student in media lab

Chapter 2: Views from Outside

* NEASC Visiting Team's Report (1987)
* What's New at Frisbee U. (1990)
* The Courage and Vision to Experiment (1990)

NEASC Visiting Team's Report on Hampshire College, 1987

The seven members of the team representing the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the representative of the Massachusetts Board of Regents of Higher Education all wish to thank the trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, and students of Hampshire College for their gracious hospitality on the occasion of our visit to Hampshire October 18-21, 1987. In addition, the Chair of the team is especially grateful for the cooperation of President Simmons and her staff in providing facilities and an excellent opportunity to understand and learn about Hampshire both on the occasion of her preliminary visit in April, 1987, and on the occasion of a meeting of a National Advisory Board to Hampshire College which occurred in March. The team's accomodations and the facilities provided for our work were excellent. We experienced no difficulty in acquiring in a timely way almost all information and any assistance we required. Persons we interviewed were candid and provided both detailed information and opinions on matters about which we inquired.

All of us were impressed with the high aims and goals Hampshire sets both for itself as an institution and for its students and graduates. We welcomed the opportunity to view close-up this extraordinary educational endeavor. We feel our own experience has been broadened by the opportunity to observe Hampshire at work.

We note that Hampshire has survived a period of fragility, an important test for any institution. Our report, where critical, is offered in hope that some of our observations may add to the already significant efforts to bring a period of fiscal stability and academic growth to Hampshire. Finally some of us express the hope that in the near future a sequel to Longsworth and Patterson's book The Making of a College will emerge from Hampshire analyzing the educational experiment. Such a book might spur others in American higher education to more innovative ways of instruction....(p.3)


The evaluation team wishes to point out the following strengths of Hampshire College.

The overall plan and goals for a Hampshire education seem well defined. The Community of Hampshire College which includes students, staff and faculty generally understand and approve these goals and take pride in supporting them. The faculty are highly motivated educators with great loyalty to the institution and its aims. Although educating students in the Hampshire mode puts great responsibility for guidance of individual students on each faculty member, the faculty accept this [and] spend a great deal of time advising and teaching. They are devoted to their students, often treating them as younger colleagues.

The campus is attractive, generally well-kept and student housing is by comparison to many institutions unusually good. High quality facilities for creative arts, and individual recreation are provided. A small but efficiently run library serves its users well, and it is supplemented by library resources of the consortium of five college libraries. The team was glad to note that plans to add needed space to the library were advancing.

We found the fiscal and budgetary operations to be in good shape and congratulate Hampshire on a careful plan to strengthen the college's fiscal position over the next several years by ceasing to use endowment funds to support educational expenses.

The admissions operation has recently been overhauled and knowledge about Hampshire is being more widely disseminated in part through attractive well-designed brochures and an impressive video.

The evaluating team felt that the College might wish to address the following matters which the team felt were less than optimal.

A clear and concise mission statement should be arrived at by Hampshire and adopted by the Trustees. Evaluation of the success with which this mission is carried out will be aided by systematic research on educational outcomes which we urge the College to undertake soon.

Revision of the governance structure should be considered with the aim of making it less cumbersome, allowing appropriate groups to advise and make decisions on matters of particular concern to that group and to bring present practice into line with by-law structure where that is deemed appropriate.

An effort to raise faculty salaries especially for senior faculty should be made. Including a modest reward for merit in performance would be appropriate in the team's view. Arrival at some consensus of what role evaluation of published scholarship will play in decisions about salaries at contract renewal is needed. Clearer standards and procedures for the renewal of a ten year contract would also be helpful.

In other budgetary matters we recommend a second look at the financial aid package which seems to offer more funds in outright scholarship support than is usual. In addition the team believes the library acquisition funds should be increased as soon as that is possible.

Additional training for some of the relatively inexperienced persons in the offices of development and student servces will probably be helpful as the College addresses its needs in both these areas. Further, we recommend that special attention be given to fostering or acquiring more able people in the area of academic administration. While the College is well-served in this area now, the depth of academic administrative experience seemed thin.(p.19-20)

What's new at Frisbee U.
by Chip Brown. New York Times Magazine, June 10, 1990.

At Hampshire College, it's no longer all fun and games. The experimental school has now grown up.

Hampshire College was born 20 years ago this fall in an apple orchard in western Massachusetts. As the many journalists who described its infancy were wont to say, the school had a silver spoon in its mouth and a frisbee in its hand. It was a college that gave no grades, had no departments, and didn't offer tenure to faculty members. Academically, students were free to do whatever they wanted. The year it opened, Hampshire was one of the hardest schools in the country to get into.

