Our current moment requires another “strong and sudden effort” marked by a surge of creativity, vision, and decisiveness
Dear Staff, Students, and Faculty,
I invite us all to work together this fall to invent Hampshire College anew.
Fifty years ago, as Hampshire opened, the College’s staff, students, faculty, and Board embraced a radical mission: to utterly reimagine the purpose of liberal education for the times in which they lived, and make that vision happen. They celebrated the exuberant ambition of that goal, and emphasized that success would demand a “strong and sudden effort.”* That effort was shaped not only by the ideals of those drawn to Hampshire, but also by the financial and social pressures colleges everywhere were facing. They succeeded, beyond all expectation, and in the process transformed the lives of thousands of students while fundamentally altering higher education.
Our current moment requires another “strong and sudden effort” marked by a surge of creativity, vision, and decisiveness. We must invent, again, the future of higher education, and take the risk to design a Hampshire College that once more defines how colleges should respond to the present era. Experimenting is the core of our identity; we must tap into that spirit. The current Hampshire College model is extraordinary, which is why it has been replicated in various degrees, with less success, across all of education. We need to build the next version, so it too can revolutionize how students learn.
We will do this work, and we will do it quickly. While it is Hampshire’s own legacy to act with rapidity and embrace risk, we must also respond to very real threats. For many years Hampshire’s expenditures have outstripped our revenue, eroding our reserves slowly but certainly. The decision not to admit a class this fall brought that inexorable challenge to the point of crisis, and we must now either address the underlying imbalance, or cease to operate. The agencies that authorize our degrees will require us to demonstrate we can resolve our resource challenges while pursuing our mission. Many donors whose backing we need will only commit to support us if they see a path to an exciting and sustainable future. And prospective students must be shown that the promise of a Hampshire education remains vibrant, innovative, and relevant.
We have roughly seven weeks to invent our future. Before the end of October, we must adopt a roadmap for a distinctive model, one we will then build together over the next three years. While the timeline to decide is quick, we have been preparing for years – there is no scarcity of accumulated ideas from previous work to help us conceive Hampshire’s next iteration. We now must move from concepts to action.
We will be successful, because we will work together with goodwill, openness, respect, and inclusion. I consulted with various members of the Hampshire community to set up a process to empower widespread input and reflective discussion of our options, while ensuring we reach conclusions in time to present them to the external stakeholders who will judge our viability. Three weekly open meetings for students, staff, and faculty will provide the venue for discussion of ideas for our future, and a forum to respond to emerging proposals. A group of faculty, staff, students, and alums will meet weekly to refine those conversations into various proposals and models, which will be shared with our community, and serve as a foundation for the following week’s open meetings.
Alongside those meetings will be several chances for more concentrated work. On September 16 we will schedule at least two opportunities for members of the community to work intensively on this challenge. On October 3 and 4, we will hold several open sessions with the Board of Trustees, and we will leave that weekend with clear guidance about the directions we need to pursue.
I have set the following times for weekly campus meetings:
A Zoom conference call will take place with alumni on September 12.
More details about locations will be forthcoming. Nobody is required to attend these, but all are welcome. Some offices will require coverage during the staff meeting, so I have asked senior leadership to ensure flexibility for staff to attend, and I encourage creativity in finding equitable solutions.
Finally, this entire process begins tomorrow Tuesday, September 3, with The Launch. Please try to attend, as this event represents our first opportunity to work together, collaboratively and consensually, to envision our future. Lunch is available beginning at 11:00 am, and the program begins around noon in the Crown Center.
*The Making of a College, Preface page ii