Peg Duffy: Hampshire College makes bad decision on reopening

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

An Open Letter to the Presidents and Boards of Trustees of Hampshire College.

Recently, your college elected to invite students back to campus in Amherst. Smith College, Mount Holyoke College and UMass (three members of the Five College Consortium) have opted for a virtual start to the academic year.

As an involved and aware member of the Pioneer Valley community, I recognize not only the unique fiscal challenges faced by Hampshire College, but also the strong experiential component of much of the college’s curriculum. As I have witnessed our community navigate the challenges of this pandemic, I have been impressed by the strong sense of collegiality of our community and each person’s commitment to the health and welfare of all.

I am saddened to see that Hampshire has not embraced this spirit in the Pioneer Valley. Our surrounding colleges (and, in fact, most K-12 schools) have made the difficult decision to keep their physical learning spaces closed this fall. The resulting furloughs and other “belt-tightening” plans have been difficult.

But each of the other decision-making educational entities in our community recognized a responsibility, not only to their campus communities but also a responsibility to the greater western Massachusetts community as a whole. It seems Hampshire College is prioritizing its fiscal needs over the health of our local population, not to mention the health of faculty, staff and students who may now be exposed to a deadly virus.

The decision of Hampshire College to hold in-person classes this fall is irresponsible and dangerous. I hope the college is prepared to handle the anger and despair of a community when our virus numbers increase and I hope the board of trustees of Hampshire will recognize a fiscal responsibility to those students, faculty and staff who become ill or, even worse, die.

There is still time for Hampshire College to join the other educational leaders in our community in recognizing that now is not the time to bring students, faculty and staff together for in-person learning.

Peg Duffy