Hampshire College announces layoffs coming Tuesday 

Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2019 11:55:13 PM

AMHERST — An initial round of layoffs at Hampshire College will be announced Tuesday as the college prepares to become a smaller institution and continues its search for a strategic partner to help sustain the liberal arts school for the long term.

President Miriam “Mim” Nelson sent a letter to college employees Wednesday informing them that in less than a week “supervisors and Human Resources will have private conversations with staff members whose positions are being eliminated, and will give those staff members 60 days notice at that time.”

College spokesman John Courtmanche said the college is not yet prepared to say how many people will be losing their jobs.

But Nelson’s letter observes that not making these reductions to the workforce would hasten the end of the college, as trustees recently voted not to accept a full freshman class for fall 2019. Instead, trustees voted to only accept 77 students, a combination of early admission students and those who had accepted the college’s offer to enroll last year but chose to take a gap year and matriculate in fall 2019. It’s not yet known how many of these students will be coming to Amherst.

“Accepting a significantly smaller incoming class this fall, as we’ve stated, means that Hampshire will become a smaller institution, even as we aggressively explore long-term partnerships,” Nelson’s letter states.

Hampshire is largely dependent on tuition and student fees, with close to 90 percent of its revenue coming from those sources.

Even though layoffs will be painful, Nelson describes in her letter that the college is doing it in a way to minimize disruptions as much as possible.

“Supporting every employee with dignity and respect through upcoming transitions continues to be our priority and focus,” Nelson wrote.

A second round of job cuts will come on or around April 1, according to Nelson.

In advance of the layoff announcements, a Save Hampshire demonstration, led by alumni, is scheduled to take place Friday starting at 1 p.m. on the campus. The event will include a teach-in at Franklin Patterson Hall.

Meantime, in a separate letter, Nelson announced that the non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, that applied to both Hampshire’s senior leadership team and members of the Strategic Visioning Task Force, the trustees’ ad hoc committee of faculty, staff, students and trustees, would be dissolved and replaced with confidentiality agreements.

Courtmanche said Nelson recently instituted the non-disclosure agreements because she felt it was necessary to protect information about both the partners Hampshire is seeking and any discussions taking place, including about financial information.

“The college will release everyone from these NDAs and move to much less restrictive agreements,” Courtmanche said.

Those new agreements will focus on the specific areas for a potential strategic partner and sensitive financial details.

Courtmanche acknowledged that this change was driven by a reaction to concerns expressed that the non-disclosure agreements violated the college’s shared governance model, which some Hampshire faculty and even professors from Amherst College and Smith College, had criticized as being antithetical to an open process.

“We heard from the community that they were causing suspicion,” Courtmanche said.

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