Mary Russo and Susan Tracy: Slow down Hampshire’s fast-moving merger train

  • Hampshire College campus in December 2016. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/21/2019 10:32:30 AM

Correction: This letter has been corrected to state that Sen. Jo Comerford did not say a bill that would require a four-year guarantee to incoming students at institutions of higher education has been resoundingly defeated. It is being considered.

We question President Miriam Nelson’s prediction of a stronger Hampshire College after the unprecedented decision to not admit an entering class in 2019.

Although she rightly cites the overwhelming wave of support for the college from alumni, former trustees and administrators, faculty in the Five Colleges, students, families, friends and community leaders, many of these supporters largely deplore the violation of academic governance processes through secrecy and the use of non-disclosure agreements, and debunk the notion that commonwealth regulations caused this disruption.

As the Gazette reported on Feb. 15, Suzanne Perkins, professor of neuroscience at the University of Michigan, a Hampshire alumna and parent, offered a lengthy analysis of the misinformation being promulgated by President Nelson and the board of trustees as the rationale for their dismantling Hampshire College.

Professor Perkins contacted Barbara Brittingham, president of the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Chris Gabrieli, chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, and his legal counsel, Alex Nally; the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, Division of Non-Profit Corporations; and state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

The people from the oversight departments assured her that Hampshire College was neither in danger of being put on probation, nor was it in danger of losing its accreditation, especially since they had just accredited it for 10 years. They noted that even though Hampshire’s financial condition was weak, in their experience it was not dire.

Comerford said a bill in the Massachusetts Senate requiring a four-year guarantee to incoming students is being considered. It is not the law.

Although President Nelson’s Feb. 13 letter to the Gazette walked back her contention from two weeks ago at a Jan. 31 public presentation to the Hampshire community and again the next day at the fateful board of trustees meeting that decided to not admit the fall 2019 class, that Hampshire’s precarious financial situation has put the college in danger of losing its accreditation, we now know that that isn’t true.

It is part of a plan to put Hampshire on the fast-moving merger train that is threatening to empty the campus of its students, staff and faculty and thereby of its mission and integrity.

There is cause for national concern since Hampshire may, indeed, be the canary in the coal mine as nonprofit educational institutions are subjected to the ruthlessness of the new “merger” culture. The faculty at Hampshire was blindsided, but use of crisis and shock to further a plan to shrink assets and strip the remaining values of institutions that serve the public is easily exposed.

Mary Russo

Susan Tracy

Russo is a professor emerita of critical theory at Hampshire. Tracy is professor emerita of history and American studies, also at Hampshire.

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