AMHERST — Two months after deciding not to admit a full freshman class this fall, officials at Hampshire College now say they’re aiming to bring in a new class for the spring 2020 semester.
The development comes a week after the school’s president and trustee leadership resigned amid a financial crisis.
Hampshire is also gearing up for a yearlong $15 million to $20 million capital campaign and developing a new educational model, according to a letter sent to the college community this week.
Meanwhile, though interim president Kenneth Rosenthal said it appears that faculty and staff layoffs are still a necessity, faculty member Christoph Cox said efforts are underway to minimize — or even possibly prevent — layoffs through job sharing, voluntary reduced salaries, and savings realized by faculty taking leaves of absence after accepting visiting positions at other colleges.
Rosenthal took over as interim president a week ago following the abrupt departure of former president Miriam “Mim” Nelson after just nine months on the job.
“I think everybody is pretty happy with Ken as president. We all know this is a daunting project we’re taking on, but everybody’s ready for it. I think we’re up to the task,” Cox said. “The financial picture is what it is. We’re working closely with finance to determine numbers and meet the numbers.”
Hampshire’s financial crisis came into full public view in January, when Nelson announced that declining enrollment meant the school needed to seek a “strategic partner,” after which trustees voted not to accept a new class for the 2019-2020 academic year with the exception of 77 students who were already admitted either through early decision or because they’d taken a gap year.
Officials expect enrollment to be just 600 students in the fall, down from 1,100.
That set in motion a period of turmoil during which various groups of faculty, staff, alumni, students, and parents furiously sought to reverse the board’s decision. Nelson and three trustees, including the chair and vice chair, resigned last Friday, and the board appointed Rosenthal as interim president.
Rosenthal confirmed in a telephone interview Friday that he has taken the position at a salary of $1 per year, joking “I’ve been paid already and it’s hanging on my bulletin board.”
Rosenthal said it was his history with Hampshire and an abiding love for the college that made him take the position for no pay. “Hampshire means a lot to me. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, and I want people to know that I’m really committed to the college and it’s not for financial gain that I do this,” Rosenthal said.
Both Rosenthal and Cox said attracting new students next winter will be one of several efforts underway to reinvigorate the college.
“These efforts reinforce each other,” Rosenthal said. “We don’t need to attract very many to have a robust class.”
Cox said efforts to entice more students for the fall semester and bring in a small class for the spring term are all part of the effort to “dig us out of the hole we experienced when the former president decided not to admit a class.”
In a letter sent to the Hampshire community Thursday — and again in an interview Friday – Rosenthal said layoffs will be announced by the end of this month, though he said he does not know how many.
“We’re going to be half our size. We need to look at what kinds of folks we need next year and the year after,” he said.
He said he hopes that some Hampshire faculty members will be able to buy time by taking leaves of absence from the college and accepting visiting positions at area colleges while Hampshire rebuilds, with the goal of having them return once enrollment is up again.
Rosenthal was part of the planning committee before Hampshire was built and later worked on campus as a staff member, faculty member, and administrator. He is the parent of a Hampshire graduate and served as a trustee for eight years.
“Hampshire was always intended to be a college that would re-imagine itself. We were founded by our four partner colleges to be a vehicle for change in higher ed. We’ve made a difference in education and it gives me hope that so many people recognize that and are paying attention now and want to support us,” he wrote in the letter to the community.
Rosenthal said he doesn’t have the answers to many questions about specifically how the college will change how it operates or what strategies will be used to attract students to attend a school whose very future has been called into question. Those answers will be forged by community members working together in the coming months and years.
“There will be some ambiguity. Everyone who is on campus next year can help us rebuild Hampshire. This will be hard work. It already is,” Rosenthal said in his community letter. “But our goal is to be a stronger institution for our 50th anniversary in 2020.”