Who will be the next leader of Hampshire College? Trustees announce presidential search committee

  • Hampshire College interim president Ken Rosenthal gives the celebratory address to the class of 295 graduates during commencement exercises in Amherst on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Staff Writer
Friday, May 24, 2019

AMHERST — Hampshire College intends to name a permanent president as early as this summer after a search committee was recently established to fill the position.

Ken Rosenthal, one of the college’s founders, has served as interim president ever since former President Miriam “Mim” Nelson stepped down on April 5 amid concern on campus over the administration’s pursuit of a partner institution for financial survival and the decision not to admit a full fall 2019 class. The college’s board of trustees has now announced the creation of a seven-person presidential search committee that expects to name a permanent leader in the coming months.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Ellen Sturgis, an alumna and trustee who has been named as the chairwoman of the new committee. “The search committee has been formed pretty quickly, and we are on a pretty tight time frame.”

Sturgis is one of four trustees on the search committee, all of whom are also alumni; she joins board Chairman Luis Hernandez, Vice Chairman Jose Fuentes and Anthony Thomas, a former James Baldwin scholar. Two other positions are filled by philosophy professor Christoph Cox, who was elected by faculty, and laboratory technician Sarah Steely, the staff representative.

The final seat on the committee is Daya Mena, a student who graduated this year and who was a student member of the board of trustees as well an elected delegate to the Student Advocacy Network. In a letter to campus, Hernandez, the board chairman, said that the board was unable to organize an election for the student representative of the search committee because students already had left for the summer.

“The committee is developing ways to engage more students, faculty, staff, and alums in the search process,” Hernandez said in his letter. “The Board is committed to involving as many members of our community as possible. Soon, the committee will invite community members to participate in a conversation about the presidential profile and job description that we’ll publish for candidates.”

Sturgis said that the committee is in the process of scheduling in-person meetings and video calls to collect staff, faculty and student perspectives on what qualities and qualifications they hope to see in a new president, as well as any concerns those constituencies might have.

The announcement of the new search committee comes a month after the college’s accreditation agency — the New England Commission of Higher Education, or NECHE — asked Hampshire to “show cause why it should not be placed on probation or have its accreditation withdrawn” after expressing concern that the college might not be meeting the agency’s standards related to organization and governance and institutional resources.

Sturgis said that context played some role in the search committee’s expedited timeline. NECHE asked in particular about Hampshire’s governance, she said, so the school wanted to assuage those concerns.

Hampshire submitted its report to NECHE on Tuesday and will be presenting its case in front of the agency next Thursday. Sturgis said she is not particularly worried about next week’s meeting.

“We’re not holding our breath because we’re pretty confident we have a good story to tell,” she said. “We have a plan, we are committed and serious about finding the next leader quickly.”

There are also plenty of other reasons for the search committee to move quickly. Sturgis said that some donors are waiting for a permanent president to be named before giving, and the whole Hampshire community is watching closely.

The next president of Hampshire will step into the role during a time of big changes at Hampshire. The school is aggressively fundraising as it pursues independence and undertakes a reimagining of the college for the future.

“What Hampshire needs is strong leadership going forward,” said Rosenthal. “And it needs to make a decision now that demonstrates it has continuity and that it has shared direction by everyone.”

The search committee already held its first meeting on Monday, and both Rosenthal and Sturgis said that they are encouraged by the early pool of possible candidates.

“We have been able to attract talent,” Rosenthal said, though he declined to give any names. “It’s very reassuring so far … these are people who have let us know that they would be interested if this was a possibility.”

Rosenthal said he has told the board that he will help the incoming president in whatever ways possible. And he hopes that person will be named soon.

“This is something that we need to address sooner rather than later because we need to plan for the remaking of Hampshire College sooner rather than later,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.