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2014 Convocation Remarks by President Jonathan Lash

Members of the Hampshire community, students, staff, faculty . . . good friends, it is good to see you all. I welcome you to what I hope will be a very significant year for Hampshire. I believe we are at a turning point, and I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you why.

Hampshire College Convocation
September 2, 2014
President's Address by Jonathan Lash

Members of the Hampshire community, students, staff, faculty . . . good friends, it is good to see you all. I welcome you to what I hope will be a very significant year for Hampshire. I believe we are at a turning point, and I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you why.

Of course, you couldn’t drive onto the campus without seeing that big changes are underway. A month ago there were 40-foot mounds of dirt where once there had been a bus stop and a flagpole. Earth moving machines the size of titanosauri rumbled across the campus, eating pavement. We have dethroned the automobile and turned over the heart of the campus to people.

In another month we will break ground for a new building that will provide classroom, meeting, exhibit, and caffeinated social space, as well as a place where prospective students and their families will come in immediate contact with the people, work, and creativity of our community.

The building will meet the deep green standards of the living building challenge – creating its own energy and treating its own waste – a physical embodiment of our community’s values, and a teaching tool in and of itself.

Also over the course of the summer, a group of students has nearly completed work on the Roos–Rohde House, a building conceived of, designed by, and purposed for students. It will be the new home of Mixed Nuts, the student organization that has provided cheap, healthy, organic food on campus since 1972 . . . and whatever else students decide it should be.

In fact, during the last few months we’ve been on a major campus improvement campaign. 1,143 bedrooms and 105 common spaces have been painted, and new carpet has been installed in many locations including the hallways throughout Dakin. Many stoves and refrigerators have been replaced and over 2,200 high-efficiency LED light fixtures have been installed in student resident spaces. 39 student lounges in Dakin and Merrill have been renovated with new appliances, paint, carpet, cabinetry, and lounge furniture. By the end of September each lounge will have a large screen TV.

Responding to student complaints about the slow speed and unreliability of WiFi in the dorms and mods, we have doubled the number of access points in Greenwich and Dakin, and more than tripled the number in Merrill, and we have more than doubled the bandwidth of our Internet connection.

The exteriors of the Enfield and Greenwich mods have been painted in an array of bright colors that make the living areas feel more like . . . well . . . homes.

Teaching and learning spaces are getting much needed attention, too. We are in the process of refurbishing and refurnishing classrooms, lecture halls, library spaces, and labs across the campus.

Over the next few months Dean McCrae, the residence life staff, and facilities and grounds will work with a team of students to redesign the areas outside the residence halls and mods to transform them into places for students to gather and interact. Construction on those spaces will begin next spring.

From a health and safety perspective, two new standby generators have been installed and are expected to be fully operational by the end of September. The generators will provide emergency backup power for the residence halls and dining commons in the event of a long-term power outage such as the one we faced as a result of Snowmageddon in October 2011.

Larry Archey, Carl Weber, the facilities and grounds crew, and the I.T. staff have done miracles. You guys have been rocking out this summer. Deep thanks to all and each of you.

We have a new strategic plan, about which I’ll speak in a moment. One of the themes articulated in the vision that sets the direction for that plan is Hampshire’s leadership developing students’ “skill and determination to turn ideas into action.” This is the entrepreneurship fostered by Hampshire’s approach to education, which so many of our alumni say continues to enable them to shape their lives, build platforms for innovation and creativity, and create social change.

We have launched a program to encourage and support the entrepreneurship of Hampshire students. With the help of several generous donors who believe fervently in the potential future impact of Hampshire entrepreneurs, we have hired a professor – Tamara Stenn - who will teach social entrepreneurship – social action through entrepreneurship – and entrepreneurial design. Brett Golann, a Hampshire alum and serial entrepreneur, has signed on to work with students in bringing their ideas to fruition. And we have established a million dollar seed fund for innovative projects and businesses created by current students and recent graduates.

We have also begun to make real progress on our sustainability goals. Supported by Stonyfield Yogurt founder and Hampshire alum Gary Hirshberg, we have reduced our carbon footprint; changed the way Hampshire eats by linking food, farm, and sustainability; and begun to create a culture of sustainability.

Faculty and students have experimented with new courses, ranging from “Buddhist Economics” to the “Future of Food” to “Climate Change, Militarism and Sustainability.” Working with Beth Hooker and Larry Archey, students and faculty engineered a transition from lawns to meadows that avoids thousands of pounds of CO2 emissions, saves thousands of dollars, and provides habitat for ketrels, king birds, red-wings, bluebirds, and, my favorites, bobolinks.

