Hampshire President-elect Ed Wingenbach: Public Remarks
News Conference July 18, 2019
Today, Hampshire College held a news conference introducing President-elect Ed Wingenbach to a gathering of media. Wingenbach was unanimously appointed this month by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the search committee. Wingenbach delivered these public remarks at the event.
Thanks everybody for coming, I'm Ed Wingenbach, it's a hard name to pronounce I know (to reporter) did you want to check your mic, is it working okay? We're good?
Alright so thank you all for coming out. I am coming to Hampshire College today and hopefully for a very long time because I think that it is the essential college in higher education. There is no place that has been more important to the success of the American college and university system over the last 50 years than Hampshire College. The purpose of this institution is to invent the future of higher education and it has done so consistently for years.
If you look at the things that Hampshire has done as an experimenting college, things that were invented or perfected here, the things like capstone research requirements for all students, inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning, student-centered programs, student-designed programs, faculty-student research, and the idea that an education should be entrepreneurial. Hampshire is not the only place that has done things like this, but many of those ideas started here, emerged here, were practiced here, and have now gone off and affected the rest of higher education.
And that's explicitly the mission of Hampshire College. You read the mission statement, right, it is through experimentation to transform higher education, that's what this place is for. And that's why I'm here and that's why I'm so excited and proud and humbled to be trusted with the opportunity to reinvigorate such an essential college.
The way I want to think about Hampshire is that it embodies the best ideals of the liberal arts goals of American education, it embodies what those ideals look like when you have the courage to take them as far as they can go, rather than compromising because of resources or because of what students want or because of how faculty want to teach. To say this is a good idea, how do we take it to its furthest extent, that's the way I think about Hampshire College. That's why I'm attracted to being here, that's why I'm interested in being here.
What that means in practice right now and some of the things that are I think essential to how Hampshire operates regardless of how that experiment evolves over time, is the idea that a student who comes to Hampshire College should design their own course of study. Students who come to Hampshire College are people who want to control their own education, ask their own questions, and learn for themselves what and how they need to learn. That is the essential identity of Hampshire College and will remain that. They do that with faculty as mentors: the idea that faculty members are experts who learn alongside students, expert co-learners, that is essential to the identity of Hampshire College, regardless of how that works out in particulars as we go forward. Faculty and students are partners, that is essential.
And the fact that students in their Division III, which other people call a senior year, will take that program of study that they designed and the resources they've acquired working with their faculty and with staff around the campus, and they will do a significant independent project that has an impact on the world: those things don't change.
Over time and moving forward perhaps some of the ways that we implement those principles might need to evolve. But when you describe that model to people anywhere in the country, they say, that's what an education should look like. I've yet to meet somebody who when you describe that model to them doesn't say, yeah that's what a college should be like, why doesn't everybody do that. Well Hampshire does and Hampshire needs to continue to do that.
So why then is Hampshire facing a challenge, if it's so exciting and if it's doing what everybody wishes they could do? (Well not everybody but you know lots of people wish they could do.) And there’s a couple of reasons I think why Hampshire faces some challenges. The first is that Hampshire is in a sense a victim of its own success. Many of the particular innovations in undergraduate education that Hampshire has developed and perfected have been adopted sometimes imperfectly at lots of other institutions. I still don't think there's any place in America that does all of the things Hampshire does as well as Hampshire does, but if you're a student who's interested in, you know, doing research with a faculty member or you want to engage in problem-based, inquiry-based learning, there are places that you can do versions of that, so that uniqueness has eroded a little bit.
The other reason that we face a big challenge is that the decision made last spring to not accept a class this fall right, made for as far as I can tell honest reasons. But that has put the college in a position where we now don't have as many students as we need to balance a budget. It's not a fatal problem, it's a manageable problem, but it has highlighted or made more acute some of the structural challenges that Hampshire has faced for a long time as a tuition-dependent institution. And if you're tuition dependent and you take away a quarter of your revenue, that highlights the underlying challenges very clearly.
I am confident that we can overcome both of those challenges by reinvigorating the mission to innovate and lead higher education, by becoming distinctive again and inventing again the new ways to think about undergraduate education and implementing them and doing them well will restore the rightful distinctiveness of Hampshire College. But more importantly it will attract students.
We will go out to talk to students who are the kind of students who will thrive at Hampshire College and invite them to be part of the adventure of reinventing this place. If you're interested in the kind of education that Hampshire has offered for 50 years, how much more interested would you be at being a partner in figuring out what that looks like for the next 10 or the next 15? I won't say 50 because it shouldn't look like this 50 years from now, there should be somebody else inventing it again 15 years from now. That I have to believe is a compelling proposition to a whole lot of students who would like to come and study here.
I think if we do those two things and then go off to people around the country who care about Hampshire College and this style of learning and have the resources to support it, I think we're going to be a success. And I'm not at all worried about our ability to pull that off. There's a lot of hard work to be done over the next two months, six months, three years, but it's the work that Hampshire College should always be doing.
One of the reasons that we're facing some of these issues is that a little bit of that energy has dissipated. We've got to bring it back. Everybody wants to do it, they're all excited about it, we've got to make that real.
