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Hampshire College President Resigns Amid Rift Over School's Future

Miriam Nelson (Alden Bourne/NEPR)
Miriam Nelson (Alden Bourne/NEPR)

The president of Hampshire College has quit her post amid mounting turmoil over the future of the small private school in Amherst.

College officials announced Friday that Miriam "Mim" Nelson submitted a letter of resignation Wednesday, effective Friday afternoon. She held the position for less than 10 months.

Facing declining enrollment and financial pressures, Nelson announced in January that Hampshire was seeking a “strategic partner,” and the college’s board decided not to admit a full class for next year.

Both announcements led to protests from students, and anger from many alumni and faculty.

“So long as I were to remain president of Hampshire, the community’s feelings about me would be a distraction from the necessary work,” Nelson said in a letter to the college community. “I am confident a new leader will work within a more favorable environment and find the path to daylight that has eluded me.”

Hampshire’s interim president will be Ken Rosenthal, who helped found the school in the 1960s, later serving as a trustee and official college historian.

In an interview on campus Friday evening, Rosenthal, who's 80, declined to comment on Nelson’s strategy in recent months. But he did say his long connection to the school gives him an advantage Nelson lacked.

“Mim was somebody who was not as familiar on the campus, because she was new to the campus,” Rosenthal said. “And I think the fact that she was new made it a little difficult for her. [It] may be a little easier for me to get people to believe that we can take the hard decisions.”

Rosenthal said he plans to speak with Nelson next week. He said it’s too soon to know if the school would continue discussions with possible “strategic partners.”

Among Rosenthal’s biggest initial challenges is enrollment. He wants the school to return the student body size to between 1,300 and 1,400. But with nearly no incoming class in the fall, and many students expected to transfer, he said he has heard that number could be as low as 650 next school year.

“What we want to do is encourage as many present students as we can to come back, and help us shape what the college will be,” he said. “And then to be as public as we can with what ... the next version of Hampshire College will be.”

To prepare for the smaller student body, Hampshire has already started making cuts. Layoffs of nine staff were previously announced, with more planned for later this month. The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported this week that 34 food service workers at the college, employed by an outside company, will also lose their jobs.

Hampshire’s board is also seeing big changes. Board Chair Gaye Hill resigned earlier this week, and Vice Chair Kim Saal stepped down Friday. Trustee Luis Hernandez will serve as interim board chair.

With additional reporting by The Associated Press. This story was originally published by New England Public Radio.

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