The theater and dance studio boast new state-of-the-art, high-efficiency LED lighting, paid for by leveraging state and utility grant funds and the student run Sustainability Revolving Fund.

We have established new sustainability focused living and learning communities, and have plans for more.

Hampshire’s policy of investing its endowment funds in products and companies that align with our mission and values has made us a leader in moving away from fossil fuels, and Hampshire students have been at the forefront in the campaign to get higher education to reconsider its investments in fossil fuels. This spring we brought together leaders from colleges, universities, foundations, and nonprofit organizations from around the country to explore the arguments for and means to reflect organizational values in choosing investments.

Everything I have just mentioned? All that is just a start . . .  just a first indication of what we can do if we elevate and focus our ambitions.

Last year, Hampshire embarked on a comprehensive strategic planning process. Over the course of eight months in 146 meetings, collecting comments, ideas, and questions from 1,350 participants, with 850 survey responses and 6,700 narrative comments, we built the basis for a strategic vision, five strategic priorities, and 23 objectives:

  • To reinforce and “reboot” Hampshire’s distinctive academic program by encouraging, supporting, and communicating about our teaching innovations; by simplifying our academic processes; and by reinvesting in our rigorous Divisional system.
  • To shift from revenue-driven to mission-driven admissions, and to search for and communicate with those students most likely to thrive in Hampshire’s unique pedagogy (this transition is pretty dynamically underway already).
  • To cultivate a healthy campus community and a student experience that enables students to learn, grow, and thrive.
  • To market Hampshire, telling the story of what we do, why it matters, and how it is unique, doing so with imagination and integrity.
  • To promote diversity and inclusive excellence at all levels of the College.

This summer a student–faculty–staff implementation planning group chaired by Marlene Gerber Fried and Joanna Olin has developed and prioritized a list of projects to put our plan into action. They have recommended initiatives ranging from new buildings to the creation of programs and the expansion of need-based financial aid. We will be seeking comment on those initiatives soon.

Now we will move from planning to action. Some projects are already underway. Many will be initiated in the coming months. It is my hope that the Hampshire trustees will approve the launch of a campaign to raise funds to support the plan this fall.

This is a moment of opportunity for us to be creative, ambitious, and audacious. We can build our capacity, strengthen the school, improve the quality of the life of this community, and influence the world. It is an opportunity to learn, invent, and define the way Hampshire’s founders did four and a half decades ago. I look forward to working with you to make it happen.

When we convened a year ago, I spoke of my hope for Hampshire to become an anti-racist community. We responded by articulating that aspiration explicitly as one of our five strategic priorities, and through dialogues, events, conferences, the “Race Matters” speaker series, teaching discussions, and meetings of staff, seeking to examine the issue of racism in America, in our own institution, and in our own hearts. We will continue that work.

Last year, I spoke to you in the shadow of the Trayvon Martin case. Today it is the death of Michael Brown. It seems as if as a nation we are only able to see and react to racism in the light cast by protest. We are appalled and disbelieving when it happens . . . and then the protests end . . . and for much of America it is over until we are shocked again by the next tragedy . . . the next killing.

But it isn’t over when there are vast disparities in the treatment of whites and blacks by the criminal justice system. It isn’t over when young black men are many times more likely to be stopped, questioned, arrested, or killed than are young white men doing the same things. It isn’t over when there are profound and persistent differences in opportunity and treatment in every part of our society, from education to healthcare.

Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote that he wished the calls for a conversation about race weren’t tied to protests that “explode into existence, but . . . eventually die.”

He goes on to urge a dialogue that is not “intra-racial, but inter-racial . . . not one-directional – from minorities to majorities – but multi-directional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotypes, and mistrust must be examined. Personal – as well as societal and cultural – responsibility must be taken.”

That is a challenge we can meet at Hampshire. Indeed, doing so is the extension of the critical thought and inquiry-driven learning that are already woven deep into our lives and culture. This learning community not only allows but encourages us to take time to think and read, and question, and talk and change.

But this learning will require that we question and listen to the answers, and that we confront the reality that 150 years after the end of slavery its effects linger with us in the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, and so many others.

As we move into a period of reinvigoration and transformation at Hampshire, part of our commitment as a community – and individually – must be to become actively anti-racist.

Please join me.


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