Save Hampshire College

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.


My Response:

Dr. Hexter,

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.


11 Responses to “Save Hampshire College”

  1. September 14, 2009 at 6:54 am

    I will write also!

  2. 2 deweydecimal
    September 14, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    I have a comment awaiting moderation on his blog right now. Hopefully he will accept it and then my protest will be more public. I would encourage others to do the same. Make your voice heard publicly. Granted he has some decent things to say, the two points which my fellow resident mr. segal hits on a key. This would destroy Hampshire College.

  3. 3 johuat
    September 14, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    The validity of Hampshire’s Science department (NS) is justified in part by the increased amount of graduate and post-graduate contact stimulated by narrative evaluations. The other major component is the committee system, with those two also largely responsible the impact of the “div” system. Removing evals will weaken the sciences at Hampshire and further erode the structure of the divs. All then the whole house of cards will come down.

  4. September 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Dear President Hexter,

    On behalf of the students and alumni who have given your most recent blog entry, “My Vision for Hampshire College” a close read, I protest.

    Your vision for Hampshire College is anything but experimental. Hampshire has maintained its reputation as a notable experiment in higher education on the very basis of the divisional ladder and narrative evaluations.

    It is a “time of change” and it always has been.

    So please show us your commitment to founding principles of the institution we love. That would be change in the face of politics. That would be Hampshire College — the extremely committed institution that embraced you.

    Should the dystopia you call Hampshire University ever be realized I will take my diploma out of the closet, hang it on my wall where it will ring “Hampshire College,” a melancholy loud and clear.

    Egan Frantz 05F

  5. 5 Todd
    September 16, 2009 at 3:50 am

    Dear President Hexter,

    I would like to submit my response to your post regarding the future of Hampshire College. Of particular concern is the possible abandonment of narrative evaluations, as well as the notion that Hampshire College may at some stage take on University status, complete with graduate programs.

    I was quite troubled by your suggestion that Hampshire “may or may not continue with other elements that have distinguished our curriculum and pedagogy, for example, narrative evaluations”. This statement appears in direct opposition to the “distinguished, distinctive and selective college” to which you are committed from the first line of your vision. You go to great lengths to make known your devotion to demographical diversity, but in a way that seems subversive to ideological unity. While of course I support a climate in which people from all backgrounds are fundamental facets of the Hampshire community, I refuse to compromise our experimental and unique model for educational advancement with the hope that it will become more palatable and desirable to a broader, blander audience. Narrative evaluations are one of the cornerstones of Hampshire’s innovative program, and their discontinuation would likely see a dispersal of some of its brightest minds among what would in that case be very similar, albeit more highly regarded, liberal institutions. Naturally, all members of the Hampshire community embrace positive and progressive change, but I cannot imagine this suggestion being regarded as anything beyond retrogression.

    My other main objection is to the proposal that Hampshire College may at some point no longer be a college at all, but rather a full university. You yourself recognize the value of “a vibrant and intense community that can be best realized on the campus of a small college”. The kind of creativity and innovation that takes place at Hampshire is only possible in a small, supportive environment in which students are individually encouraged and mentored by like-minded faculty. “Hampshire University” to me implies an education factory, when in fact Hampshire is, and should remain, an education breeding ground.

    Hampshire College currently represents an unprecedented concentration of the most interesting, intelligent and ingenuitive students among any undergraduate institution. To take away some of its defining characteristics and transform it into something that it was founded to protest would be institutional suicide. These suggestions seem to represent an attempt at making Hampshire more marketable, and while I understand that this is a primary concern of your office, it is important to remember that no significant changes should be made without carefully and thoroughly considering whether and how they alter or honor Hampshire’s founding principles. I think I speak for all current students and fellow alum in saying that any attempts to bring these ideas into fruition would be met with dissatisfaction and protest from the entire Hampshire community. Thank you for considering this perspective.

    Todd Lerew 05F

  6. September 16, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    You’re so thoughtful Todd!

  7. October 1, 2009 at 11:51 am

    I don’t know If I said it already but …This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  8. October 4, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    I met with Hexter at the Yale Club this Wednesday to discuss ideas for the college. He made very clear his love for narrative evaluations — see his first blog entry; for him the simple mention of “we may or may not have narrative evaluations” was more a matter of epistemological integrity — putting it on all on the table, as I believe he has written in the addendum.

    One concern that stuck with me is that Hampshire is not getting enough applicants — naturally, the school cannot maintain itself without top tier students.

    How does one fix that? Marketing banality is one matter; tags for search queries… apparently prospective students doing their college search online are missing Hampshire completely when filtering schools by major — Hampshire doesn’t show up. Hexter says they’re on the task.

    But there is one simple improvement that would vastly increase interest and visibility. Not surprisingly, it was fresh to his hears.

    Every well known liberal arts college has a art museum; not to mention the collection and it’s extended network. That give the outside a reason to get inside. Hampshire does not. And we will not have a museum — not until someone starts gifting — but we do have a relatively attractive, mid-century art gallery in our library. It is quite romantic; this idea of the gallery in the library. I say invest in some fresh walls, hire a motivated curator to bring in artists and see what that brings.

    The Jerome Liebling gallery in its current state is a complete embarrassment –> that is until Div III season which is not a matter of judgment. (We could go back to the problem of applicants here)

    Every artist, critic, curator, collector, and serious viewer in New York City has been the the Hessel Museum at Bard. And that everything to do with parents pressuring their kids into Bard over Hampshire. We don’t need Paul Chan but a little press on what the gallery/the school has to offer its students and community would be a true beginning.

    Watching a city gentrify — it is a proven method… artist’s and gays –> restaurants and galleries –> designer boutiques –> renters get pushed out for condo’s –> more boutiques –> no more artist’s and gays.

    Luckily, Hampshire won’t sell out to developers, so for at least some time we could enjoy some fresh art, ideas, and new students who are hungry for it.


  9. October 4, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Oh yea. And we could stay gay.

  10. 11 Tree
    January 13, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Is the crisis still there?
    Development is a really completed topic, especially for something special as Hampshire.
    Do not forget the core. We can make it through.

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