Hampshire College gets $5M gift

  • Michele Hardesty, a professor at Hampshire College, leads graduating seniors thorough a column of flags during a ceremony held Friday May 14, 2021, for students and faculty where students got to walk across stage and ring the bell, a Hampshire tradition.

  • Graduating Hampshire College seniors walk thorough a column of flags during a ceremony held Friday May 14, 2021, for students and faculty where students got to walk across stage and ring the bell, a Hampshire tradition.

  • Robert Crown Center at Hampshire College, Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

  • Ed Wingenbach, president of Hampshire College Friday, August 9, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 1/4/2022 8:18:49 PM
Modified: 1/4/2022 8:18:09 PM

AMHERST — A $5 million gift to Hampshire College, the second of that amount received by the college since November 2020, will support the continued reinvention and transformation of the school’s curriculum.

Announced Tuesday, the unrestricted donation honors renowned filmmaker Ken Burns, an alumnus who co-chairs the ongoing “Change in the Making: A Campaign for Hampshire.” It will provide support for implementing a new curricular model that organizes undergraduate education around the most urgent challenges, rather than traditional structures of majors and disciplines.

“It’s a really wonderful endorsement of Hampshire’s vision that we’ve been building for the past two years,” said Ed Wingenbach, the college’s president since 2019.

Wingenbach said that the anonymous philanthropist didn’t previously know about the college but, having learned about its vision, wanted to help Hampshire be an example for other universities and colleges.

The gift brings the $60 million campaign, launched in January 2019 and expected to run until June 2024, to $33.2 million. It also matches a gift made by Jim and Paula Crown in November 2020. The only larger gift was Harold Johnson’s $6 million contribution at the college’s founding in 1965.

“The success of the campaign reflects the underlying health of the college and working toward a vibrant and exciting future,” Wingenbach said.

The latest gift goes to the Ken Burns Initiative to Transform Higher Education, and will support and accelerate implementation of Hampshire’s innovative approach to undergraduate liberal arts education.

Wingenbach explained that the college’s mission statement is to set an example for others. The teaching and learning at the college are intended to prepare students for meaningful work that can change the world, with innovative approaches to inquiry-driven, project-based education.

Among elements of the urgent problems identified in the collective vision are disrupting white supremacy, discovering what is truth in a post-truth era and combating climate change. Half of the courses taught by faculty are now tied to these urgent problems.

“Students are really interested in pursuing education driven by problems and questions,” Wingenbach said, noting that the college has seen a significant increase in applications.

Key components of Hampshire’s curriculum, including building courses around urgent challenges, the Semester Unbound program, Learning Collaboratives and Project Teams, will all be supported by the new funds.

In a statement, Burns said he is humbled that the philanthropist donated in his honor and that, 50 years after he began attending the college, Hampshire can help the nation by offering more fresh thinking on higher education.

“I know Hampshire is transformative because I experienced it firsthand,” Burns said. “I saw how the originality of practices implemented at the college reverberated through higher education.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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