If the question mark had not existed, Hampshire would have invented it. The heart of the curriculum was asking questions: students learned "modes of inquiry". The new philosophy was summed up in the motto Non Satis Scire, To Know Is Not Enough. The poet Archibald MacLeish spoke to the hope surrounding this "new departure" in education when he delivered the address at Hampshire's inaugural convocation. "I think," he said, "we may be present at a greater moment than we know."

Now, two decades and 5,000 alumni later, Hampshire finds itself one of the last of a breed. Its survival alone is something of an accomplishment. Experimental colleges have retrenched or vanished. The University of California at Santa Cruz has modified its curriculum. New College in Sarasota, Fla., merged with the state university. Nationwide, the trend is toward fewer electives, more structure. Bestselling books like "The Closing of the American Mind" blame the experiments of the 60's for the decline in academic standards.

Does Hampshire instill anything traditional methods do not? It's always hard to measure the value of educational method, but the nature of Hampshire's program makes assessment doubly hard. When students have such a large role in their own illumination, how much do you credit the college?

As one of the guinea pigs in the experiment, I've always thought a good argument could be made that the social aspect of Hampshire--the shock-the-parents coed bathrooms, group living in the "modules" and the obligation to cook, clean and fetch groceries from the Mixed Nuts coop every week--had as much impact on undergraduate experience as the interdisciplinary curriculum and "modes of inquiry". But maybe not. And maybe even wanting to measure the worth of an education is wrongheaded, born of a consumerist mentality that views the mind's development as product refinement. In any case, this spring I packed a couple of Frisbees in the car, assumed a mode of inquiry, and drove up to the orchard in Amherst to revisit the experiment, such as it was 20 years ago, and such as it is today.

It used to be that we were taller than the trees. Now the saplings that line the blacktop driveway are robust oaks. I wandered around in the reverie of an April morning. The land sloped west toward a valley full of chopped-out cornfields and renascent pasture. Students drifted in and out of the library. Book cache, television studio, cliff face for instruction in rappelling, it is still the eye of the college. The basement bulletin board was a montage of campus life unchanged by time: panic-and-stress workshops, film festivals, poetry readings, for-sale signs, notices of missing pets (Simon the cat had disappeared from Module 54).

For a school with little respect for tradition, much seemed the same. The old Frisbee field had been replaced by a warren of solar-heated arts and academic buildings, but Ultimate Frisbee was still the reigning sport, as it was in the early 70's, when Hampshire had one of the best teams in the country. The Dionysian spirit was alive and well in the unofficial "clothing optional" floor of Merrill House. The "Trip or Treat" Halloween party had made its way into college guidebooks.

Backpacks and sneakers, blue jeans with holes in the knee, a certain scruffy air: students look the same, too, though today, 70 percent come from public school and 30 percent from private--the reverse of 1970. The campus is still predominantly white, despite the college's expressed commitment to a racially and ethnically diverse community. At $20,240 a year, a Hampshire education is one of the dearest in the country. Nearly half the students receive some sort of financial aid from the college.

Clothes, intellectual positions and even behavior are governed by the code of the "politically correct," which is to say antisexist, antiracist, antihomophobic, antispecist. One of the unforeseen aspects of Hampshire turned out to be how sexually uptight the place was, even in the anything-goes atmosphere of the early 70's. And some of those inhibitions endure as students sacrifice spontaneity to project correct behavior. No one would undo Hampshire's committment to feminist values, which has produced on-site day-care facilities and positions of power for women, but all that right thinking can sometimes have puritanical overtones....[p.46]

Hampshire was the child of four prestigious institutions in the Connecticut River valley: Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts. A committee of educators from the four-college consortium had been kicking around the idea of a new college since the 1950's. They foresaw an explosion of knowledge no traditionally structured curriculum could adequately cover. Educating might be cheaper and more effective if students were taught to teach themselves....[p.58]

Hampshire's darkest hours came in the early 1980's. A number of faculty members had noticed a shift in the mid 1970's, when for the first time students seemed more conservative than teachers. By the mid-1980's, applications plunged to where the college was admitting 1 applicant for every 1.23 who applied. The lower caliber of student added to criticism that standards were lax. Hampshire, which depends on tuition and fees for 80 percent of its $24 million budget, was finding its efforts to attract new students hampered by stereotypes about Frisbees and drugs. The college came off badly in a widely publicized story about a student who'd written his thesis on the aerodynamics of the Frisbee.

