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.
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.