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Holy Names University Says it Will Close; Local Leaders Want Campus to Remain Center for Higher Ed

“We have been doing our best to find a partner to keep the university functioning and continue HNU’s mission,” said HNU Board Chairperson Steven Borg in the press release. “While we’ve had interest in long-term collaboration from potential partners, we do not have the type of interest that would sustain HNU in continuing to offer its own programs and services, so we are forced to make the difficult decision to close and designate a transfer institution in the best interest of our students.”

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Aerial view of Holy Names University.
Aerial view of Holy Names University.

HNU’s site could become a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) campus, said Post Publisher Paul Cobb

By Ken Epstein

Holy Names University (HNU), which has served Oakland for 154 years, earning deep respect as one of the nation’s most diverse post-secondary educational centers, offering bachelors’ degrees, training teachers, social workers, and nurses, announced this week it will close permanently at the end of next semester, leaving the city with no major university since the recent loss of Mills College.

Responding to the news, HNU students and staff spoke at Tuesday’s Oakland City Council meeting, seeking to rescue the city’s higher-education pipeline. The council, passing a resolution authored by Councilmember Carroll Fife and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, went on record calling for the university to work with the Oakland community to ensure that the beautiful 60-acre campus can become a home for another university, rather than be sold to a real estate developer to build an exclusive residential enclave.

HNU’s administration, mostly silent as news and rumors about the university swirled around campus for the past few months, deeply worrying staff and students, made the announcement after the school closed last Friday for a holiday break, and no students were around.

The university’s Board of Trustees revealed their plans Monday in a press release produced by Sam Singer public relations. Singer has a long history as an aggressive representative of corporate clients, including Chevron in its legal battle with indigenous communities in Ecuador’s Amazon forests, and Wedgewood, the real estate company that owned the home in West Oakland taken over by Moms for Housing.

According to the press release, the Board of Trustees blamed COVID-19 and an economic downturn that disproportionately impacted HNU students for the university’s predicament.

“HNU has worked tirelessly to find pathways to help continue its mission but was forced by financial circumstances to cancel its NCAA sports programs as of the end of spring season, issue WARN ACT notices to staff beginning Dec. 1, and give layoff notices to 32 employees effective at the end of January/early February,” the press release said.

“We have been doing our best to find a partner to keep the university functioning and continue HNU’s mission,” said HNU Board Chairperson Steven Borg in the press release. “While we’ve had interest in long-term collaboration from potential partners, we do not have the type of interest that would sustain HNU in continuing to offer its own programs and services, so we are forced to make the difficult decision to close and designate a transfer institution in the best interest of our students.”

The press release said HNU is working with Dominican College in San Rafael to offer “specific pathways for students to complete their degrees at Dominican.”

HNU is also talking to other institutions to support the school’s Kodály Music Program and the Raskob Learning Institute and Day School, which “will either operate independently or in partnership with a new institution after this school year,” the press release said.

Explaining the financial hole that is crippling HNU’s operations, Borg said that there is “$49 million in debt on HNU’s property, but as a 65-year-old campus, the costs of deferred maintenance and compliance upgrades could be over $200 million.”

Tuesday’s City Council resolution, written originally while Council members and community leaders still hoped to reach out to the HNU administration to help avert the school’s closure, was modified to emphasize the need to save the campus as a site for a different institution that will graduate Oakland students and provide trained staff for local employers that need well-trained workers who are culturally competent.

The revised resolution said the Council and the community would work with HNU “to ensure that higher education continues at the current site.”

So far, the HNU administration has not responded to city leaders who have reached out with offers to help.

Many HNU staff and students as well as local residents spoke at the council meeting calling for the university to work with the community to continue higher education at the site.

Student Kayla Argueta said, “(Closing HNU) is uprooting lives. I am urging the Council and the community to make sure this stays an education institution. To see HNU closed down or sold to developers is terrifying to think of. It is an incredibly important part of Oakland, and something must be done to make sure the legacy lives on.”

Jim Stryker, chair of the HNU Faculty Senate, told the Council, “Thank you for the resolution. It is deeply appreciated by the faculty, staff, and students.”

Polly Mayer, vice chair of HNU ‘s Faculty Senate, said she was “saddened by the opportunities we are taking away from our students and faculty. It’s really a tragedy to see this educational institution close.”

Oakland Post Publisher Paul Cobb said, “I would hope the City Council and City of Oakland would work closely with the County of Alameda to support the educational infrastructure of the City of Oakland with hundreds of millions of dollars, like they are now spending on infrastructure for a stadium.”

He suggested they could partner with a Historically Black College or University at the site, “since HNU is the most integrated university in the country right now.”

Rev. Cheryl Ward called for the facility and property to be used for higher education purposes. “We all know there is a lack of education institutions that provide housing. The number of students who are unhoused is unconscionable in this city. Should we consider dismantling higher education in that space, since it provides housing?”

HNU staffer Nancy Schulz said “HNU is a university that really walks its talk. We have community partners and discounted tuition.” It has also provided the region with trained mental health workers.

In her remarks, Councilmember Fife, who attended HNU, said, “It’s an amazing school. It was a safe place and sanctuary for me as a working mom.”

In September, Fife was recognized as the institution’s Alumni of the Year.

Vice Mayor Kaplan said, “It would be incredibly problematic for the community to lose access” to the institution that provides the city with educational opportunities and a well-trained workforce.

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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