Hampshire Oral History: Ken Rosenthal Remembers The Founding Years
This is an abridged version of a 1986 interview with Ken Rosenthal conducted by Amy Mittelman. From the Hampshire College Oral History Collection, in the Hampshire College Archives and Special Collections.
AM: Ken, how did you first became acquainted with Hampshire College?
KR: The founding of Hampshire was big news, in the New York Times [in August 1965], and I read about it one morning sitting in a law office in Newark, New Jersey. I was a graduate of Amherst College and I’d worked for the College the year previously, for Chuck Longsworth, so I was very interested in the announcement, since it involved my close friend and former employer.
AM: How did you come to work for Hampshire?
KR: I had an Amherst College reunion in June 1966, and took the opportunity to visit with the Longsworths and had a tour of the farmland being acquired for Hampshire. I talked with Chuck about the kinds of needs that Hampshire might have, because I was interested in participating if there was a role for me. At the time, the arrangements to hire Franklin Patterson as the first president were being concluded, and, in effect, Chuck was the only employee of the College. We talked at length, and my background — working in law, and in fund-raising with Amherst College — seemed to have elements that could be useful to a college. We arranged that I would come up again, and in August I visited Franklin Patterson and Chuck Longsworth, and in the afternoon they offered me a position that was rather undefined, without even a title. The title we invented was Executive Assistant, to nobody in particular.
At that time the College was planning its physical plant, doing its budgeting, and planning its fund-raising approaches. Just concluded by Chuck and Franklin was the manuscript for The Making of a College. There was an awful lot of work in the academic area to be spearheaded. But there were just two of them, working very closely together on everything. My role was to assist them, and that’s what I came on to do on September 15, 1966.
AM: Had you been aware of the 1958 New College Plan or the other documents that laid the foundation for Hampshire?
KR: Oh, I was aware of it. In the late fifties, I was a student at Amherst College at the time that the Ford Foundation helped to support a four-college faculty summer-study program to see how cooperation might be enhanced among the colleges. So I knew about the New College Plan, and the planning for some new institution, but it hadn’t taken off because there was no real tangible financial support for it.
AM: So, in your initial contacts with Hampshire, did you meet Harold Johnson [who presented the $6 million founding gift]?
KR: Harold Johnson was rather a shy man publicly. I mean he wasn’t a shy man about expressing his opinions privately, but he wasn’t a person who made his presence known to everyone who worked in the College. He played the role of the proper chairman in that regard, I think. But, of course, we all came to know him, the trustees and I and the staff, small as the College was during those first couple of years, because he would be here for trustees meetings, and he was here for the groundbreaking, in 1968.
AM: Was The Making of a College written as a Ford Foundation Grant application?
KR: I think it could be characterized as a document that would support an application to the Ford Foundation or anyplace else, but it was much more than that. It was really the blueprint of the institution to be used for legitimizing Hampshire to other colleges, to graduate schools, for recruiting faculty, for explaining to students, if they would take the time to read it, or perhaps advisers in high school. I wasn’t there [for the writing of it], but I never thought of it as a foundation grant proposal at all.
AM: In the early financial planning for the College, what role did the Ford Foundation play? Was it considered the major potential source of funding?
KR: The Ford Foundation was our principal source after Harold Johnson, and we hoped there would be even a larger source of funds for the College than Mr. Johnson. First we had to get the support of the trustees of the other [four] institutions, but that was non-monetary support, that was psychic support and willingness to cooperate. The Ford Foundation at that time was the preeminent philanthropic institution in the country. It had a record of giving to education and to this project in particular, so it was a logical place to go, and it was certainly our main financial objective in the first months.
AM: And what was the amount of the original application to the Ford Foundation?
KR: It was more than fifteen million dollars, but I don’t remember the exact amount.
AM: What were the financial needs? How much money did you estimate the College would need?
