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UMass merging with Hampshire: Why it makes sense

The acquisition seems natural

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UMass merging with Hampshire: Why it makes sense

Photo by Collegian Staff

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Photo by Collegian Staff

By Matt Berg, Collegian Contributor

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There’s a running joke among my friends that the University of Massachusetts will eventually take over the Commonwealth. The Five College Consortium will become the UMass Consortium. Massachusetts will be renamed “UMassachusetts.” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy will reign supreme. It is light-hearted but rooted in an idea that’s not too outrageous: UMass is looking to grow, and grow fast.

As a freshman, I’m part of the largest and most selective class in UMass’ 155-year existence. This statistic is an anomaly among colleges today. The school best known for being “The Zoo” is becoming known for academics. Who would have thought? The pool of UMass applicants is getting bigger and smarter each year – a recipe for success.

But this is a precarious situation for higher education institutions, which need to maintain their growth. As William S. Burroughs once said, “When you stop growing, you start dying.”

We’ve seen it with about 17 colleges in the past six years in Massachusetts as these schools either merged or closed due to declining enrollment and accumulating debt. Unable to adapt to the evolving demographic of those attending college, small institutions have been forced to close or completely restructure their business models. And this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon as people increasingly question the value of college due to its hefty price tag.

With UMass’ prominence in the state with the best education and Subbaswamy’s determination to bring the University into the top 20 public universities in the country, it seems likely that the sudden acquisition of Mount Ida will not be the end of Minuteman takeover. Hampshire College, which faces an uncertain future because of financial problems, may be next.

“UMass Amherst has a had a close relationship with Hampshire College since its founding nearly 50 years ago,” said Ed Blaguszewski, Executive Director of Strategic Communications and Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor, in an email.

“We share educational and cultural resources and facilities, including a common automated library system, open cross-campus registration, joint departments and programs, and intercampus transportation. As such, we are in regular communication with colleagues at Hampshire College.”

From that statement alone, it sounds as though UMass has greater reason to acquire Hampshire than it did Mount Ida. Although it gained proximity to Boston and housing for students looking for internships or other opportunities in the city, UMass faced fierce backlash from students at UMass Boston. A Hampshire acquisition would certainly be smoother, as the merger would seem more like a rescue effort than a forceful takeover.

It is no secret that UMass is struggling to find adequate space to house its growing population. Prior to the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, UMass sent out an email to students offering a discount of room and board for those opting to live in spaces other than conventional two-person dorms. Common rooms were turned into quads, and students have felt the effects of UMass’ inadequate space.

Hampshire has multiple dorms on campus, capable of housing hundreds of students, which would potentially save UMass inevitable costs of building new housing. The Hampshire campus could serve as housing for students of all years and, with a PVTA route already in use from UMass to Hampshire, commuting would be simple.

UMass, a school of 23,515 undergraduate students, sits on about 1,450 acres. Mount Ida only added 72 acres. Hampshire, a school of 1,175 students, owns about 800 acres.

If UMass continues to grow at the rate it has been in the past decade, the flagship campus will prove insufficient. New buildings will have to be erected, housing will need to be added and new programs will need more room to operate successfully. US News & World Report ranked the Stockbridge School of Agriculture the fifth best agricultural school in the world and 3rd best in the United States. An additional 800 acres of land could only improve those rankings, consequently boosting UMass’ position as a world-class university.

UMass attracts a wide variety of students from around the country and world, but it has not achieved the niche that Hampshire has. Students at Hampshire pursue independent studies guided by faculty advisors, and the model has proven to be successful. The school boasts alumni such as actress Lupito Nyong’o, author Jon Krakauer and filmmaker Ken Burns. By incorporating Hampshire’s ideology into its community, UMass would attract a greater array of students looking for independence, alternative education and a unique experience.

