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First All-Campus Address by President Ed Wingenbach: September 3, 2019

I believe in Hampshire College, I believe our society needs Hampshire College now more than it ever has.

ED WINGENBACH
“We have the opportunity to save Hampshire College as an independent institution. The work that was done last spring didn't save Hampshire College. It gave us the opportunity to save it and that's the work that we have to do now… It'll be a long process but we're going to make it happen.

“I want to thank everybody—particularly the students—for taking the risk of sticking with us and sticking with Hampshire College, knowing the challenges that are still ahead and knowing the work that's still to be done. Thank you for coming back, thank you for returning.

“Hampshire College has an epic mission. We're not just any college. It's an epic mission for students, for education, for the world, that fundamentally the goal of this place is not just to provide the best education possible for every student who comes here, but to build the ideal education that everyone else should aspire to achieve. It's not to settle for a compromise and safety, but to risk everything to build the best version of education. And it's to act with courage and creativity and vision where others can't or won't. Our job is to respond always to the changing conditions and challenges of society and of the world and aspire, and hope to make the world better. And it's our job as Hampshire College to demonstrate that it's possible to do all of that and to make that experience available to everyone who seeks it and needs it.

“So when I was watching last spring what looked like the potential end of this ideal for me, it was tragic. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I was genuinely distraught by the idea that Hampshire College might not exist anymore. Because if our system of education can't support Hampshire, it's not a system that I want to be a part of. So when I saw there was one final chance to prove that progressive, experimenting, student-driven education can thrive in the United States, I was compelled to apply and I was lucky enough to be selected to come try to take on this epic task together with you.

“What Hampshire does in its academic program is, and this is my favorite phrase in all of The Making of a College book is, ‘curriculum by successive approximation.’ We're trying to approximate what we will need, we're trying to approximate how to teach and think and learn together to be ready for what's coming next, and we're never going to get it completely right but we're always going to be trying… and always going to be changing… It's a really lovely idea for how a college should see itself.

“Second, always consistent about Hampshire: ‘Students guide their own path. But the college both supports and challenges that path...’

“A third element that seems really consistent is that ‘the faculty at Hampshire College are teachers, mentors, co-learners, and guides.’ The people who work here are partners in education, not the people who deliver an education. And that's a really fundamental difference about Hampshire from everywhere else.

Fourth: ‘Problems and visions dictate the curricular paths of students, not disciplines.’ Questions are what drive the education of students at Hampshire College. And everything else is secondary to that, supports that. This is a place where we try to answer questions, achieve visions, solve problems, and just find whatever tools and knowledge necessary to advance that.”

“Patterson and Longsworth say early in the preface of The Making of a College, ‘The College will explore ways the private liberal arts institution may regain relevance… and do so within its own economic means.’ It goes on, ‘We must demonstrate that through innovation it is possible for a private undergraduate college to achieve high quality without heavy, continuing, subsidy of its operation.’ That was one of the fundamental missions of this place 50 years ago. Higher education 50 years ago was in a crisis, a different kind of crisis. And one of the fundamental goals of Hampshire College was to say, how do we find a way to do the best kind of education for the hundreds of colleges that don't have a huge accumulation of money to support them? How do we set an example?

“Our mission, and it's one we think we need to go back to, is to show that it's possible to be a rigorous, excellent, student-centered college without depending on massive accumulations of wealth. Or to put it a little bit more radically, the mission of Hampshire College is to combat the way that stratification, inequality, and obscene concentrations of wealth make private colleges machines to reproduce privilege.” I hope that everybody here and outside this room affirms that goal because it's a very hard thing to do, to not imitate the economic model of the 25 or so colleges that have massive endowments but to show that liberal education can be done better and more creatively and democratically and that lots of places could do that if they followed our model.

