Hampshire College bickering continues, leaving students as a footnote

Two board members resign within a day of each other

FINANCIALLY INSECURE HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE is hit with another blow with the recent resignation of two trustees amid inner board squabbling. The one thing missing from the story is transparency, and who more than students will suffer from it?

Mingda Zhao, who is also an alumnus, stepped down Tuesday, saying he was forced out, and exposing some of the behind the scenes debate on what to do with the college. His resignation letter says the group is pushing for the school to close and be acquired by another academic institution.

President Miriam Nelson said in January that the institution is experiencing financial difficulties and is in search of a merger. UMass Amherst terminated its interested in that following Nelson’s announcement.

Fall enrollment fell by 15 percent from 2015 to 2018, and officials are not enrolling a full class this coming fall.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette obtained Zhao’s resignation letter, which alleges “bullying and fear tactics” by college leadership, and says he was accused of breaching confidentiality when he reached out to the presidents of Smith, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke colleges.

Zhao says he contacted those presidents to verify a claim from Nelson that those colleges were considering dropping Hampshire from their captive insurance company, which would throw Hampshire into deeper financial currents. Nelson declined to comment on the matter to the Gazette.

Board vice chairman Kim Saal and Fraser Beede, the chairman of the board’s trusteeship and governance committee, countered that a board member (without naming Zhao) resigned after “a significant breach of confidentiality … done without authorization of then Board Chair Gaye Hill.”

Hill resigned on Monday because of what she described as “vitriol” and slander against herself and her colleagues.

Whether or not Hampshire continues its independent existence, or is closed permanently weighs heavily on students, faculty, and staff.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

While it’s no surprise that the college has been cash strapped for years, it is imperative that transparency and decorum exist in the attempt to find a solution for the one-of-a-kind institution.

This is a lesson not learned during and after the closure of Mount Ida College in Newton when the school shuttered last year without a transition plan for incoming students. A year later, a lawsuit is pending against its trustees and top-decision makers with none other than students as plaintiffs.