After much discussion, the college decided to make a "committment to quality." It cut the number of students from 1,200 to 900. The board of trustees resolved to operate at a deficit, spending some of the small endowment of $10 million. To combat the hippie image, Frisbee photographs were declared verboten in official publications.

"We knew we were taking an enormous risk," recalled Adele Simmons, who recently left after 12 years as president to head the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. "I would go to bed at night planning the pnone call to the president of UMass to talk about merging."

Almost immediately things turned around. By last fall, Hampshire's enrollment was back over 1,200 and the applicant pool for a class of 350 students was over 2000.

Today, there's more structure than meets the eye. There are filing deadlines. Exam days. An advising center. "We know more about what we're doing now," says Nancy Lowry, dean of the School of Natural Sciences. Students have to pass all Division I exams before they can go into Division II. In a major break with the original vision, students have been given the option to complete two of their four Division I exams by taking courses instead of doing independent projects.

As always, a lot of weight falls on the faculty adviser to keep the student pointed in the right direction. It's clear now that teaching students to teach themselves entails more, not less, work for the faculty. The 11-to-1 student-faculty ratio is not low enough, and students often have to cajole overworked faculty members onto their exam committees--a hurdle that some shy young people have a hard time leaping. Since there is no tenure, faculty members are often embroiled in controversies over the reappointment of their colleagues, forced to make tough decisions whether to renew the contracts of good teachers who lack scholarship and good scholars who can't teach. A Humanities and Arts professor who wasn't reappointed sued the college, charging discrimination; the threat of litigation now keeps some faculty from making candid appraisals....[p.59-60]

The vaunted "new departure" has not changed the face of higher education, but Hampshire's example has not gone unremarked.

"Though much of the bubbly countercultural experience of Hampshire has troubled me, I've always defended the college--all the more so now that everybody is running scared," says David Riesman, the Harvard sociologist and author who wrote about Hampshire in "The Perpetual Dream: Reform and Experiment in the American College." "Hampshire has been influential--one of the most visible examples of an experimental curriculum on the East Coast. I see it as extremely helpful."

Riesman cited Hampshire's exceptional record in science education. At most colleges, including Harvard, students fade away from science. At Hampshire, more graduate with an interest in science than enter with one. Hampshire was one of the first colleges to offer an undergraduate program in the cognitive sciences--the rubric for a forward-looking amalgam of philosophy, psychology, neurobiology and computer studies.

Alumni are perhaps the best testimony of the effectiveness of the Hampshire method. Eighty percent of Hampshire graduates are accepted into their first choice of professional or graduate school. Twenty percent own their own businesses. In Hollywood, where Hampshire alumni have been nominated for nine Academy Awards, there is something called the Hampshire mafia, which includes the documentary film makers Ken Burns, whose five-part Civil War series is scheduled to run on PBS this September, and Robert Epstein, who made "The Times of Harvey Milk."....

The progressive agenda of 1970 is still before the college in the form of multicultualism. Hampshire recently adopted something called the "Third World Expectation." (The new departure in jargon establishes requirements but calls them expectations.) It is "expected" that courses and exams, whether in lighting design or physics, will include some discussion of how the issues under consideration bear on the third world. Every teacher I talked to welcomed the idea.

By such means, Hampshire hopes to enlarge the perspective of students, and foster a sense of community. And yet the very qualities that make students successful at Hampshire are an ability to go it alone, to work independently. The contradiction of the college has always been that a student is pulled one way by the philosophy, which prizes community, and another by the structure, which emphasizes self-reliance. Hampshire is not a community of people holed up in a big ivory tower; it's 1,200 ivory towers....

Much of Hampshire's initial popularity came from the idea that faculty and students were involved in the making of a college--that there was indeed a college to be made. Hampshire's goals and structure were still forming. Would it be just a trendy factory, training people for the Information Age? Or could it offer a fractured society the model of a Utopian collective, where one person's success didn't depend on another's failure. Today, the Utopian visions have faded. Students sit on the board of trustees and the faculty reappointment committee, but have no part in the making of a college. The college has been made....[p.60]

The Courage and Vision to Experiment: Hampshire College, 1970-1990
Helen S. Astin, et al., 1990.

In 1988 Adele Simmons, then president of Hampshire College, approached the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) with the request that we develop a proposal to study Hampshire Alumni in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the college's founding. In a collaborative fashion, Hampshire's administration, the staff at HERI, and members of Hampshire's National Advisory Council undertook the design of such a study.

The study's goals were to survey three cohorts of alumni covering different periods during the two decades of the college's existence in order to learn about the activities of Hampshire graduates since leaving the College and to have them assess their experience as undergraduates while at Hampshire.

