A New Face at Hampshire - Q&A with President Edward Wingenbach

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE - Humans of Hampshire College interviewed Edward Wingenbach, the eighth president of Hampshire College. Read Ed's story below in Q&A form and learn about his experience at Hampshire.

Where are you from?

That's a complicated question for someone who's almost 50, right?  I am most recently from Ripon College in Wisconsin, where I was the Dean of Faculty and then the acting president.  I spent 15 years prior to that at the University of Redlands in Southern California, which is in Redlands. That's probably where I spent most of my adult life and 

that's where I met my spouse, and you know, where we had our kids, and so, as an adult, I think that's kind of where I'm from.  But I grew up in Ohio near Cleveland. And at the University of Redlands, I was a professor of political science. And for the last five years before I left, there was also the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs.  So I was overseeing, you know, curriculum development and accreditation and program development, and that kind of stuff.

Where did you go to college?

I went to Lake Forest College.  Not Wake Forest, which is North Carolina, Lake Forest, which is a small college outside of Chicago.  I loved it. I said this to people before that I didn't know about Hampshire College. I grew up in a rural town in Ohio, but the main reason I went to Lake Forest is because, at the time, they were one of the few schools that didn't have any requirements.  There was no distribution requirements, you could take whenever you wanted. The only requirement was that you had to have a major, but they also had a program called the Independent Scholars Program where you could design your own major. I liked the idea that I could make my own path, and Lake Forest was the first place I saw that had that.

It sounds like Hampshire College is suiting you well?

University of Redlands, it's a liberal arts college with some graduate programs, but if you visited the campus, it feels like a 2500 student liberal arts college, undergraduate liberal arts college.  They have something called the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, which was originally Johnston College, founded in the year before Hampshire on the campus at the University of Redlands, and it's the same model as Hampshire's: Narrative evaluations, self-designed course of study, students propose a graduation contract as a sophomore, that they have to defend to a committee of faculty and students that says, "Here's what I'm going to study.  Here's how I'm doing it." And then, you know, as seniors, you have to go back in and you revise your graduation contract 

and defend that again.  It's similar to [Hampshire's] process here.  That's the learning community. The community governs itself by the weekly community meeting that faculty and staff and students all attend, and it's all done by consensus.  If you're a faculty member at Redlands, you can affiliate with the Johnson Center as much or as little as you want, and I'd spend as much time as I could there, that was my home.

Why did you choose to become Hampshire's next president?

I think what Hampshire does is the ideal for what a liberal arts education should be.  And I think we talked to faculty and at other colleges and parents often. If you asked them, "What should colleges do? What should it be like?" I think lots of them will describe what Hampshire does, and then say, "But of course, we can't do that," right?

But you can do it.  We do, do it. I've been an administrator for a long time and one of the questions I asked myself was this thing we're doing is going to make us more like Hampshire, right?  Is it going to make us a better institution, make us more student-directed. Give us an opportunity to give students the kind of feedback that is developmental rather than evaluative, and move people towards questions and projects.  

And if it doesn't do that, why are we doing it? When it was clear that Hampshire was having trouble, we were watching it in dismay and when the opportunity came to try to help Hampshire survive and thrive, then it was an obvious thing for me to want to do.  I like challenges. It's a big challenge, so that's good, too.

Last spring Hampshire went through a rough patch.  Do you think we've turned a corner now?

I think it's the wrong way to pose the question.  What I've said to people is that the activism of the spring gives us the opportunity to save Hampshire College.  But the challenge that we face over the next several years, from not having admitted a first year class, is actually significantly larger than the challenge that the college was actually 

facing last year.  The financial challenges that led the previous administration to think that we needed a merger are not that different from the kind of challenges that lots of colleges face.  It seems big if you're looking up the street and thinking, "Well, you know, you don't have $2 billion, how do you survive?" There's only 15 schools like that.

The place that I came from, Brooklyn College, didn't have anywhere near the kind of revenue that Hampshire had and a similar student-to-faculty ratio.  We're at a similar amount of attention given to students, that you could do what we do here at Hampshire on slightly less money. I think the challenge was trying to figure out how to do that. And I think they just struggled to figure out how they could make that work.

If we'd taken a class, we'd have a roughly balanced budget, but if you don't take a class, that's about a $9 million hit to your revenue.  It gets a little smaller over time because you'd lose some of those students over time and you get transfer students. It will get transfer students, but that's over the course of four years.  It's an immense amount of money that we have to make up in other ways. So where we are right now is that we have a clear model for how to make a Hampshire College education available to students in a way that we can afford, but we have to make up the gap from not having a class by fundraising over the next three or four years and it's a big climb.  It's a big ask and it's doable. Our last big fundraising campaign was a four-year campaign, it raised, I think, $44 million. That's like $11 million a year.

