The Hampshire College community is reacting after the appointment of a new president to lead the struggling campus.
In April, Miriam Nelson resigned as president of the private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. It followed months of heavy criticism from students, faculty, staff, and alumni over her plans for how to bring the financially faltering institution into the future. Now, the college has appointed a permanent replacement with Ed Wingenbach, filling a role that college founder Kenneth Rosenthal has tended to in the interim.
After a bruising year, the same campus that protested its last president is opening its arms to a new one.
Salman Hameed, the Charles Taylor Chair and associate professor of integrated science and humanities, interviewed Wingenbach.
“He, as he said himself, always wanted to be a Hampshire student," Hameed told WAMC. "So this is someone who is coming in in some ways really excited about what Hampshire has been doing, and he’s coming in to lead the college that has served as an ideal for him.”
“I’m really excited. I’m feeling a lot of new hope about our future and I think that we’re in a really good spot right now. Or at least, I hope we are," said student Amy Lowe, who will be entering her third year at Hampshire this fall. “He really understands us, that’s the big feel, is that he understands the trauma we’ve been through and what our next steps are, and just understanding that he has that understanding is really nice, and it makes me feel like we’re going to be fine in the future."
“Ed is ready to embrace the student body, isn’t scared of the activism on campus and actually is encouraging students to interact with us and share our ideas and views that as a helpful part of the process," said fellow student Elaine Robinson, who is entering her final year. Earlier this year, students set a college record with a lengthy sit-in at Nelson’s presidential office.
“Ed has said that he welcomes the sit-in as free labor, says that if students are going to be in his office then they’re welcome to and let’s put a plan together and work on things, which is a huge difference from students sleeping on the floor and being in the office and not feeling heard," said Robinson. "So he’s not daunted by the Hampshire students at all.”
Jess Roy is going into her third year at Hampshire and works in admissions. She offered a message to anyone considering applying.
“It’s not a scary time, it’s an exciting time, and who doesn’t want to say that they have been a part of something so cool as this and something so amazing as this that’s completely transforming a college as amazing as Hampshire,” said Roy.
The sense of needing to rebuild after calamity makes Wingenbach’s appointment a more complicated moment for the college’s staff.
“It’s been a rough year, and we have born a lot of the brunt of a lot of what has been happening," Sarah Steely told WAMC. "And it’s exciting to have someone coming in who has a sense of respect not only for staff but for all other stakeholders, and it’s really exciting to be able to work as a community to help Hampshire thrive.”
Steely is a laboratory technician at Hampshire. She was on the search committee, and has served as a representative for the college’s Staff Advocacy Committee. Steely is also a Hampshire alum.
“We’ve had a lot of staff leave, a lot of people have been laid off," she said. "People are overworked, really feeling that it’s really hard.”
Sharing her own feelings and those of some of her peers, Steely said Wingenbach’s selection was heartening.
“But it’s also mixed with the fact that we have very low morale right now and things are difficult for a lot of us," said Steely. "And so there’s optimism for moving forward, optimism about what can happen and the potential for where Hampshire can go, especially with regards to staff, but a lot of us will wait and see. But there’s definitely a sense of optimism and I think there’s excitement too.”