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‘No majors, no departments’: Hampshire College votes to shape academics around modern challenges

  • Ed Wingenbach, president of Hampshire College, talks about the new curriculum framework during a press conference. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Lavallee, a student and member of the academic innovation planning group at Hampshire College, talks about changes to the colleges education model Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ed Wingenbach, president of Hampshire College, talks about the new curriculum framework during a press conference. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Matt Lavallee, a student and member of the academic innovation planning group at Hampshire College. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rachel Conrad, a professor and co-chair of the academic innovation planning group at Hampshire College, talks about the new curriculum framework during a press conference. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rachel Conrad, a professor and co-chairwoman of the academic innovation planning group at Hampshire College, talks about the college’s new curriculum framework during a press conference Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Saturday, October 19, 2019

AMHERST — As Hampshire College prepares to defend its credentials to the New England Commission of Higher Education accreditation agency next month, the board of trustees has voted to reshape the college’s academic model around challenges in today’s world.

“We are restructuring ourselves to move questions and projects to the center of every student’s education,” Hampshire College President Ed Wingenbach said at The Red Barn on Wednesday.

With the new academic model, “Hampshire is radicalizing its transdisciplinary commitment,” he said, “removing all barriers across fields of study to create truly integrated curriculum. No majors, no departments, no curricular divisions, liberating students to formulate questions that have never been answered before.”

The model, which was voted on by the board of trustees on Saturday and announced on Wednesday, may address topics such as climate change, social and economic inequality, artificial intelligence, and “strengthening the vitality of the arts,” the college announced in a press release. Students will begin to tackle these challenges in their first-year seminars and may choose to focus on one of these issues or pose their own topics as they advance in their academic careers. Students will continue to complete intensive, independent study projects in their final year.

Students entering Hampshire next fall will be the first students to study under the new model.

The model was created using feedback gathered from hundreds of Hampshire community members over the course of five open meetings this fall, the college said, and was developed as a hybrid between two finalist models posed to the college community earlier this month.

Matt Lavallee, a fourth-year student at Hampshire and member of the Academic Innovation Planning Group, said that many Hampshire College students recognize their education as “a social contract” — students have access to the professors and resources offered by Hampshire, and in return, “You owe something back to the communities you are a part of, or you know are facing some kind of marginalization,” he said.

With the adoption of the new model, Lavallee believes that students will have stronger structural support as they pursue this goal through their college experience.

Securing college’s future

In early November, college officials will present this model to the New England Commission of Higher Education. In June, the agency issued a warning that the college was “in danger” of being placed on probation or having its accreditation withdrawn if conditions at Hampshire worsen.

Since January, Hampshire has raised $9.5 million, Wingenbach said. The college will soon be announcing a new fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $60 million between now and fiscal 2025. Before the end of this fiscal year, which runs through June, the college needs to raise around $9 million.

For the past decade, the college typically has raised around $6 million a year. Raising this figure to $9 million or $10 million a year is “a little bit of a stretch, but doable,” Wingenbach said, especially with heightened interest from donors.

By 2024 or 2025, the college also seeks to raise its enrollment to around 1,100 students. In August, the college projected that it would have between 700 and 750 students enrolled this fall semester. Applications for the fall 2020 semester are up 30 percent compared to this time last year, Wingenbach said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.