Both UMass and Hampshire have been praised for being LGBTQIA+-friendly, with UMass having been ranked in the top 30 LGBTQ-friendly campuses by College Pride and Hampshire appearing in the top 20 LGTBQ-friendly colleges in the Princeton Review. As a destination for those searching for an inclusive environment, a combination of these two progressive schools would inevitably improve UMass’ recognition for being inclusive.

Although some may argue that Hampshire would lose its character if it merges with a large public research university, there is no other alternative that would guarantee a successful transition. The college could attempt to merge with a smaller, more similar institution, but a smaller institution would have a difficult time preserving Hampshire’s spirit due to its fragile financial state. In order to preserve what is left of the college, UMass must extend a lifeline to the unique gem that is Hampshire.

Matt Berg is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]

12 Comments

12 Responses to “UMass merging with Hampshire: Why it makes sense”

  1. Amy on February 19th, 2019 8:36 am

    The ‘zoo’ is becoming known for it’s academics lol, that says it all right there. Education here is really subpar; this is why I try to take most of my classes at Smith, mount holyoke or amherst. All higher ranked than umass or if I take classes, I just barely show up, teach myself and get a B or A in the class. What is good about umass is that it is a party school and because it’s so easy, you have alot more free time.

    Hampshire college should just default and be shut down. It’s property sold to landowners and developed for houses or turned into a nature preserve.

    Umass has already polluted the small town of Amherst with all it’s trucks, pollution and construction, it botched Mount Ida resulting in a lawsuit and outrage among it’s students. Do you really think it’s a good idea that it should take over something else? It will just lead to a negative outcome. and also more debt.

    Umass already has taken on 40 million in debt service, I think the total amount of debt is in the billions. That is 40 million dollars less in services and education we receive as students despite paying one of the highest prices for public tuition in the country.

  2. C on February 19th, 2019 7:24 pm

    Good thing this article is listed under ‘opinion’ considering how uneducated the author is about the projected future of higher ed and what Hampshire’s ideal partnership would entail. You mention UMass being unable to keep up with growth, but fail to account for the expected fall in college enrollment in the coming years as a result of decreased birth rates during the recession. UMass will soon have to fight for students and continue growth, not expand the campus to accommodate them. Furthermore, Hampshire was founded on a model of non-traditional higher education. Absorbing Hampshire into UMass would either entail Hampshire adopting a traditional educational model or UMass students rejecting the absorbed Hampshire students. If UMass spends substantial money on acquiring Hampshire, it shouldn’t include a contract where they award diplomas to students who experimentally live in a box for 3 months.

  3. Kevin on February 19th, 2019 8:06 pm

    Amy, are you Pete? Because the two comments have similar spelling errors.

  4. Anti-Amy on February 19th, 2019 9:47 pm

    Amy, you sound young and naive. UMass has become as large and successful an institution and system as it has because of acquisition and merging of institutions within the state; which has also resulted in increased quality education and jobs for otherwise economically depressed areas (e.g. Lowell; Worcester; Springfield; New Bedford/Fall River.

    Just the fact that you stated UMass Amherst’s only quality is its status as a party school reflects the worthlessness of your opinion of the matter.

    Maybe if you focused on your education you’d get more out of the experience.

  5. Local Alum on February 20th, 2019 6:56 am

    The Hampshire model has proven to be a success?

    Puh-lese.

    Hampshire is a laughingstock. The reason you’re even discussing this merger is because Hampshire is about to disappear without someone saving them. Don’t devalue UMASS degrees by any further association with Hampshire. Let them die and then buy the land and buildings.

  6. Paul Smith-Waison on February 20th, 2019 11:49 am

    Amy,
    Let me just state the obvious: You are just too smart for THE GRAND AMH, Why did you not go to one of these colleges in the first place? Maybe you should transfer instead of living with such dissatisfaction in your soul. Back in the seventies ’75, I was able to take advantage of these exchange programs and I’m glad I did. Still UMASS was great for me, since I wasn’t sure of my area of concentration when I got there. I had the privilege of roaming around and taking classes in too many areas, which eventually forced me to do an extra semester, and not for a lack of credits. Towards the end I took a class at Mt. Holyoke in order to gain enough credits in my major. I look back at my experience with great treasure and hope that you will eventually. To do so, you may need to make some changes, externally or in your mind. UMAS is only a party school for the party goers. I look back fondly on the experiences with the likes of Prof. Connors (Math), Prof. Van Blerkom (Astronomy) and many others. Now go create your Western Massachusetts Experience.

