Ken Burns, other famous alumni join new Hampshire College committee

  • Filmmaker Ken Burns, left, and Gary Hirshberg, right, the co-founder of organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm. TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

  • Ken Burns speaks on stage during the "Cancer The Emperor Of All Maladies" panel at the PBS 2015 Winter TCA on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. AP PHOTO/RICHARD SHOTWELL

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2019 2:00:54 PM

AMHERST — Hampshire College’s president has announced the creation of a new committee full of famous and influential alumni to serve as an independent sounding board for the school’s leaders as they move closer to a decision on the college’s future.

President Miriam “Mim” Nelson announced the creation of the President’s Options Working Group in an email to campus Wednesday, representing the latest step in the search for a “strategic partner” to solve the college’s financial struggles. Some of the committee members include filmmaker Ken Burns; the co-founder of the organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm, Gary Hirshberg; and Catherine Smith, the CEO of ING Retirement Services.

“Our goal from the start has been to move toward an open phase of discussions with the campus this spring,” Nelson wrote in an email to campus, adding that the working group will help the college’s board of trustees “select the path that best meets the needs of Hampshire moving forward.”

In her email, Nelson included the full list of members on the new committee:

■Ken Burns, the co-founder of Florentine Films

■Dayna Cunningham, the executive director of CoLab, a planning and development center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a former Hampshire trustee

■Gary Hirshberg, the co-founder, former CEO and “chief organic optimist” of Stonyfield Farm

■Diana McCargo, the co-founder and co-owner of Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont

■Ken Rosenthal, the retired president of The Seeing Eye, Inc., a guide dog school for the blind. He is also one of Hampshire’s founders, the college’s historian and a former trustee. 

■RJ Sakai, the director of the Social Innovation Program at Sequoyah School in Pasadena, California, and the current chair of Hampshire’s Alumni Advisory Group

■Catherine Smith, the former CEO of ING U.S. Retirement Services, as well as the former commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development

■Karla Zarate-Ramirez, the executive director of development at the University of Hawai’i Foundation and a member of the Alumni Advisory Group

“We have alumni that have some really stellar skill sets in business, in education, in communications,” Nelson told the Gazette on Thursday. “We want to really engage with those folks who have contacted us. Some of them have been highly critical of some of the work we’ve been doing.”

The group is one of two “options” committees the college has formed. The other — the Campus Options Committee — includes faculty, staff and students, and has been working with Nelson for about a month, she said.

Nelson said that both committees will be dealing with confidential information. When asked if both groups will have access to the same information, she said they would, clarifying that because the groups might meet on different days, one could possibly receive that information before the other.

“I’m thrilled that this group has accepted the invitation to come together, roll up their sleeves and get deeply involved,” Nelson said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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