Hampshire College to lay off 9 staff members

  • Miriam Nelson, president of Hampshire College, talks Jan. 17 about the challenges facing the college. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Signs on doors in the Cole Science Center where Hampshire College Students are having a sit in in response to the colleges decision around enrollment.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2019 7:00:53 PM

AMHERST — Nine full-time members of Hampshire College’s admissions and advancement offices will be let go effective April 19 as the first cut to the college’s 400-person workforce.

The layoffs were announced publicly in a letter sent by President Miriam “Mim” Nelson late Tuesday afternoon, which she described as a “difficult day.”

“I share this news with a heavy heart and immense gratitude,” Nelson wrote. “We are losing valued colleagues and friends whose thoughtfulness and dedication have had measurable, and immeasurable, impact on our students, families, alums and the campus community.”

The employees were notified privately, by their supervisors, about the positions being eliminated, and were then able to meet with members of the human resources department to have additional private conversations.

Campus spokesman John Courtmanche said the nine positions being eliminated are the only cuts for now, with more to come on or around April 1. The college has about 150 faculty and 250 staff members.

The admissions office was affected by the trustees’ decision Feb. 1 to not accept a first-year class in fall 2019 and to stop the review of applications. The only new students who will arrive at Hampshire this fall are those who accepted the college’s offer to enroll through early decision, or deferred their entry by a year. In addition, the college is pausing all recruitment efforts.

As for advancement, which is the fundraising arm of the college, though these employees help bring money to the campus and the college’s endowment, Nelson wrote that until Hampshire’s future becomes clearer, an evaluation of how to most effectively structure advancement operations needs to happen.

Some current students are continuing a sit-in to protest the changes happening at the college, and faculty have expressed concern about the decision to not enroll a freshman class.

Alumni have been particularly critical. A group called Save Hampshire, which held a teach-in Friday, reiterated on its blog that there had been no crisis until the trustees decided against enrolling a new class:

“Hampshire College does face serious financial challenges, but they are not at all of an order that requires the extraordinary measures of massive layoffs of staff and faculty and the decision to not admit a full F19 class. The crisis that is currently brewing is a manufactured one.”

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he is continuing to monitor what is happening at his alma mater and that the town will support Hampshire in whatever ways it needs to meet its mission.

Hampshire is believed to employ more people in Amherst than any other institution or business except the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College.

“We’re looking at it just as if any major employer in town were reducing employment or making a major change,” Bockelman said. “Any kinds of shifts to the negative on that concerns us.”

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