Although the future of Hampshire College still remains uncertain, there’s a lot to be said for the strong level of support for the experimental 1960s-established college among Valley residents, alumni, students, faculty, and staff in advocating for an independent Hampshire College. That idea is the opposite of what college administrators set out to do — remedy financial woes by seeking out a partner.
Amid the several leadership resignations during the past several weeks, including Hampshire College President Miriam “Mimi” Nelson on April 5, as well as several members of the college’s board of trustees, it’s clear that college administrators didn’t comprehend the hornet’s nest they were kicking when they announced that Hampshire College was in dire straits with its finances and was looking for a partner.
It’s understandable that students, faculty, staff, and anyone else connected with Hampshire would be shocked, upset, and rightfully angry when, out of the blue, administrators roll out a half-assed plan on Jan. 15 that’s dependent on some unknown corporation, college, university, or other organization financially partnering with Hampshire to bail them out.
The fact that the Hampshire administrators and members of the board of trustees decided not to admit a full 2019 first-year class this fall seemed to fly in the face of fiscal reality when it was announced in early February. How is an institution in higher education going to make more revenue when it’s not admitting more students, and decreasing the number of students on campus as well? And what are the 77 early admission students and those who chose to take a gap year supposed to think when it’s uncertain if the college will be shuttered four years from now?
On top of that, 34 college food workers are out of jobs as of August and it’s uncertain if there will be more layoffs in the weeks and months to come.
Yes, Hampshire College is without a permanent president and is some members short of a full board of trustees. But is that really the end of the world; at least for Hampshire College?
Now-resigned President Nelson told the Daily Hampshire Gazette last week that her continued presence on campus would be a “distraction” in regards to solving the college’s financial problems. “Yet even as we made some progress in finding a sustainable and impactful future, the mere fact that we were doing so pulled our community apart,” Nelson wrote in her resignation notice.
When Hill resigned on April 1, she cited the reason for stepping down as “vitriol” for leading the college’s search for a strategic partner, according to an article by the Gazette. But when you have students (with the Hamp Rise Up movement) staging peaceful sit-ins at the president’s office for two months because they want to create change and force those in power to listen, maybe you ought to listen to that criticism?
On the other hand, the “slanderous attacks,” Hill stated as her reason for resigning in an article by the Gazette, have no place whatsoever in the dialogue surrounding Hampshire College. I can’t blame Ms. Hill for resigning in that regard. Constructive criticism is one thing, but bullying tactics and personal attacks shouldn’t be employed.
The college’s board of trustees voted last Friday, April 5, to name Hampshire founder, first treasurer, former trustee, and school historian Ken Rosenthal as interim president of the private college. It seems like the time has come for Rosenthal and the board of trustees to shift gears and pursue the possibility of keeping Hampshire independent, after the board voted in favor of the idea on April 5.
The decisions made by prior administrators probably lost the trust and goodwill of many in the Hampshire community. Their job is to regain that trust by working closer and with more transparency alongside the students, faculty, alumni, and the rest of the Hampshire community.
Hampshire College has based its educational model on out-of-the-box and anti cookie cutter philosophies and thinking, so it might just be that same willingness to experiment with new bold ideas that could save the college. Maintaining community support will likely play a key role in determining whether Hampshire sinks or swims, too. Fingers crossed that Hampshire College finds a new path forward that’s supported by students, faculty, and staff, not just the college trustees and president.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.