In order to put their responses and assessment in a broader context, we invited another liberal arts college to participate in the study as well. This second "control" institution, which we shall call "Comparison College," was comparable to Hampshire in that it is a small private liberal arts college in the northeast that attracts students who are similar to Hampshire's in terms of their family backgrounds and academic abilities. This college is also similar in size, with equal proportions of women to men. Comparison College willingly accepted our invitation as a way to learn about its own alumni.

With initial funding from Hampshire College and a grant from the Commonwealth Fund, the HERI team began the study in the late Spring of 1989.[p.1]

Summary of Findings and Implications

The case study presented in this report is based on data collected from alumni from Hampshire College and from a more traditional liberal arts institution dubbed "Comparison College." The alumni selected for the study were chosen to represent three cohorts of students entering in 1973-74, 1978-79, and 1983-84. Analyses are based on data provided by about 1,200 of these alumni who responded to a mailed survey questionnaire. These survey data were supplemented by site visits to the two institutions, by focus group interviews with alumni conducted at selected locations across the country, and by analyses of the transcripts and Division III reports from the three Hampshire alumni whose profiles are included in this report. For the 1973-74 cohorts we also had survey data from HERI's Cooperative Institutional Research Program provided by the students at the time they entered Hampshire and Comparison colleges as freshmen.

The College Experience

* Hampshire alumni rated their satisfaction with the College's ability to foster independent thought much higher than did Comparison alumni. They also reported greater satisfaction with the College's fostering of creativity, critical thinking, and opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary study.
* Hampshire alumni report higher satisfaction with courses in science and math, courses in the social sciences, and courses in communication and cognitive science...
* The overall level of satisfaction with the college experience is higher among Comparison alumni than among Hampshire alumni.
* Hampshire College alumni are more polarized in their satisfaction with cooperative efforts at Hampshire. There are more "very satisfied" and more "dissatisfied" students. Comparison College students are more likely to report moderate levels of satisfaction with their College's efforts to foster cooperative efforts.

Areas of Growth

* Hampshire alumni report greater relative growth in their ability to work independently, think critically, and formulate original ideas and solutions. On the other hand, Comparison alumni report greater growth in knowledge within a particular field or discipline and in foreign language ability. Although Hampshire alumni rated their writing ability more favorably than Comparison alumni when they first entered college, Comparison alumni report greater growth in their writing ability as a result of their college experience....[p.103-104]

Student-Faculty Relationships

* Positive student-faculty relationships appear to be an essential component for success at Hampshire College.
* Student-faculty relationships at Hampshire appear to be very much a love-hate experience. While the majority of alumni report very positive feelings, there is also a substantial minority that describe these relationships in negative terms.

Political Views

* The Hampshire environment is very homogeneous with respect to its liberal political views and is perceived as relatively inhospitable by those students who do not characterize themselves as politically liberal. These more conservative students are less satisfied, have fewer friendships, experience less cooperation, and feel that their relationships with faculty are not as good. They are also much less likely to persist....[p.104-105]

Hampshire Faculty

* Compared to faculty at other private liberal arts colleges, Hampshire College faculty include more women and ethnic/racial minorities. Hampshire faculty are also younger and have more highly educated parents, spouses, and partners.
* More Hampshire faculty are personally engaged in research and many do so in a collaborative fashion. Their scholarly productivity is high. Their views and practices about education are consonant with the College's vision and curriculum: they team teach, encourage active leaming, do more mentoring and less lecturing, expect students to do a great deal of writing and rewriting, and believe in the importance of having an inclusive curriculum. Thus, many of the readings for students include multicultural perspectives and perspectives on gender. They are politically liberal and committed to social issues. They consider a major priority of the institution to develop the social consciousness of its students and to enable the students to understand and appreciate multicultural perspectives.
* In other words, faculty at Hampshire have collectively created a culture that is very supportive of the institution's mission to develop active learners with a strong social consciousness.