KR: We’d have to go back and look in The Making of a College to get our estimates back in 1966, but we had a clear need for the money to build the College, to lay out the campus and build the buildings, to get a sufficient endowment to provide money for good faculty salaries and for whatever student financial aid we might have. Although we had projected that the College would be self-sustaining on fees, we also knew we had a large capital investment to make in the institution, and we wanted to get it on a sound basis as much as possible.
AM: When the Ford Foundation grant was denied, how did that affect the financial planning and the capital-needs situation?
KR: We never took the denial to be a complete and utter rejection. We viewed it as an indication that there were some people in the Ford Foundation who didn’t feel they wanted to spend any more money on a place like Hampshire, but that the door could still be kept open for us if we could gather our forces and do it properly. History shows that it really wasn’t an out-and-out rejection, and we were able to go back and persuade them they should support us. But it did set us back a bit, because it meant we had to consider a smaller-scale college or a college whose opening was going to be delayed. We had to rethink our entire mission and needs, reconsider what our hiring program ought to be. All aspects of the College were going to be affected by the amount of money we had or did not have.
It was important to us to act very quickly, and try to recover ourselves. The ones who knew the Ford Foundation best worked with us to try to find ways to change this and to make a grant possible. And we did. Even with the grant we [eventually] got from the foundation, it was not as big as we had expected — we had to go to all the other foundations on our list and try very hard. And that was a constant effort.
AM: What was Harold Johnson’s role in the early planning of the College? Did he play a major role? Was he mainly overseeing his investment?
KR: I think the answer to both those is yes. His interest was probably to make sure that the funds were harbored properly. He had a great concern for good management. In fact, we always talked of Harold Johnson's “pledge,” not his “gift,” because he didn’t give the College the money. He pledged it, and he spent the money as we asked him to and showed him the need. We were always conscious of the fact that we had to explain ourselves to Harold and we had to show that we really merited this month’s or this quarter’s payment to meet our operating expenses. It was important for us to show him that the money wasn’t going to be wasted all in planning, but that there was going to be something there for capital and for developing the College. I think that was the role he played, even if he didn’t know that he played it. I’d like to think that we were all of us as prudent as we ought to be.
AM: Did you feel it created any tensions between the administration and him?
KR: I think the relationship was as smooth as it was going to be under such circumstances. Here was a man who was pledging a major fortune to a place that didn’t have any physical presence at all in the middle of western Massachusetts and had a mission to be a high-quality place right from the start. I mean, he’s expecting an awful lot, and he’s putting up an awful lot. And he’s entitled to have a say. And yet he knew at the time that the professional academic and financial people [were] there. So, there’s bound to be a little tension, but it isn’t necessarily a destructive tension. It can be a very creative kind of tension, and I think it worked that way.
AM: Do you feel that Hampshire was properly capitalized, that, in other words, the College started with enough capital funds?
KR: Well, nobody ever starts a venture with enough and . . .
AM: “Sufficient,” perhaps, is a better word.
KR: We were able to build buildings. We didn’t build them the way they might have turned out if we had more immediate sources of money and knew where it was coming from. We had to subscribe to federal limitations that we might not have had to worry about if we had our own money and not the federal government’s money. It was always tight. There were some very, very difficult times in the early 1970s, simply because the outflow of money was taking place and the federal monies for construction were not coming in. We were, in effect, using current income for capital purposes, waiting for the capital money to come back in. That made for a very difficult period, and it certainly led to some feelings on campus that there must be something wrong some place, because “on paper we’re well capitalized, we have plenty of funds, yet our budgets are always so tight.”
The problem was in many ways as simple as cash flow. Building a college is different from operating one at a steady state, and a lot of us had our eyes on the future. We were interested in keeping the budgets as tight as possible while we grew, so that when we finally stopped growing, we didn’t suddenly have a shock we couldn’t absorb.
