Layoffs, downsizing on horizon at Hampshire College

Hampshire County

A month after Hampshire College officials announced they were seeking a long-term partner to help the school stay viable, its leadership is now envisioning a “significant restructuring” involving layoffs and short-term downsizing.

Hampshire’s Board of Trustees on Sunday voted to authorize President Miriam Nelson to investigate “several possible strategic approaches,” Nelson wrote in an email to the Hampshire community.
Those options, she said, include “different kinds of engagement and governance structures with an outside strategic partner” and “an approach where Hampshire maintains independence by means of transformative financial support from our community of alums and other long-engaged donors.”

Earlier this month, the board voted to only enroll applicants for the fall class who had either accepted offers during an early decision plan this year or had accepted an enrollment offer in 2018 but chose to take a gap year.

“Accepting a significantly smaller incoming class this fall, as we’ve stated, means that Hampshire will become a smaller institution, even as we aggressively explore long-term partnerships,” Nelson wrote on Feb. 13.

Supervisors and human resources staff were scheduled on Tuesday to have “private conversations with staff members whose positions are being eliminated,” with plans to give them 60 days notice. Notifications of another workforce reduction are planned for “on or near April 1.”

Located in Amherst with an enrollment of 1,175 students and 108 full-time faculty members, Hampshire College is the latest small, private liberal arts college to face an uncertain future.

Mount Ida College’s abrupt closure in 2018, and the acquisition of its Newton campus by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, stirred public concerns and vaulted college closures up the public policy priority list.

A recent Board of Higher Education report identified six Massachusetts schools that have closed in the past five years — Sanford Brown College; Marian Court College; Le Cordon Bleu; ITT Technical Institutes; New England Institute of Art; and Mount Ida — and six more that have closed as part of mergers — School of the Museum of Fine Arts; New England College of Acupuncture; Boston Conservatory; Episcopal Divinity School; National Graduate School of Quality Management; and Wheelock College.

In a Feb. 13 message, Nelson described Hampshire as “a college that was never properly endowed, and that has always stayed just one step ahead of financial calamity, now finds that its stride is slowing while the headwinds pressuring so many small colleges are increasing.”

Nelson will work with a new “Options Committee” to chart the school’s path forward. On the committee are: faculty member Chris Cianfrani, staff trustee Anne Downes, staff member Sheila Heady, faculty member Thom Long, Vice President for Finance and Administration Mary McEneany, student trustee Daya Mena, faculty member Joanna Morris, student Emery Powell, Vice President for Academic Affairs Eva Rueschmann and faculty member Ashley Smith.

The trustees, in a statement, said Nelson had their “full support…as she guides Hampshire College through this time of transformative change.” They said she will share information and seek feedback on options moving forward.

The group Hamp Rise Up, which has been holding sit-ins on the campus, posted an open letter to Nelson and the trustees, urging school leaders to meet them in a public forum and add two new student trustees to the board, among other “visible, public and tangible actions.”

The group asks that a “representative body of multiple students” join the search for a strategic partner, with veto power.

“You may fear that these public radical moves will make us less appealing to strategic partners, but this fear is misguided,” the letter said. “For Hampshire to continue in spirit and not just in name, we need a strategic partner that believes in our value of radical collectivism and Hampshire Shared Governance.”

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