Hampshire College professors push vote of no confidence in college leaders

  • The Cole Science Center on the Hampshire College campus. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/21/2019 11:32:30 PM

AMHERST — Hampshire College professors decided this week to take a vote of noconfidence in the college’s leadership over what one described as a “breach of trust” over decisions about the college’s future.

Though Wednesday’s vote was nullified based on a technicality, the action is the result of not being consulted on consequential decisions being made by the college, said Salman Hameed, associate professor of integrated science and humanities in the School of Cognitive Science.

“The Jan. 15 decision completely blindsided us,” Hameed said Thursday. “I think there was a breach of trust at that time.”

The no-confidence vote follows President Miriam “Mim” Nelson’s announcement in January that she would seek a strategic partner to stabilize finances, the trustees’ Feb. 1 vote to not to accept a first-year class this fall, and nine layoffs in the admissions and advancement offices that came this week.

Hameed said the campus has been chaotic since that time. With the possibility of 30 to 50 percent of faculty losing their jobs, and no efforts to reduce that number of layoffs, there is legitimate concern for the direction of the college, he said.

“We’re all in a serious crisis and the handling of that crisis is what we’re worried about,” Hameed said.

But Nelson said the vote of no confidence in her, the college’s chief financial officer and those who head the board of trustees comes with the risk of creating a leadership vacuum at the campus.

Nelson said Thursday that faculty even contemplating such action could lead to the departures of Hampshire’s senior leaders.

“It’s more than symbolic — it is real,” Nelson said of the vote. “It did send a pretty tough message to me and the board.”

The no-confidence vote, Nelson said, would apply to her, current board Chairwoman Gaye Hill, current board Vice Chairman Luis Hernandez, incoming board Chairman A. Kim Saal, and Mary McEneany, vice president for finance and administration and the college’s treasurer.

“The big concern for us right now is those in leadership and on the board would leave, and that that would create a vacuum,” Nelson said

Hameed said the leaders shouldn’t take any nonbinding faculty vote personally.

“I don’t think it’s anything personal, it’s not a way to vent anger,” Hameed said.

According to Nelson, though nonbinding, the vote also poses risks to the college’s already tenuous financial position, as members of the board are among the major donors to Hampshire.

Nelson said she is trying to keep the campus as normal as possible, meeting with deans and discussing the educational mission.

“The most important thing is students are cared for and faculty are teaching,” Nelson said.

She added that working conditions have been challenging because she can’t be in her office, with students occupying the building in a sit-in.

In fact, Nelson said, she would like to be spending most of her time on the details of a partnership.

“I need to be working on thinking about Hampshire’s future,” Nelson said.

Still, there has been some movement. “I’m having conversations with several partners. I’m optimistic,” she said.

But nothing has changed yet to secure Hampshire’s long-term well-being.

“For those who care deeply about Hampshire, they need to understand the college’s finances is an existential threat, and it’s important we change,” Nelson said.

Hameed said it was a false narrative that faculty action might cause an abrupt closing of the college.

The procedural issue identified at the end of the faculty vote was that a motion has to be public for seven days before it is acted on.

As a result, the no-confidence vote is suspended until Tuesday and all options are on the table until that time, Hameed said.

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

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