Chairwoman of Hampshire College’s board of trustees resigns

  • Gaye Hill, who resigned Monday as chairwoman of Hampshire College’s board of trustees, speaks during commencement in 2017. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2019 10:18:35 AM

AMHERST — The chairwoman of Hampshire College’s board of trustees has resigned, citing the “vitriol” she has experienced as a reason for her departure.

Gaye Hill’s decision to step down from the position after six years was announced Monday in an email to the college community. Hill has helped lead Hampshire College’s search for a “strategic partner” after college leaders announced on Jan. 15 that the school was facing a financial crisis. According to the college’s bylaws, Hill will be replaced by the longest-serving vice chair of the board, 1970 Hampshire graduate Luis Hernandez.

In a statement, Hill said that since beginning the search for a financially viable future for Hampshire she and the board have experienced a wide range of emotions, from fear and disagreement to support and understanding. Those emotions were expected, she added.

“What I didn’t expect was the vitriol, slanderous attacks, and the questioning of motives that have been leveled at not only me but at colleagues who have been working months on end with one goal in mind: to bring Hampshire through the worst financial crisis in its history,” Hill wrote. “I’ve become a lightning rod for criticism and felt it was time to step away.”

The college declined to make neither Hill nor college President Miriam “Mim” Nelson available for interviews on Monday. Hernandez and board Vice Chairman Kim Saal did not respond to messages requesting comment.

In a message to campus, Hernandez and Saal said that they have the “highest regard” for Hill’s leadership and wisdom.

“She has been a steadfast advocate for this institution — for all members of our community — and a most generous benefactor,” their statement reads. “We’ll miss her presence on the Board even while her myriad contributions will continue to be felt.”

The board is expected to vote on a new chair, vice chairs, secretary and treasurer at its annual meeting in May.

An investor in residential and restaurant real estate, Hill has also worked in fundraising and image consulting for the nonprofit sector. Hill originally joined the board of trustees on July 1, 2010, before becoming chairwoman on July 1, 2013, according to college spokesman John Courtmanche. She is the parent of a Hampshire graduate.

In an interview published in the school’s alumni magazine in 2013, Hill pointed to some of the financial challenges that are now threatening the school’s existence as an independent institution.

“The structural deficit and relying on tuition to such a degree are constant worries to me, and subjects the board is looking at closely,” she said at the time. “We’ll be working on many fronts to secure the future of the College.”

Some in the Hampshire community — including those with criticisms of the college’s leadership — expressed shock at Hill’s departure.

“We were surprised,” said Diana Arce, a Hampshire graduate and member of the Save Hampshire coalition, which has advocated for the college to remain independent. “We didn’t think that the next piece of news to come out of Hampshire College was a press statement about Gaye quitting.”

Arce said that Hill had recently been honest when answering financial questions that parents and alumni posed to her. 

“Despite this being a really emotional time, she has still been fair and forthcoming,” Arce said.

Hill’s resignation comes just two days after she sent out her last message to the community, signing off on a letter together with Saal and Hernandez. In that letter, the board leadership responded to what they characterized as “concern among some in the Hampshire community that our Board of Trustees has not been given full information about the College’s finances.”

“We state here, unequivocally, that is not the case,” the message reads. “All trustees have been in receipt of Hampshire’s financial details and are continually and fully kept up to date on the state of the College’s finances, at regularly scheduled in-person Board meetings and during our weekly phone meetings.”

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


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