Dear President Nelson,
In 1965, an editorial in The Amherst Student stated that the Amherst College community “can justly be proud of the disproportionate contributions of their own college to the initial phases of Hampshire’s development.” Since then, five decades of close partnership with our colleagues at Hampshire College have joined our two faculties in strong bonds of shared professional interest, personal trust, mutual respect, and common educational pursuit. These bonds are a daily reality, a living tissue, and a continuing point of pride. They give us, members of the faculty of Amherst College, a direct interest in the future of Hampshire College, and they make us a stakeholder in the conversation about that future.
We write to you today to express our concern over recent decisions made by you and the Board of Trustees. We fear that a number of these decisions are inconsistent with well-established norms of shared governance. As you know, no leader in any field can violate long-standing professional norms for long without compromising his or her credibility and losing the confidence of core constituencies. We therefore believe that it is in the best interest of all parties that, especially during this time of crisis, you and your colleagues redouble your efforts to adhere to the conventions that structure our shared profession. These have been articulated by the American Association of University Professors, in authoritative policies that we believe are worth recalling here.
• “The variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others…. Effective planning demands that the broadest possible exchange of information and opinion should be the rule for communication among the components of a college or university.” (AAUP, “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities,” 119.)
We call on you to avoid secrecy (such as non-disclosure agreements) and to embrace transparency in your planning efforts.
• “Such matters as major changes in the size or composition of the student body and the relative emphasis to be given to the various elements of the educational and research program should involve participation of governing board, administration, and faculty prior to final decision.” (“Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities,” 118.)
We call on you to recognize the necessity of meaningful consultation with the Hampshire Faculty in decisions over the size or composition of the student body.
• “Before any proposals for program discontinuance on grounds of financial exigency are made, the faculty or an appropriate faculty body will have opportunity to render an assessment in writing of the institution’s financial condition... [T]here should be an elected faculty governance body, or a body designated by a collective bargaining agreement, that participates in the decision that a condition of financial exigency exists or is imminent and that all feasible alternatives to termination of appointments have been pursued.” (“Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” 15.)
We call on you to share information about Hampshire’s financial condition with the Hampshire faculty, to recognize its need to participate in the decision over the existence of a condition of financial exigency, and to develop proposals for program discontinuance on the basis of the faculty’s assessments.
• “Judgments determining where within the overall academic program termination of appointments may occur involve considerations of educational policy and hence are the primary responsibility of the faculty or an appropriate faculty body.” (“Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” 15-6.)
We call on you to recognize the Hampshire faculty’s primary responsibility to determine where termination of academic appointments may occur.
• Governing Boards are under “a special obligation to ensure that the history of the college or university shall serve as a prelude and inspiration to the future.” (AAUP, “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities,” 119.) As you know, Hampshire College originated from a 1958 report called The New College Plan: A Proposal for a Major Departure in Higher Education, which was prepared by a joint committee of professors from Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts at the request of the presidents of those institutions. Section III.3 of that report argues that in the New College financial and educational policy will be intertwined to an unusual degree, and that faculty consequently should have an unusually large responsibility for the financial administration of the New College.
We call on you to treat this foundational component of Hampshire College’s history as a prelude and inspiration to the future.
We trust that you will heed these calls and take them in the right spirit. They come from our understanding of the shared framework within which collegial administration must take place and also from a deep respect we have for our Hampshire colleagues and a keen sense of the value they have added to our entire academic community over many generations.
This letter was signed by 137 members of the the Amherst College faculty.