President Miriam Nelson shakes hand with student

Community-Building and Communications

Now that we have returned from October break, it’s an appropriate time to share more about what I have been up to in my first months at Hampshire. I am focusing on four core areas: community-building and communications; campus health and well-being; strategic visioning; and fundraising.

My starting assumption when I think about community is that everyone at Hampshire is an educator—we are all teachers and we are all learners. Our relationships with each other require a foundation of respect for who we are, what we bring, and what we need. Over the past weeks I have been focused on meeting as many of you as I can. I have visited with four out of the five schools, with an appointment to meet with the Interdisciplinary Arts faculty later this month. I have met with different offices, attended two faculty meetings and a staff meeting, and have convened two staff-faculty meetings. I met almost all of the first-year and transfer students and many of the rising Div III students. I also have regular open office hours and have met with many of you in small groups or one-on-one.

I am learning so much from these conversations, and hope that more and more of you will, if you see me on a walkway, please stop me and introduce yourself, let me know how you are doing, and share your ideas and concerns.

My starting assumption when I think about community is that everyone at Hampshire is an educator—we are all teachers and we are all learners.

I need to hear from more students. Between our return from the fall break and Thanksgiving, I will be meeting with the RAs, hosting a hike, holding regular office hours, and attending many campus events. It was a pleasure to speak with Div III students during last week’s reception and to meet with Jacqui Patterson and hear her deeply thoughtful lecture on environmental and climate justice. I learned about dance justice and the role expressive arts play in advocating for change and social justice by Camille A. Brown, the keynote speaker at the Five College Dance Annual Fall Lecture. We are members of a culturally rich, intellectually stimulating, and thoughtfully critical learning community.

In terms of making sure our campus is healthy, I see this as something we must all be responsible for, working on multiple levels, from how the College functions as an institution to our individual wellness. For instance, I feel strongly about holding joint faculty-staff meetings on a regular basis, which I believe will improve morale and foster better communications. Likewise, I am very excited by the creative approach the Student Life staff is taking toward supporting the development of a student government, which is essential for effective student advocacy and agency. The “smoke free, breathe free” initiative is similarly remarkable in its focus on a healthier community—we are asking smokers on campus to use dedicated smoking areas.

What I’ve Been Thinking About

Strategic visioning is very much on my mind, and is something the Board will discuss intensively at their meeting this week. Please stay tuned for more information on that. In the meantime, I have been on the road, visiting with alums and other donors to seek their insights and to ask for their support for Hampshire.

As you can imagine, I’m thinking a lot about the College’s finances. As I mentioned at one of my joint staff-faculty meetings last month, people on campus haven’t asked me about the budget, but that was one of the first questions I got at an alumni gathering.

If you see me on a walkway, please stop me and introduce yourself, let me know how you are doing, and share your ideas and concerns.

Hampshire’s financial position is stable. The College’s endowment has grown from $33.2 million in 2011 to $55.4 million in 2018. Our Policy on Environmental, Social, and Governance Investing has resulted in a 14 percent one-year return. At the same time, the budget is very tight. Strategic steps were taken in FY18 to reduce operational expenses. The financial sustainability plan that Hampshire began last year involves a multifaceted approach to realigning our expenditures and priorities. Participation in voluntary separation and early retirement and the reduction in the employee pension contribution by 1.5% met our savings goal of $2 million. Importantly, we will balance the budget this year and there will be no cuts.

Upcoming Strategic Vision

I have been gathering input from a wide range of constituencies and am actively working with the Board of Trustees to develop a path forward for the College as we move closer to our 50th anniversary in 2020. Key initiatives undertaken in advance of this week’s fall Board meeting are:

Developing a $1M President’s Venture Fund that will:
• support professional development for faculty and staff
• enable engagement for the strategic visioning
• engage experts to support the effort

Other elements of the financial sustainability plan have not yet had a chance to show their viability. It will definitely take more than a year to turn the tide on applications, yield, and retention, as well as optimal models for financial aid. As a stop-gap we have slowed down some hires in order to focus our energy and resources on essential positions; we are moving full-speed ahead on other hires, such as filling school administrator positions.

I really want to hear your thoughts, and I ask you to be candid and frank. My email is president@hampshire.edu.

This is a watershed moment in Hampshire’s life and evolution, and I am thrilled to be part of it.

Warmly,
Mim