Michelle Levy and Katie Calhoun: Hampshire’s president, trustees deserve more scrutiny

  • The Cole Science Center at Hampshire College. Gazette file photo

Published: 3/25/2019 9:53:54 AM

The unfolding situation at Hampshire College is not a story of just another liberal arts college straining under financial challenges. Attention should be placed on the recent actions of the president of the college and members of the board of trustees.

In a community of scholars known for creativity and critical thinking, the decision-making process has been shrouded in secrecy and explained with contradictory half-truths. Hampshire’s leaders have failed to harness the vibrancy and egalitarian energy of the community to find an innovative and productive course forward.

Instead, they have retreated into opaque meetings with hints of mergers and possible partners. They share information only when forced to do so, then claim transparency.

Behind all this are students, many fresh to the college experience, who have been thrust into chaos and then told they must keep in good academic standing and graduate by 2022.

Given the passion and commitment that the larger community has shown, it’s hard to imagine why Hampshire’s leaders would not engage and collaborate with them with truly open and transparent communication.

The rallying response to this crisis has been extraordinary. Students have staged the longest college sit-in in U.S. history. Alumni mounted a heroic campaign to right the ship, with compelling arguments that counter the claims used to justify the administration’s decisions. They are digging deep into the college’s finances and holding key members of the board of trustees accountable.

At the same time, alumni are conducting a fundraising drive to afford time for a thoughtful process. Faculty passed a vote of no confidence in college leadership (ultimately dismissed on a technicality) and have now taken the lead in shaping Hampshire’s future through collaboration and innovation.

Ultimately, President Miriam Nelson and the board of trustees may believe that they are working to preserve Hampshire College, but the current impression is that they are working to corporatize higher education. We urge strong support for the faculty revisioning effort and great scrutiny of key members of the board of trustees and the college president.

Michelle Levy

Katie Calhoun

Middle Haddam, Connecticut

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