Emma Kemp ’20 | Assistant News Editor
The Hampshire College Board of Trustees announced Friday, Feb. 1, their decision not to admit a full freshman class for the coming 2019-2020 academic year amidst tensions on campus. The decision came after the announcement Jan. 15 of enormous economic challenges the college faced, causing concern in the Hampshire community.
The Board of Trustees voted not to admit regular decision applicants, leaving the 60 students accepted to Hampshire via early decision and those who deferred their 2018-2019 acceptance to make up the incoming class. For context, this past year’s incoming class of 2022 included 280 students. The Board decided to release early decision applicants from what is typically a binding acceptance, making it uncertain how many students will be a part of the freshman class next fall.
To combat their financial woes, the college proposed in their Jan. 15 announcement to search for a long-term partner “to address the challenges we’ve faced as an under-endowed institution,” a pairing for which speculators have marked the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) to be a fit. UMass and Hampshire are both members of the Five College Consortium, along with Smith College, Mount Holyoke College and Amherst College. A merge between the two schools would inevitably lead to staff and faculty job losses.
UMass announced that they are in conversations with Hampshire about a possible partnership. UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski said: “I don’t think it’s wise to speculate on who may emerge as a partner over time. I think we want to be supportive of them pursuing their process.”
“Hampshire has had contact with a range of colleges and universities,” Hampshire College spokesperson John Courtmanche said. “Hampshire hopes to have a partner identified by June.”
It is unclear how the decision of Hampshire’s Board of Trustees will impact the other colleges in the Five College Consortium. In a letter to the Smith College community, President Kathleen McCartney wrote: “Smith has been working to understand the implications of Hampshire’s announcement… We will provide updates as we learn more about Hampshire’s planning process going forward.”
The Feb. 1 decision of the Hampshire Board was made on a charged campus wrought with sit-ins and protests by students, alumni and other supporters. A petition, signed by 2,100 people, demanded that faculty and staff have a greater role in the decision.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times, alumnus and author Jon Krakauer expressed his support of the college. “Hampshire was, and remains, too avant-garde for many prospective students,” he wrote, “but thousands of kids who took the plunge have been propelled by their experience there into careers in education, medicine, law, business, science and the arts.”
In a letter to the community, the Board of Trustees wrote: “We recognize there will be inevitable hardship as we move forward. We have charged the senior leadership team with developing plans — as swiftly as possible, to minimize uncertainty — to treat every employee with dignity and respect through this transition.” The letter highlighted several resources for students, faculty and prospective students to answer questions and offer support, including one-on-one counseling services, meetings with the Dean of Faculty and upcoming campus assemblies.
Hampshire College celebrates alumni including Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, author Jon Krakauer and theoretical physicist Lee Smolin. The private college is known for an unconventional approach to higher education; students do not elect majors and are not given letter grades.
The ramifications of this decision await to be seen. The College’s decision has opened floodgates for supporters. “The Board believes in Hampshire. We believe that by enrolling a small fall 2019 class of early decision and gap-year students, the College will continue to be an experimenting and dynamic environment as we proceed with our plans for a partnership.”