Current Hampshire College President Ralph Hexter recently wrote a blog in which he discussed the possibility of dropping narrative evaluations and turning Hampshire into a University with graduate programs. The post is available here. Hexter is careful with his wording, but the implications are clear that he does not consider as inviolable the central foundational premise of the school as a radical small liberal arts college.
I wrote a short response to Dr. Hexter’s post. I am reproducing it here. I encourage all other alumni and concerned members of the Hampshire community to get in touch with Dr. Hexter and the Hampshire College Board of Trustees. We need to let them know that we care about Hampshire for what it is and that although we are not opposed to change, that change must not abandon the core values of our college.
First, and most importantly: I am certain that the vast majority of the alumni would agree with me that it is horrific that the idea of dropping narrative evaluations is even discussed.
Please stop trying to abandon the mission of our school. Hampshire’s distinction rests on being a legitimate alternative to mainstream liberal/left-leaning private colleges. Narrative evaluations are both integral to and emblematic of the real difference between Hampshire and places like Wesleyan or Vassar. Frankly, that is the only ground on which we can compete with those schools and the only reason that any top-tier students choose to attend. If Hampshire loses its key marks of distinction, it becomes simply a second rate version of better funded and more established colleges.
The idea that Hampshire plans to establish graduate programs is also troubling. I would be willing to listen to arguments on behalf of specific programs, but I am extremely doubtful that we can offer top-tier graduate programs without draining our undergraduate resources (especially in terms of access to faculty). Further, unless Hampshire comes into an extraordinary amount of money, any graduate programs offered will be very expensive. Given the fact that most graduate students in traditional residential programs receive funding, it is likely that Hampshire would only be able to attract very wealthy and second-rate students.
Shifting the focus of the school away from our core principles as a radical, small, undergraduate institution is no way to insure Hampshire’s success. At best, you will only manage to destroy Hampshire and replace it with a totally unrecognizable institution that bears a similar name. Frankly, the longevity of the name ‘Hampshire’ is far less important than the school’s mission.
Dr. Hexter, I can assure you that the alumni will be almost universally mortified by your proposals. The pride we take in Hampshire is not a pride in liberal mediocrity but radical exception. We would rather see Hampshire close its doors with dignity than morph into such an institution as you describe. We want the opportunity to support you in guiding Hampshire into the future successfully, proudly, and as the Hampshire College we love. Please don’t betray our hopes and our school.