President’s Update on the Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dear Students, Staff, Faculty,

I hope you are staying well, prioritizing self-care and care for loved ones, and continuing to adapt to the challenges of this pandemic. Thank you for being generous and patient with each other as we learn to navigate new channels for collaboration, co-learning, and community. I hope you will join me in thanking the members of our staff who continue to come to campus to support the students in our residences, maintain the campus, ensure safe operations, and keep our finances in order.

As I've shared in our weekly town halls, the Covid-19 pandemic imposes tremendous trials on our local community, the country, and the world we share. Hampshire College is not exempt. Current revenues have declined as housing fees are returned to students, as events at the Red Barn are canceled, as the value of investments in the endowment decline, and as we respond to increased student need. Like all schools, in the fall Hampshire is likely to enroll fewer students than projected and will need to provide them more financial aid. Losses from canceled summer programs and campus rentals are likely to continue. And many expenses, like institutional insurance and employee benefits, may increase because of the pandemic. The economic consequences of the pandemic will persist, perhaps for years, exacting a significant toll on higher education as a whole.

These impacts will drive many financially precarious colleges to close. Hampshire College will not be one of them.

Last fall our community came together to design a new future, one that enthusiastically embraces Hampshire's identity as the experimenting, socially relevant institution that will lead the way in reinvigorating the liberal arts. We committed to building a radically transdisciplinary framework to explore new possibilities, new questions, and new solutions to the personal, local, and global challenges of the twenty-first century. This vision has never been more relevant, and everything about the experience of the last month, and the months to come, makes this vision more compelling. At this moment undergraduate education is in crisis—Hampshire has the answer. Redoubling the commitment to this vision, accelerating its implementation, and showing the world what college needs to be, now, will guarantee success.

I am confident in Hampshire's future. I know that getting there will require both hard work and real costs. The financial plan is strong, but the disruption of a global pandemic requires revisions. The budget for next year will need to be smaller, and a smaller budget will entail cuts even as the College rapidly enacts the new curriculum, responds to the continuing uncertainty of the fall, and addresses immediate shortfalls.

Over the past few years, Hampshire employees have borne much for the sake of the College. Everyone here is working harder than their peers, for less compensation. Many of you do this because you believe, like I do, that Hampshire is the essential college in higher education. I cannot ask people to continue to do more with less unless I demand the same of myself. I am cutting my salary by 50%, and promise to work even harder to make sure Hampshire endures as the greatest experiment in higher education.

Our operating budget next year will need to be roughly 10% less than pre-Covid-19 projections. I will continue working with staff and faculty, and their representative bodies, to develop a budget that will maximize Hampshire's opportunity for future financial sustainability. That success depends on three key objectives: enrolling 350 new students in fall 2021, sustaining progress of the $60-million fundraising campaign, and implementing the dramatic curricular changes that will inspire both outcomes.

Finally, I want to make sure everyone is aware of some new initiatives:

  • The College is inviting students to apply for emergency funds for Covid-19-related expenses, and nearly 100 students have already applied. 
  • Next month Hampshire is planning to host virtual Div III showcase presentations by some of our graduating students culminating with a virtual commencement on Saturday, May 16. An in-person commencement is scheduled during the 50th anniversary weekend Oct. 16 -18, with more details to come.
  • We are beginning formal work to consider how the College can effectively anticipate and respond to pandemic-related disruptions of the academic program. Over the weekend Dean Rueschmann sent out a call for faculty volunteers to serve on this group, called Remote 2020. Several staff members have asked to be involved in planning; staff who are interested should contact Dean Rueschmann.
  • The Admissions office has invited 650 first-year students and 64 transfers to join our 50th anniversary class in the fall, and continue to evaluate applications as they arrive. Many members of the College community are in personal contact with these future students, in addition to the many virtual events available to them, archived here.
  • The Advancement Office continues to engage donors and alumni in conversations about supporting the College. Last week, we secured two six-figure commitments, along with additional smaller donations. Several parents have already indicated their commitment to donating their housing refund to the College.

I am inspired by our mission and by our community as we work together to maintain Hampshire as an autonomous, innovating institution, and I welcome your ideas and collaboration.

Ed Wingenbach

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