  7. Michael Strmiska on February 20th, 2019 6:31 pm

    Dear Matt, Thanks for a thoughtful and honest piece. I am a Hampshire alum, now a professor at a community college in NY State who has on several occasions taught courses at Hampshire. I am not in favor of a merger with UMass, but I appreciate seeing a forthright discussion from the UMass perspective. My reasons for opposing merger are (1) Hampshire tends to have smaller classes than at UMass–correct me if I am wrong– and I don’t see how small Hampshire classes could be turned into large lecture hall classes; (2) Hampshire classes depend on instructors writing detailed evaluations of student performance rather than grades, and hard to see how this would work in a large class; (3) Hampshire has DIvision I, II and III projects rather than the accumulation of credits in the freshman to senior sequence, and these projects involve committees that might be hard to share or harmonize between Hampshire and UMass; (4) Hampshire has a more “alternative,” more “radical” culture and climate than UMass; though there is certainly some overlap and common ground between the two; and (5) if Hampshire is going to discard small classes, evaluations, Division projects, and its radical identity, it will not be Hampshire anymore. I see better grounds for cooperation and partnership at the Graduate School level. Having UMass and Hampshire develop joint graduate programs utilizing faculty and classes from both institutions could create great synergy, and could perhaps be housed at Hampshire, hopefully not replacing the existing undergraduate programs at Hampshire, but alongside them, with some constructions of new buildings on Hampshire’s ample real estate. So there you have two cents from a concerned person outside the Zoo.

  8. Andrew Fournier on February 20th, 2019 8:57 pm

    Hampshire has, indeed, been an educational success. The finances have always been precarious. An independent Hampshire as an honors program for UMass, running the same Hampshire educational model, would be terrific. And good for both institutions. What was suggested in the article was closing Hampshire, renting the buildings and keeping the signs up. I think most of us would prefer the name not he associated with the facility use described here: take the signs down and have some clerk manage the records if the Hampshire Campus becomes a UMass dorm.

  9. tyler on February 22nd, 2019 4:56 pm

    Great article Matt! although I disagree, I think this is one of the better articles i’ve read in the collegian for a long time. Too bad the comment section on this one is toxic as hell.

  10. amy on February 22nd, 2019 6:14 pm

    Regarding comments about Hampshire, Hampshire College is a laughing stock, I doubt most people who graduate get real jobs or have real world success beyond being pot smoking neo-hippies who fight the ‘system’ their whole life.

    Regarding ‘anti-amy’. It was nice to hear your personal story, it was so touching. Umass is a party school and is known for this, its the college I know of whose nickname revolves around being a Zoo. How do you know I didn’t decide to go here because it is easy and a party school? All we can say is about ‘anti-amy’ is that he thinks going to a mediocre state college is god’s gift.

    I get to go here, get scholarships, barely put any effort, party and when I get out make a good salary. Why would I want to put so much effort and time at a better ranked and respectable college like bu,bc,etc and lose all that?

  11. Drew Sullivan on March 5th, 2019 10:53 am

    Amy, UMass most recent class has been the most academically gifted in the school’s history. Out of over 650 public universities, UMass has gone from #47 to #26 in the entire country. Many professors are local, regional, national and even world leaders in their fields. Based on the facts, your rant is filled with falsehoods and highly subjective opinions with zero basis in reality.

  12. Boly on March 7th, 2019 12:11 pm

    Hampshire is one of the top-ranked schools for students who go on to obtain doctorates. Many of its graduates become professors. 25% of them have also started their own business.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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