Hampshire College President Miriam Nelson Resigns
Jamie Mastrogiacomo ’22
Assistant News Editor
Effective at 4 p.m. Friday, April 5, President Miriam Nelson resigned from her position at Hampshire College. Her resignation comes during a period of financial uncertainty for the school, during which three members of the Board of Trustees have also resigned.
Nelson had submitted her resignation letter to the Board two days earlier. In a letter to the Hampshire community released on Friday, Nelson states that her presence in the administration was divisive for the College. She writes, “The community’s feelings about me would be a distraction from the necessary work.”
In her letter, she reminds the community to understand the financial realities, being that Hampshire has experienced a 20% decrease in enrollment over the last five years. The College also has a relatively small endowment of $52 million.
After beginning her tenure in July 2018, Nelson worked alongside the Board of Trustees to find a way to reverse the projected $5 million deficit for the 2019–20 academic year. A cumulative deficit of almost $20 million was projected over the following three years.
These distressing financial projections led to the Jan. 15 announcement that Hampshire was looking for a long-term partner and the subsequent Feb. 1 decision not to admit a full fall 2019 class.
Both announcements were met with heavy opposition. Fundraising groups, such as Save Hampshire and Hamp Rise Up, have been especially vocal about their support for an independently-run institution, free from a long-term partnership with another college. The Feb. 1 announcement was particularly controversial as Hampshire relies on tuition for 87 percent of its revenue, and a reduced class size would pose a greater financial risk for the school.
Nelson’s resignation comes at the end of a tense week in which three members of the Board of Trustees resigned. Effective March 31, Chair Gaye Hill was the first to step down. Having served the Board for six years, Hill attributed her departure to the “vitriol, slanderous attacks and the questioning of motives” that she and her colleagues have faced over the last several months.
On April 2, it was announced that trustee Mingda Zhao resigned after being accused by the Board for breaching confidentiality. The alleged breach occurred after Nelson disclosed to the board that Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Smith were considering dropping Hampshire from their captive insurance company. Zhao independently contacted the presidents of these colleges to confirm this statement.
Upon request of then-Chair Hill, Zhao tendered his resignation, denying that his actions breached confidentiality. The College then issued a statement that it would be evaluating its impact on the financial structure of the captive insurance company as they moved forward.
On April 5, Vice Chair Kim Saal resigned as well.
While these changes in leadership come at a tumultuous time in the College’s history, the Board is hopeful that its new leaders will help to secure a brighter future. Following Nelson’s resignation on Friday, members voted to appoint Kenneth Rosenthal as interim president. Rosenthal was one of the College’s founders, and he previously served as vice chair of the Board and as the College’s historian.
At the same meeting, the Board voted to elect Luis Hernandez as interim chair until his term as trustee ends in June.
In a statement released by Hernandez on Friday afternoon, he informed the Hampshire community of Rosenthal’s appointment, remarking that there is “no one better to help bridge this transition.” He expresses his gratitude and appreciation for Nelson, Hill and Saal while acknowledging their dedication to the institution.
Hernandez is confident that productive work will continue. The Board voted on Friday to fundraise to keep Hampshire independent.
The future of Hampshire College remains uncertain, but Hernandez reminds the community to focus on the unique spirit of the school as the spring semester draws to a close. “I ask you to keep your focus on one priority: giving Hampshire’s students the best education we can and preparing to celebrate those who will be graduating next month,” he writes. “They are the reason we are all here.”