10 Hampshire College trustees resigned in April

  • Johnson Library Center at Hampshire College anchors the Amherst campus.

Staff Writer
Friday, June 07, 2019

AMHERST — The first week of April was a time of significant upheaval for Hampshire College’s board of trustees. In the span of one week, the college president and three trustees — including the board’s chairwoman and vice chairman — all announced that they were stepping down.

The resignations made national headlines as the financially struggling college’s trustees voted on April 5 to fundraise in the pursuit of independence after months of searching for a partner institution that could help the school survive. 

But behind the scenes, there were far more resignations from the board than have previously been reported. In addition to the April 5 announcement that President Miriam “Mim” Nelson and board Vice Chairman Kim Saal were resigning, another six trustees quietly stepped down from the board around the same time. 

The resignations of those eight board members, together with the resignations of board Chairwoman Gaye Hill and trustee Mingda Zhao earlier that week, bring the total number of trustees who quit the board in the same time period to 10. 

The Gazette learned of the resignations after comparing the college’s current list of trustees — found on the school’s website — with an archived version of that same web page found using the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine,” which saves past versions of websites.  

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, college spokesman John Courtmanche confirmed the departures, though he did not specify who exactly had resigned from the board.

“Around the time the Board voted on April 5 to engage fully in fundraising to remain an independent College, the number of trustees declined from 29 to 20, with some trustees choosing to depart for a range of personal reasons,” Courtmanche said.

The total membership of Hampshire’s board will be 21 beginning on July 1, according to Courtmanche. At its recent May meeting, the board voted in three new members to serve four-year terms, and lost two other trustees whose terms had just ended, he explained. 

The college’s bylaws, which were updated in 2018, state that the board “shall consist of no fewer than fifteen and no more than thirty-one voting members.” Courtmanche said the number of trustees depends on the board’s operations and needs.

“The Board will consider voting in new trustees in the coming months, once a new president is on board,” Courtmanche said.

When asked why the additional resignations were not announced at the time, Courtmanche said it is not the college’s practice to issue a press release whenever a board member departs.

“A resignation is the personal decision of a trustee, and the College would not announce a resignation unless a trustee gave us permission to do so,” Courtmanche said. “The Board has remained fully operational this spring with 20 trustees, a number that will grow this summer.”

On Friday, Hampshire College officials are presenting their case to the school’s accreditation agency, the New England Commission of Higher Education, after the commission asked the school to “show cause why it should not be placed on probation or have its accreditation withdrawn” over concerns that the college might not be meeting the agency’s standards related to organization and governance and institutional resources.

Hampshire recently created a presidential search committee, and the school intends to name a permanent successor to interim President Ken Rosenthal by this summer.

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