Judge orders Mills College to turn over financial documents in merger lawsuit

Dive Brief:

  • An Alameda County Superior Court judge on Monday ordered Mills College to provide the president of its alumnae association with documents related to the historically women’s institution’s financial position and its potential deal to be acquired by Northeastern University. 

  • The judge also extended a temporary restraining order that blocks Mills officials from finalizing a merger until at least Sept. 3.

  • Viji Nakka-Cammauf, the alumnae association president and a voting member of the college’s Board of Trustees, sued Mills officials in June. A former trustee is also a plaintiff in the case. They wanted to pause the Northeastern merger until the college handed over financial information they said was withheld and prevented its governing board from fulfilling its duties.

Dive Insight:

Monday’s ruling represents a big win for the plaintiffs, who now include the Alumnae Association of Mills College. They are suing to halt Mills, in Oakland, Calif., from shutting down and being absorbed into Northeastern, creating a coed campus that would grant undergraduate and graduate degrees. The nearly 170-year-old institution currently admits only women and nonbinary students into its undergraduate programs.

Like with many consolidation proposals across the U.S., backlash was swift, particularly among alumnae.

Meanwhile, Mills President Elizabeth Hillman has derided the lawsuit, calling it a “factually incorrect and legally mistaken effort to undermine confidence in” the college’s leadership. Some members of the college’s Board of Trustees also opposed the lawsuit.

Mills officials previously said Nakka-Cammauf was allowed to review the financial records she sought. But a spokesperson for the plaintiffs said the college would only permit her to view hard copies of the documents in person —  and only if she did so alone, without legal counsel or financial analysts joining her.

The documents in question numbered thousands of pages, and Nakka-Cammauf could not make copies without the college’s approval, according to the spokesperson.

The judge’s order means Mills will have to provide Nakka-Cammauf with the documents electronically by close of business Wednesday.

“Thankfully, the Alameda County Superior Court has intervened and ruled in favor of truth and transparency about the future of Mills College, which otherwise would continue moving forward with a merger that’s been shrouded in secrecy,” Alexa Pagonas, vice president of the alumnae association, said in a statement.

Hillman said in an emailed statement Tuesday that Nakka-Cammauf already had access to all the information necessary to inform her fiduciary responsibilities. The ruling allows for Mills and Northeastern to continue discussing plans to combine, Hillman noted.

“The continued pursuit of this association is vital to advancing the mission of Mills and to ensuring opportunities for our students, our faculty and staff, our alumnae and the broader Oakland community,” she said.

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