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New England News

After Nelson Resigns, Hampshire Turns To Founder As Interim Leader

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Hampshire College
Ken Rosenthal (Center) with Hampshire's founding Vice President and second President Charles Longsworth (Left).

On Friday, the president of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts abruptly resigned amid financial turmoil and protest on campus.

Miriam “Mim” Nelson had been at the epicenter of the controversy surrounding the private liberal arts school since January, when she first presented a plan for the college’s future that hinged on finding a “strategic partner” to weather diminishing enrollment.

The announcement – which was closely followed by a board of trustees vote to not accept a full Fall 2019 class – provoked confusion, dismay, and organized protest from faculty, staff, students, and alumni. News of staff and faculty layoffs followed, prompting further outrage from the college community. On February 21st, in the wake of an attempted faculty vote of no confidence in her leadership and the announcement of the first round of staff layoffs, Nelson told WAMC that she was committed to the school, and wasn’t afraid to confront its challenges.

“But I will say that this has shaken me, and it’s shaken the senior leadership, and it’s shaken the board,
 said Nelson. "And I want to make sure that I’m effective, and if I’m not effective, then certainly I’ll consider stepping down.”

Her resignation came after a week when two board members resigned as well, including then-board chair Gaye Hill, and was accompanied by the resignation of Kim Saal – a board vice chair and one of the proponents of the strategic partnership plan.

Nelson wrote, "So long as I were to remain president of Hampshire, the community’s feelings about me would be a distraction from the necessary work. I am confident a new leader will work within a more favorable environment and find the path to daylight that has eluded me.

For now, that new leader is interim President Ken Rosenthal – one of the college’s founders who literally wrote the book on Hampshire in the mid-60s before the college admitted its first students in 1970. Rosenthal spoke with WAMC after being named Hampshire’s temporary leader late Friday. He begins with his reaction to Nelson’s resignation.

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