Conclusions and Implications

* The major findings from the study of Hampshire College alumni suggests that the Hampshire Experiment has been a very successful one. Early on, Hampshire had the vision to identify mechanisms through its structure and curriculum that encourage active learning--the kind of learning that is viewed today as one of the most essential ingredients in a successful undergraduate experience. We believe that Hampshire provides a model of active learning that can be emulated in many key respects by other institutions of higher education.
* The higher education community has long recognized the importance of providing students with opportunities to undertake and appreciate interdisciplinary learning. However, successful attempts to incorporate interdisciplinary experiences in the undergraduate curriculum through interdepartmental structures are not a common occurrence. Hampshire, however, has managed to introduce and sustain such progammatic efforts and thus enrich students' learning and development. Students at Hampshire are able to undertake independent interdisciplinary work that is well grounded in the traditional disciplines.
* Science education at Hampshire is conceived and delivered "differently" than it is in the traditional liberal arts college. Students are not required to meet prerequisites or to take prescribed sequences of courses. Rather, they learn to appreciate science through the "inquiry" method and to use it in both their jobs and their daily lives. The Hampshire approach to science instruction, in short, appears to offer a promising alternative to traditional undergraduate science education, especially for nonscience students.
* Hampshire clearly believes in the importance of multicultural understanding and appreciation for its students and has been successful in manifesting this belief through its curricular structure. However, its student body continues to remain ethnically homogeneous, with a dearth of students from diverse cultures and perspectives. Thus, while Hampshire students learn about different cultures through their academic work, they have limited direct experience either with peers of color or with persons from other cultures.
* Intense student-faculty interaction, which is common in many graduate programs where students are working closely with their professors, is what characterizes the Hampshire undergraduate experience. Such relationships benefit students because of the close mentoring they receive; faculty also benefit from the challenges such contacts present. However, this process has its shortcomings. Given that undergraduates are often unclear about the nature of such close mentoring relationships, and given the great power differential that exists between themselves and their mentors, many students find themselves in a highly vulnerable position. Since a good relationship with a mentor is so critical for success at Hampshire, not making the right connection with a mentor can lead some students to withdraw from college.
* Student leaves of absence are a very common occurrence at Hampshire. Leaves provide for a period of reflection, when students can rethink goals as well as engage in intensive independent study. However, such absences often serve to distance students psychologically from the college, so that they subsequently withdraw or drop out. There is a clear need to devise mechanisms that will enable students to maintain some connection with the College during leaves.
* The five college consortium is an essential ingredient for the success of Hampshire College. It enables faculty at Hampshire to do and teach what they know best, since they do not have to teach traditionally required courses. Having access to the additional resources through the other Valley institutions is one of the three major factors that attracts students to Hampshire, and it enriches their experience by providing the opportunity to pursue work in areas not available at Hampshire.
* Issues of student retention at Hampshire College are a continuing concern. Major problems that lead students to leave Hampshire are:
o not finding a suitable mentor
o not having common learning experiences with other students
o difficulties in creating a "community" on campus as a result of the very individualized nature of the work
o the ease with which students can take leaves that often have little to do with their education at Hampshire
o the proclivity for students to blame themselves or feel guilty if things do not go well (probably the result of a great deal of independent activity and self-reliance).
o -Hampshire's existential approach to learning -- "learning for life" -- helps make students responsible because it provides much freedom to choose, but it can also cause a great deal of floundering.
* One of the perplexing methodological questions about this case study of a very unique institution is the extent to which the special qualities and accomplishments of the alumni can be attributed to self-selection, rather than to the effects of the Hampshire experience itself. While we were able to obtain partial answers to this question by looking at characteristics of earlier entering classes at Hampshire and Comparison College, the lack of real longitudinal data makes causal attributions hazardous, at best. Clearly, longitudinal studies that track cohorts of Hampshire students over time are needed.
* Alumni from Hampshire College were found to be very socially conscious. They are a group of young adults who are very progressive in their views and who manifest those views by being activists. They are involved in and generous in support of social causes.
* Since faculty and students at Hampshire are very similar in their political views and in their high degree of social awareness, it may well be that the close relationship that students have with their faculty is what reinforces these students' social awareness and caring. However, the question still remains -- Do nontraditional forms of higher education inevitably attract politically liberal students and faculty? Evidence from other campuses suggests that this might indeed be the case. It is of special interest that such an institution has the ability to develop very loyal alumni, as is clearly the case with Hampshire. The high degree of alumni commitment to Hampshire is impressive. They are very likely to be identified with the institution and to contribute money to it.
* Hampshire faculty spend an enormous amount of time advising students. While good advising is key for a successful Hampshire experience, the great majority of faculty do not feel that they are rewarded for their good advising. Hampshire needs to identify more formal mechanisms for providing feedback to faculty about their advising and also to include advising performance in a more visible way in the personnel review process.
* Although Hampshire has remained true to its original vision and plan, it has continuously been open to self-assessment, review, and change. The College should be encouraged to continue this process of self-examination for change and improvement. The spirit behind the current "assessment movement" in higher education is exemplified in what Hampshire has been doing all along. From its beginning, Hampshire has had the courage and the wisdom to assess itself and, when necessary, to change and improve its curriculum and its organizational structure.

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