Hampshire College continues search for strategic partner amidst growing concerns

Students and local politicians push back against certain developments

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Hampshire College continues search for strategic partner amidst growing concerns

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Will Mallas, Assistant News Editor

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As the spring semester continues on, Hampshire College is continuing its search for a partner as it faces concerns and criticisms on numerous fronts.

For one, the college has announced the formation of a new committee of alumni and parents that will aid the college in determining a strategic partner.

In a March 20 letter sent out to the Hampshire campus, President Miriam Nelson wrote the committee, named the President’s Options Working Group, consisted of members “selected for their expertise and experience primarily in the fields of business and education” and will provide an “off-campus perspective to our discussions.”

A majority of the members on the committee consist of CEOs and founders of prominent organizations, one member in particular is popular documentarian Ken Burns, a Hampshire alum.

“The newly created President’s Options Working Group of off-campus community stakeholders will be a sounding board for the trustees and me, conducting their deliberations independently and a vehicle for communicating with all Hampshire constituencies,” Nelson said.

The group released a letter last Wednesday describing their business experience as something that gives them “experience in understanding income statements and balance sheets and some have guided organizations in mergers, acquisitions and major change initiatives.”

The committee met this week to discuss the status of deliberations, which the letter described as “extremely worrisome and warranting more than ever a thoughtful, well-developed approach.” The group also discussed possible solutions; however, the specific potential partners were not given to the committee.

“However, we want the broader Hampshire community to understand that the situation is serious and time is not on the College’s side,” the letter read. “And, because some of the options involve engaging with other institutions who need to remain anonymous for reasons of their own, we cannot be 100 percent transparent about them yet.

“We expect that situation to change in the weeks ahead.”

This is the second committee to be created in the last few months, the first being the Campus Options Committee, which is made up of Hampshire students, faculty and staff.

“The committees are providing input and guidance to the Board of Trustees on available options for a sustainable, impactful future for Hampshire,” said John Courtmanche, the media relations and editorial director at Hampshire. “The work of the committees will lead to an open phase of discussions with the campus this spring.”

The college is expected to announce its options publicly by the end of the semester, Courtmanche said. He also noted that the Board of Trustees has the final decision-making authority.

The announcement of the committee comes two months after the college first announced it would seek out a “long-term partner” to help face financial pressures. The college is planning to accept only a limited freshman class in the fall of about 77 students, and in a Feb. 19 letter, President Nelson announced nine layoffs from the admissions and advancement offices, which will take effect on April 19.

Hamp Rise Up, an organization of students, faculty and alumni pushing for greater transparency and greater representation in the college’s deliberations, have been holding a sit-in around Nelson’s personal office since Jan 31.

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, on Wednesday, March 20, Nelson held a meeting with students from Hamp Rise Up, who refused to leave the office following the meeting. Nelson subsequently had her belongings removed from the office.

Nelson told the Gazette she had not allowed for the sit-in to move into her office due to their being confidential information in the room, and that she had not been working in the office because of the sit-in.

As of March 26, Hamp Rise Up has yet to respond to requests for comment.

Local politicians have also been getting involved in Hampshire’s situation. Mindy Domb, a state representative for the 3rd Hampshire District, and Jo Comerford, the state senator for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District, released a letter to the public sent to Nelson regarding Hampshire.

Through the correspondence, the two Massachusetts politicians addressed their concerns that a February email from Nelson that was later released publicly mischaracterized talks they had with Nelson. Domb and Comerford also noted their concern that the college’s administration refused to discuss its situation with the American Association of University Professors.

Additionally, the letter calls for Nelson to consider four initiatives from Hampshire faculty “to turn the current circumstances into a new college plan” in order to prevent potential layoffs in April.

“However, if you decide to proceed with staff and faculty [layoffs], we urge you to prioritize and ensure that each position is accompanied with a responsible severance package,” they said.

In a response to Domb and Comerford’s concerns about layoffs in a March 22 letter sent to the Daily Collegian by Courtmanche, Nelson said the college is “working hard to retain as many jobs as we can” but is facing challenges in budgeting for fiscal year 2020.

“In order for the College to remain viable, we must make difficult choices,” Nelson wrote. “This includes a reduction of our work force and frank discussions about how best to position the College moving forward. We have to match our expenses to our revenue.”

“Providing severance is our goal, and we are working to secure the resources to do this,” she added.

Will Mallas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willmallas.