Nobody, either, was able to tell us we were going to experience the inflation, the high cost of petroleum, and the great economic problems the entire country felt during the seventies, or that the Vietnam War was going to do to the country what it did. All of those things had an economic impact on the College, as well as social impacts.
AM: How did your own job situation at Hampshire change over time?
KR: The first thing that happened is Franklin Patterson hired David Matz, who had a background very similar to mine. We were both graduates of law school who had chosen to go back into education. Then we hired a classmate of mine from Amherst College, John Boettiger. And the three of us worked as a team supporting Longsworth and Patterson and Dick Lyon when he came on as dean. It went on that way for a couple of years, because there were never enough of us to do everything that had to be done. For instance, when there was a Five-College music committee convened, I, of all people, was a member of that committee, and I’m not a musician. I can’t sing, read a note, or play an instrument. But I was warmly welcomed by the Five College committee, because they wanted to show that Hampshire had a place.
AM: Was Franklin Patterson the main force in attracting faculty and other administrators?
KR: We tried to generate a lot of interest in Hampshire out there. All of us [were] involved in that process. But, yes, Patterson’s principal interest was the academic, but then the hiring was done by the group — Longsworth, Patterson, and Dick Lyon. And all of us had input into prospective faculty candidates. In fact, I interviewed some, John did, and David did. While Patterson was, yes, the president, who was certainly building a faculty for the image he had in mind for the College, we were small enough then for all of us to be involved.
AM: Would you say there was a harmony of interests in that vision of the College?
KR: It was remarkably harmonious. I think that was partly because the ideas they expressed in The Making of a College were expressed so clearly, not only in the book, but also in everything that Patterson and Longsworth said. You could either agree or disagree with what they had to say, and you were either attracted to the place or not. Some people thought Hampshire was crazy. There was no reason for a college, and it certainly oughtn’t to be the way you described it. [In those years] the people who came really had a firm notion of what they were getting into, and also knew there was a great risk. All the early faculty members gave up good positions to come to Hampshire, some of them very lucrative and well-tenured positions, to take a gamble for a place that wasn’t even open. They knew pretty well what it was about, and we had a good chance to assess that in them.
AM: What was the role of the other colleges in planning Hampshire?
KR: Very, very supportive. I was a member of a group calling itself the Principal Business Officers of the Colleges when I became treasurer. The treasurers of the other institutions really were helpful. They found it was profitable to cooperate, even as they were supporting us. And this was also true in academic areas. It was true across departments. I think if you asked the other [founders], you’ll find the same —they found faculty members at all the colleges who wanted to help. We did a lot of our planning in a conference mode. We would invite people from around the country to focus on a particular subject. It might be film, or the library, what a college library should be. It might be the humanities, or any number of things, and we would try to involve faculty members and administrators from each of the other four colleges, as well as people we would bring from as far away as Santa Cruz in California or New College in Florida or some other place. And I think they appreciated it, and they were very helpful. For years afterward . . . Roger Holmes, of Mount Holyoke, would be very interested in Hampshire, even after he retired — wanted to know how we were doing, feel that he was a part of it —and he was, from the early planning.
AM: And in terms of the administrations of the various colleges, what was their role?
KR: Well, Hampshire was initially a child of Amherst College, but very quickly it was really a child of the other three institutions. As far as the University of Massachusetts was concerned, Hampshire posed neither a threat nor an opportunity for a lot of change; there was no risk to the university. I think the other colleges, which, one might think, would be a little jealous of a new, independent, small liberal arts college in their midst — the other colleges might have felt a little jealous, but they weren’t. One area where one would suspect there could be some jealousy is competing for funds from alumni or from foundations. I think there was a little bit of that in the Development Offices in the other colleges, but not a lot, because they were as successful as they always were after Hampshire [opened]. They found that Hampshire didn’t take anything away from them. In fact, it gave them one more argument of why [donors] ought to support one of the colleges in the valley. It got to the point where we would even plan some of our foundation strategy together.