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Hampshire College Announces Sweeping Structural Changes

A man stands behind a podium with a Hampshire College logo in a wooden structure
Josh Landes
Hampshire College President Ed Wingenbach

Troubled Hampshire College announced today it will transform its organization and curriculum to address contemporary global challenges.

Ed Wingenbach is the president of the Amherst, Massachusetts private liberal arts college. The restructuring decision follows a period of turmoil that saw key figures in the college’s senior leadership depart after a controversial attempt to address the college’s financial shortcomings.

“We started working this fall to try to recommit ourselves to our longtime mission, which is and always has been to invent the future of higher education,” said Wingenbach.

He says the new plan centers around three big changes. One will emphasize the college’s focus on interdisciplinary learning.

“First, we’re restructuring ourselves to move questions and projects to the center of every student’s education, so academic expertise and specialization serve the needs of the challenge being addressed, rather than the other way around," the president told WAMC. "So we’re radicalizing that commitment, removing any barriers to crossing fields of studies and liberating students to formulate questions in ways they haven’t been asked before.”

The second change will focus on the real world implementation of those questions, underscoring what Wingenbach calls “entrepreneurial thinking.”

“Something like a third of our graduates have founded successful businesses, nonprofits, social movements, etcetera," he said. "So our second innovation coming into next year is that we’re going to integrate those entrepreneurial skills explicitly into the curriculum to make sure that every graduate has the tools to pursue meaningful challenges and work across disciplines and specializations as they develop their own questions and projects.”

The last aspect involves directing the college’s focus on comprehensive, multidisciplinary answers to contemporary global challenges like climate change, economic and social inequality, artificial intelligence, and beyond.

“By organizing portions of our curriculum around these kind of challenges and working together as a faculty from different disciplines with students on those questions, we model for our students the sort of work they’re going to need to do in the future and provide them an opportunity to begin to do that meaningful authentic work right away,” said Wingenbach.

Aspects of the plan resemble a proposal put forward by faculty members earlier this year about possible directions for Hampshire’s future. Wingenbach says Wednesday’s announcement – which was approved by faculty on October 10th and the board on October 12th – came out of hundreds of conversations with faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

“We put all that stuff together and sort of divided it out and said ‘what are the themes here, what are the different visions of Hampshire that emerge from looking at this whole collection of ideas,’ and we used that as a starting point,” said the president.

The college is trying to rebuild its student population after not taking a fall class this semester following a board vote to halt admissions in early 2019. Wingenbach says it’s going well.

“As of today, we have 102 completed applications for fall 2020,” he told WAMC.

He says that’s up almost 30% from last year.

Hampshire is also attempting to meet fundraising goals to remain solvent and independent, following the rejection of former President Miriam “Mim” Nelson’s plan to seek a strategic partner.

“Between now and July 1, we’re hoping to raise around $9 million, and that would be on top of the $9.5 million or so we raised between January and now,” said the president.

Wingenbach says the college will need to raise an additional $40 million over the next four or five years to meet its $60 million goal.

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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