Hampshire Visioning Project: Our Initial Plans

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been presenting our initial plans for the Hampshire Visioning Project, an initiative that will culminate with our 50th anniversary in 2020 and prepare the College to enter our second half century as strong and mission-driven and influential as ever.

It’s widely known that Hampshire’s singular academic model is a success story. I’ve heard and seen this in the voices and words of so many people since I was named president. As one example, I was among 150 college and university presidents at the inauguration ceremony for Harvard’s new president, Larry Bacow, last month. I was wearing Hampshire regalia, and I can’t tell you how many of my peers came up to me and said, “Hampshire is such an extraordinary place.” It made me very proud to be here.

I have now been at Hampshire for just over 100 days. Here are a few overarching reflections:

  • We have an exceptional educational model
  • We’re a community of brilliant, caring, and engaged people
  • We have prominent, successful alums around the world
  • We’re situated on a beautiful, 800-acre, 100-percent-solar campus
  • We have a fully supportive Board of Trustees
  • Hampshire is under-resourced and always has been
  • The Hampshire community is worried about the challenges we face
  • We have a significant opportunity to leverage the 50th anniversary

We Need to Be Open to Transformative Change

To envision and plan for the strongest future for Hampshire, it’s clear we need more than a strategic plan: We need to be open to transformative change. We’ll begin by posing a series of questions to our stakeholders. These big questions are analogous to what our founders in the 1960s were thinking about. These are questions we need to address, because small colleges like Hampshire with modest endowments are facing increased competition and challenging demographic and cultural trends.

Our responses will be informed by an infusion of the best ideas from inside Hampshire and the Five Colleges, and outside as well. To start, here are three interconnected questions to reflect on:

  1. What do we value most about Hampshire College?
  2. How can we progress our educational model and be more accessible?
  3. What can we do to contribute to the future of higher education that is relevant and compelling?

In answering these questions, we’ve identified related project goals. We seek to:

  • Prepare Hampshire for its 50th anniversary and envision its second half century
  • Articulate a clear and compelling value proposition
  • Establish financial sustainability
  • Guide transformational change

This project will be similar in some ways to the process by which Hampshire was founded in the 1950s and 1960s, when the presidents and faculty from UMass Amherst and Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges joined together to explore how to inspire students to take more ownership of and pride in their education and to lead their own education for a lifetime. Our founders drew on ideas, proposals, and research from literally hundreds of educators across the state, region, and country. We know they succeeded in authoring plans built on the best ideas of the time, published in our founding documents, The New College Plan, The Making of a College, and others.

We Need Your Voice

We need your voice and as many voices as possible in this effort, from all stakeholders: our students, staff, faculty, alums, Five College Consortium, parents and friends, and the Amherst community. We’re beginning to convene and engage our campus and community in a months-long process that will include:

  • One-on-one conversations
  • Small and large meetings
  • Surveys
  • Forums involving innovators in education from our community and across the country, and
  • Research materials compiled into an archive and bibliography

A 13-member ad hoc Campus Advisory Task Force comprising representative trustees, faculty, staff, and students will provide guidance to the overall process. Overseen by the Board of Trustees, the Task Force will be chaired by trustee Kim Saal 70F and myself. We’re currently working on its charge and the nomination process; nominations will be accepted for these positions through campus communications. The hope is we’ll convene this group before the end of the semester. In addition, a faculty group will be convened to guide the work related to innovation and our educational model.

Here Are the Phases

The project’s timeline is still being refined, but roughly speaking here are the phases:

  • Planning and Ground work (now)
  • Convening and Engaging Stakeholders (winter)
  • Quiet Phase (spring)
  • Communicating Findings (May/June)
  • Transition (next year to June 2020)

In his book Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun writes, “Higher education is the usher of change. And change is the defining force of our time.” This is the right time for the Hampshire community to come together to envision our future and our continuing impact on higher education and society.

This blog will serve as a running diary of the project and a way for me to inform and update our community, bring accountability, and provide, at its conclusion, a record of where we’ve been and a road map of the vision for our path forward.

I’m excited to work side-by-side with you in this important work.

Respectfully yours,

Miriam E. Nelson