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Hampshire College Faculty Facing Dire Future

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Hampshire College

With layoffs looming, faculty members at Hampshire College are rallying together.

On Tuesday, February 19th, the faculty and staff of the Amherst, Massachusetts liberal arts college will find out who among them will stay – and who will go. It comes as the school has halted most new admissions while searching for a financial partner.

“We really want to keep as many staff as we can and keep as many faculty as we can. We know these layoffs are coming, we know we’re partly powerless to do anything about them," said Cristoph Cox.

Cox is a professor of philosophy and art theory at Hampshire. He’s taught there for about 20 years.

“Well, we got to where we are right now initially because of the very surprise announcement on January 15th by the president and the board that Hampshire would be looking for a strategic partner and perhaps not admitting a Fall 2019 class," he explained. "That was a surprise to a lot of people, pretty much to everybody except for the president and the board.”

Cox says the announcement sent college employees scrambling as they tried to figure out what the news meant.

“And then the announcement on February 1st that Hampshire won’t be accepting a Fall 2019 class just increased that set of anxieties on everybody’s part,” he told WAMC.

The significance of the limited student intake plays a big role in Tuesday’s layoff announcement, as the number of faculty the school will retain is pegged to the number of enrolled students.

“On an individual level of course, all of us are in fear for our jobs," said Cox. "I was told directly by the Vice Chair of the board that he expects something like 50 percent of the faculty to lose their jobs.”

Cox is serving as a media liaison for the college’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which has proven to be a valuable organizing structure to the faculty. Formed in 2018, Cox estimates it has 70 members from a faculty of around 110.

“There were increasing pressures on the faculty due to the decreasing budget and so Hampshire faculty just wanted a way to organize and talk to one another and talk about labor issues,” he said.

Cox says while Hampshire’s faculty doesn’t agree about everything, one central concern has prevailed.

“Shared government is a very powerful tradition in American higher education. It’s very strong at Hampshire, which has always a very kind of bottom-up kind of place," said Cox. "And so the initial worry was that the president and the board really seem to have violated some key principals of shared governance – not consulting with faculty, with alums, with staff, before making this very momentous decision.”

Despite what Cox describes as a sense that the president and board are hearing their concerns, the faculty is now facing an uphill battle on a decision that has already been made without them.

“Yesterday at the faculty meeting, the faculty unanimously – sorry, that’s not quite true – almost unanimously issued a statement really demanding that there be no cuts in staff and demanding that the president and the board make available to us all the financial information about the college that justifies staff layoffs – and especially immediate staff layoffs,” Cox told WAMC.

Throughout the uncertainty, Cox says the challenge posed to the faculty has brought out unity, resilience, and creativity.

“There’s just a lot of solidarity and there’s a lot of good will among faculty to really try to save as many jobs as possible and protect the most vulnerable the best they can,” he said.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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