“So the gap between our stable revenue, net tuition and some small auxiliary revenues and how much we spend to run the college has gotten bigger and bigger. The gap between net student revenue and the amount we spent in 2015-16 was $3.5 million. In 2016-17, it was almost $6 million. In 2018-19, it was $8 and a half million. Last year, it was almost $9 nine million. And this year's gap is similar. It's about nine million dollars. That's not a sustainable model for delivering a creative, experimenting education that can show the world how to do liberal arts without a massive endowment. So we've got to figure out a way to fix that.

“There are 13 students who despite all of our efforts [enrolled in our incoming class]… Talking with them over this weekend reminded me of the Elizabeth Warren moment in the Senate last year that ‘nevertheless she persisted,’ I feel this very much about like these students. You know, we tried very hard to get them not to come. And nevertheless they persisted and they insisted on coming to Hampshire College.

“That decision to not take a full class has taken that slow-moving challenge that we should have been working on and would have had more time to work on, and turned into a genuine crisis. I don't think Hampshire College was in a crisis last spring, but it is now. And it's one that we're going to address and we're going to solve.

“There are three constraints that are pushing, that have some timetables that make our work have to happen quickly. The first is we're being required by external authorities to do so, right. We raised our hand last spring and said, hey everybody who's concerned about higher education take a look at us… I know you just accredited us, but we don't think we can do it, right. Well that was done. So now they're looking at us, and we've been told very clearly that by November we need to tell both our accrediting agencies and we need to show the Department of Higher Education that we have a path to fiscal viability and educational quality. We have to square that circle in the next seven weeks. And it has to be real.

“Secondly, we have to raise a lot of money. You know, we’ve got to raise about nine million dollars to close the gap this year, nine million was the gap last year. So that's not new, and I think we can raise that money. But one of the things that I've found consistently as I’ve talked to people who are interested in supporting the college is they tell me some versions of what our accreditors have told me which is, I'm eager to support you, I want you to be successful, show me that I'm not just burning up my money.

“And then third, we've got to attract a class next year, right? We've got to attract a class that's more than 13. We've got to make them not work so hard to come here, right, and there was a lot of interest in this place. We had a really strong set of applications last year. We know how to recruit students who can thrive at Hampshire College.

“My outsider-insider perspective on the last year, I think we finally need to accept this: That debate has been resolved. We will now do the hard and exciting work to establish a sustainable independent Hampshire or we will close. The other alternatives have been foreclosed. That's the decision we've made right, to use a terrible martial metaphor, ‘We've burned the ships on the beach,’ right? The partners are over across the Aegean and we can't get back to them. We're here. We're going to make it or we're not. And we are going to make it.

“So how are we going to do it? Well, we start working on it today but between now and the end of October, here's what we need to do. We need to generate together as an extended community, some shared conception of our future. Notice, I'm not saying, a curriculum or a new design or a new model. A shared conception of our future, a roadmap for what we think the next version of Hampshire College will look like that we're then going to build starting in November.”

I'll share these, some basic principles to guide that idea of developing our shared roadmap for the future, our shared conception of what we can be. It needs to be consistent with our mission, right whatever we do has to be consistent with the mission of Hampshire College. Fundamentally, it has to honor student-centered, student-guided education, faculty mentorship, and something like a rigorous Div III project. Those are sort of the eternal truths I think of a Hampshire education. We have to honor that and then build around it.

Secondly, whatever we do has to be unique. We're already unique, so we don't have to go very far in that, but we can't become less unique.

It needs to be inspiring.

It needs to be accessible. We need to figure out a way to build a model that everybody who can benefit from a Hampshire education can come. 

We need to prioritize fairness internally and what I mean by that is that we need to figure out a version of Hampshire College that allows us to compensate people equitably and fairly without asking them to do excessive amounts of work. This is the last principle of this is that we have to come up with something that's sustainable but doesn't look like in another two years we're going to have another nine million dollar gap, right?

“I believe in Hampshire College, I believe our society needs Hampshire College now more than it ever has. I refuse to accept the idea that what we do no longer has a place or that students no longer need Hampshire. And I came here to do this epic work with you. We have to convince the world of our necessity and we have to build a Hampshire College that can thrive in that world and we start that today.”
 

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