So why will we succeed in doing that? We have extraordinary students who want extraordinary opportunities, and there's a lot of extraordinary high school students who want those extraordinary opportunities and they're going to come here. We have extraordinary alums who, when they discovered that the core identity of Hampshire as an experimenting college setting the way for higher education, when they discovered that that might be in peril, they stepped forward. Since February the college has raised over nine million dollars and it will continue to raise money at that sort of a pace.
We have extraordinary staff, people who have dedicated their life to supporting the students who come here, making it possible for them to have an experience that they design, that they direct, that will make them successful. We have extraordinary faculty who are willing to innovate and test themselves and stray into areas where they're not experts and risk being wrong and learn with students, and never rely only on their expertise but to model for students what it means to be someone who solves problems and learns for a lifetime.
And we've got a strong alliance with the Five College Consortium. We have all kinds of resources beyond this campus to make sure that our students have access to everything they need to be successful. Alright so you combine those things—passion, innovation, resources, uniqueness, and we're going to succeed.
Last thing, some immediate steps, what do we need to do then over the next few months. I'm here in early August and I get started. Some of this stuff is already working, already ongoing. What do we need to do? Well we have to build on the nine million dollars plus that we've already raised from alums and other people who care about Hampshire College, and we need to go to them and ask them to continue to support the college. And we need to identify people and foundations and organizations that care about the future of American higher education and ask them to support us, ask them to be partners with us.
We need to work with our community on campus to produce a framework for the next iteration and the next innovation of what Hampshire College will be. There's a lot of that work already ongoing, there's a lot of intellectual ferment on campus, there's a group that have been generating ideas. We need to spend between now and mid October diving into that as a community and identifying what are the best prospects for our future, and to start working on them and start implementing them. Because we have to be able to talk to the people who are asking to support the college about what we're going to do. And we have to be able to talk to students who want to come and reinvent this place with us about what we're trying to do. And we need to be able to talk to our accreditors about what we're trying to do and why it will be successful. And that has to happen very quickly.
And then we need to spread the message to the students who are likely to thrive at Hampshire College, to the students who will benefit from this experience, from the ones who, you know, as Luis said about me when I went to college, we're looking for a place like this, didn't know it existed and went somewhere else and kind of forced the school to give them a version of that, right? There are a lot of students like that out there. We got to communicate with them, find them and invite them to be part of this adventure.
And then finally while doing all that, we need to adjust the cost structure of the college. As we're currently constituted, we spend too much money and we don't raise enough, right? That's a fundamental reality of almost all small colleges in the entire country. We're no different, but we have to face that reality as well, and so as we're thinking about experimentation and innovation and new ideas, we have to think about that framework within a reasonable understanding of what our budget and resources will look like two years from now and four years from now, and live within that framework. And that's a hard thing to do as well right? But we have to do it to make everything else work.
So I'm going to open it up to questions in a second here, but the last thing I want to say is, if you're a student in high school and you've been thinking about college and any of this makes you remotely excited, or you're a parent and you come across this and you think, that's the kind of education I wish I'd gotten and I think my kid should have, come visit us. Go to our website, write an email, make a phone call, we'll be happy to talk to you. And we've got a lot of space right now.
Okay so questions.
Question: You said the decision to not admit a freshman class was an honest decision but do you think it was a mistake?
Response: You know it's hard for me to judge that, and I'm not just trying to dodge the question. I wasn't here in the spring so I'm not sure whether it was a mistake or not, given what they knew at the time. And we can we can talk to Luis who was there if he wants to say anything about that. What I will say is that whether it was a mistake or not a mistake, the response of the alumni and the community of people who care about Hampshire College and their immediate mobilization and their willingness to give of their time and their treasure was pretty remarkable, and made it very clear very quickly that we can support a class and we can stay open and we can thrive.
Question: As a follow up to that are you going to do anything different for the spring semester?
Response: You know, I have, again I signed the contract about 45 minutes ago and I haven't, tomorrow I'll meet with the Admissions staff. Possibly, you know, I've certainly got ideas but I don't want to get out ahead of the people who are professionals on this. One of the things I want to do tomorrow is talk with them about, well, what if we did this, what if we did that, you know, what are you doing right now to bring in some transfer students in the spring, what are we doing right now to make sure that we have an outstanding class next fall. But I don't know enough about what the people who are doing this for the college right now are doing, and I don't want to step in front of them. (to Board Chair Luis Hernandez) Luis did you want to say anything about this?
LUIS HERNANDEZ (steps to the mic)
Thanks for the question, it was a very difficult decision at the time, as Ed said, knowing what we knew. By the way, it just didn't happen overnight, we were talking about years or accumulation in terms of our losses here, and we had to take some drastic steps. And like any drastic step, you know, in retrospect we could've done something maybe different. But if anything, that sort of woke up our relationship with alums, people came to the rescue, people wanted to make a change, and if anything that gave us new energy. And part of that energy for us is to be able to remain as an independent college as well. The sacrifices were huge, are still huge for many of us in this community, but I think that decision at the time was something that we took at our best. And then out of that came the decision for us to remain independent. So with Ed here I think we have a real sense of optimism, a real sense that we can do it. And again (to Ed) we welcome you.