources, and expertise are but a few of the ways Mills' people are supporting our community through this pandemic.