Hampshire College AAUP Chapter

By Kelly Hand

Faculty at Hampshire College decided to revive the campus’s long-dormant AAUP chapter in spring 2018 after the college’s administration abruptly froze salaries, cut the college’s retirement contributions by 1.5 percent, and introduced a “voluntary separation incentive program” intended to cut staff and faculty costs, all without prior consultation with the campus community. These alarming developments made faculty aware that they needed to push back against the erosion of shared governance at Hampshire, a small liberal arts college with an innovative, nontraditional approach to undergraduate education. At the start of the fall 2018 semester, the chapter established itself and was formally recognized by new president Miriam Nelson.

In October 2018 the administration declared that the college had been able to balance the 2018–19 budget. It was a shock to all but a handful of individuals—including key administrators and the chair of the thirty-one-member board of trustees—when the president announced on January 15, 2019, that the college was seeking a long-term strategic partner “to achieve a thriving and sustainable future for Hampshire” and that the board was considering not enrolling a new class for fall 2019. The campus community mobilized immediately to demand accountability and transparency from the administration— whose actions, which included laying off staff in admissions and development, seemed to undermine the college’s chances for survival even while purporting to serve that goal. The new AAUP chapter played a critical role in that mobilization.

After the board voted on February 1 not to admit a new class for fall 2019, the chapter’s intensive advocacy efforts changed the course of events and helped to shift the focus from merging with another institution to saving the college as well as faculty positions. Since the resignation of Nelson and the chair and vice chair of the board of trustees in early April, the college has raised almost $10 million, hired a new president, and determined to enroll a full class in fall 2020. While much hard work remains to be done, at a time when the future of small colleges is increasingly in jeopardy, the chapter’s fierce battle for Hampshire is an inspiring example of faculty insisting on having a voice. We learned more about the Hampshire College AAUP chapter from chapter leaders Jennifer Hamilton, Roosbelinda Cárdenas, Michele Hardesty, and Lynda Pickbourn.

Why did reviving the AAUP chapter seem like an effective way to address faculty concerns and how did you get the process started?

When we found out about the reduction in contributions to our retirement accounts, right on the heels of the “voluntary separation incentive program” and the salary freeze announcement, there was a widespread awareness that we were being asked to accept these decisions without being able to discuss them, much less participate in making them. We understood that these decisions had an impact on the vibrancy of academic programs, our ability to attract and retain faculty, and ultimately the sustainability of the institution itself. Reviving the AAUP chapter was part of a larger effort to reclaim the faculty’s advisory and governance roles on campus and to build collective power and community. Within a week or so, we had a large number of faculty either signed up as AAUP members or pledged to do so.

What were the benefits and challenges of working as a chapter alongside other groups? While we had elected officers in spring 2018, we were unprepared for the pace of change and the sheer amount of work after January 15, 2019. We began having weekly meetings where we established working groups (on law and policy, media and communications, student and staff liaisons, and so on) and made decisions about our steps moving forward. Soon, nearly all faculty, including visiting professors, faculty associates, and adjuncts, were members of the chapter.

We suddenly became communications and educational policy experts—crafting press releases and reading reports about other college closures—and labor organizers mobilizing people across campus. We were challenged by the need to work nimbly, collectively, and democratically, building a movement in a matter of weeks.

The Hampshire College AAUP chapter worked closely with a variety of groups across the Hampshire community—including students, staff, parents, and alumni—and across the Five College Consortium, a group of liberal arts colleges in western Massachusetts. It was challenging to work across constituencies with diverse and sometimes conflicting interests, but with the support of sociologist and labor organizer Dan Clawson—our Five College colleague—we managed to establish a coalitional structure that strengthened the demands of each of the different groups, including those of the AAUP chapter.

What has been the greatest achievement of the AAUP chapter in this crisis?

Our most significant achievement was convincing the administration of the college to achieve a 45 percent cut to the academic affairs budget for 2019–20 without the forecasted faculty layoffs. The decision not to admit a full class in fall 2019 resulted in a significant drop in projected revenues for the college and justified many cuts. Prior to President Nelson’s resignation, the administration was focused on layoffs: Hampshire laid off nine employees from the admissions and advancement offices in mid- February and thirty-four unionized dining workers at the beginning of April, and we were informed that larger layoffs were on the horizon for all employees, including up to half of the faculty. We tried to point out the devastating impact this would have for faculty and staff, and for the college’s ability to retain existing students. We pointed out that faculty layoffs on this scale would result in a death spiral for the college, as students would transfer in droves, leading to further budget cuts, possible loss of accreditation, and the eventual closure of the college. We were also concerned that layoffs in spring would leave faculty with few options, given the academic hiring cycle.

After the appointment of Ken Rosenthal as interim president, we were able to convince the administration to work with us collectively across ranks, instead of creating and applying criteria for layoffs. Ultimately we reached an agreement about what would happen if faculty retired, took temporary leaves of absence to teach at other colleges, or temporarily reduced their FTEs. Faculty who could take those options did so, allowing others who could not (including some visiting faculty) to stay in full-time positions on the home campus. It was not a perfect outcome: the appointments of a couple of long-term visiting professors were not renewed, and at least twenty-four staff colleagues were laid off on April 30. However, the threatened massive layoffs of faculty did not come to pass. Many faculty on leave or in early retirement will continue to advise students at Hampshire, with compensation, and these continuities will be crucial for retaining students while also demonstrating to the college’s accrediting agency that we have adequate educational resources. In spite of the significant sacrifices by many faculty members, this is a remarkable achievement for such a small and new chapter.

What are the chapter’s goals for this academic year and what is the chapter’s long-term vision for Hampshire?

We want to ensure that the faculty who remain at Hampshire next year are not subjected to an increase in their workload. Faculty workload at Hampshire College has always been higher than average, and now that the college is being forced to make do with even fewer resources, the biggest challenge is to create a livable working environment for those faculty who remain. We also want to make sure that faculty on temporary leaves of absence are kept informed and included in decision-making and that the spring agreement about leaves is honored. And we want to know how the college will go about hiring for staff positions and support laid-off and current staff. We look forward to working with our new president, Ed Wingenbach, to meet these goals this academic year and help create the conditions that will guarantee a full entering class in fall 2020.

In the longer term, we would like to see a rejuvenated Hampshire College with an administration that is willing to work with the chapter to address the kinds of labor practices that became entrenched and institutionalized in the years during which the faculty were not organized with the AAUP.

What advice would you offer to faculty at other small colleges vulnerable to financial challenges?

Organize even if you can’t unionize. An organized faculty is always stronger than a fragmented one. Don’t accept the argument that layoffs are inevitable. Budget cuts may be unavoidable, but layoffs can be avoided if the administration works with the faculty to achieve these cuts in ways that preserve the integrity and quality of the education that students receive while at the same time protecting jobs.

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