And that's a harder thing to ask. You ask somebody, "If you give us $100,000, and we'll name an office after you in the Kern Center" is different from "Give us $100,000 because we need to support students directly so that we can get to a point that's sustainable."  It requires a little more persuasion. It's doable. I saw in the news in Hampshire that the plan is to raise. I guess it is $100 million? We toyed with some numbers that were thrown around last spring. We're trying to figure out where it will be. We'll be announcing an official campaign, actually, right after Thanksgiving.  But what we said is that we need to raise $60 million between now and 2024. And we have $10.4 million, right now, of that already.

How have the Five Colleges helped Hampshire?

Quite a bit.  One, they are allowing Hampshire students to take more classes than normal.  That was a generous thing for them to offer. Now, there are fewer Hampshire seats being taken up in the five colleges right now than there had been in the past because we have fewer students, so the burden on them has been decreasing, actually.  But that was a generous thing to offer, very supportive, very helpful. Secondly, and I think most importantly, they offered spots to a lot of our faculty members in visiting positions. There are 26 faculty members who are working in the five colleges over the next one to three years.  Some of them are on one-year contracts that might get renewed, some of them are on two-year contracts, some are on three-year contracts. Then there's a couple other people who are at other places around, like a professor at 

the Rhode Island School of Design, then there's someone at UMass Lowell. The Five Colleges were the bulk of these. And that's what helped us get the biggest expense for a small college is compensation and the largest share of compensation is faculty.

How has your experience at Hampshire been so far?

It's been exhilarating and exhausting and exciting, particularly the really engaging and rapid work to try to think about what a consensus vision for a smaller Hampshire that's recommitted to its founding principles.  That was a really exciting process. And it was a huge amount of work, but it was really satisfying work because I see how engaged people were and how many people from across the staff, faculty, students, alums, and trustees are all so passionate about what we do here and thinking creatively about how we can deepen it for the next 50 years.  Now that work is being translated from principles into actual curriculum and policy and student activity opportunities. That work is going on now separately, but that was really fun and exciting for me too. My role has now shifted a little bit to trying to identify external sources of funding. And that's a different kind of work which involves often trying to describe what we do at Hampshire College in ways that are understandable to people and that are exciting to people who, in some cases, went to Hampshire when it was a very different place, or in some cases, don't really know Hampshire very well, but should want to support us and try to persuade them about that.

Tell me why you like to be addressed as Ed and not Mr. President?

Well, there's probably a couple of reasons.  One is that I'm, both by temperament and by professional commitment, an advocate for radical or participatory democracy.  I studied democratic theory as my scholarly work and particularly radical and egalitarian models for democratic participation and consensus building.  And so I'm sort of philosophically and temperamentally opposed to or uncomfortable with hierarchy. Recognizing that said, that hierarchies exist and sometimes have to exist.  Somebody has to be able to make decisions about stuff. And what's important is that the way that people are appointed to those positions is clear and transparent and justifiable, and that the way that people in those positions make decisions is accountable and transparent.  So that's one reason why I think my job and my role as president is kind of a steward of what we're doing as a community, but it's not something that belongs to me.

And so I'm uncomfortable with that kind of confusion between a person and a role.  I adopt the role on behalf of a community and a mission and a set of ideals. I have that role because I believe in those things and I want us to do it together.  We should all own that stuff. We should all be wanting to pursue that. So that's a kind of complicated answer for it. The other is I just think I've always been in environments that were first name.  That was the culture of Lake Forest College when I was there. Nobody was ever called "Professor," everybody was first-name basis.

And what is your favorite part about Hampshire College?

My favorite part about Hampshire College is getting to ask students what their question is.  And I have yet to have an answer to that question that hasn't been really interesting and intellectually engaging.  I didn't ask [HOHC] because we jumped right into this. When I meet with students, in any context, I ask them, "What is your question?"  You have one student who's thinking, "Well, I'm thinking about this and I'm thinking about this, or I'm thinking about this." And that's kind of an exciting way just to watch students.  "Oh, look at all those wonderful interests. It's gonna be really interesting to talk to you four years from now." Then students who are farther along, who have often really precise projects and they can sort of walk back the intellectual genealogy that got them to that point.  It's just such an exciting way to think about what education does. And to see that ideal actually happening is my favorite part of being here.

What is one thing you would you like to tell incoming first-year students?

Wow, just one thing?

Or a bunch of things!

The most important thing is that the kind of education you are challenged to do at Hampshire is something you can't do anywhere else and it will better prepare you for success in whatever it is you end up doing after college.  You should come to Hampshire because of that because of that combination of the way you will be pushed and challenged and improved by owning your own education and having to find your own questions. But then you should also come here because that's what want to do.  If you want to go to college because you want to be successful, well, that's the best way to do it. That's what I would say.

How are you liking the cold?

Oh, it's not as cold as Wisconsin.  You all had the polar vortex here last year too.

The polar vortex in Wisconsin, we were -29 °F (-34 °C) without wind chill.  With the wind chill, it was -60°F (-51.1°C). Here it got a little below zero. It's like 30 degrees colder.  So you look at the winter, the average temperatures here are probably 15, 20 degrees above where they would usually be.  So, this is actually gonna be warmer.

How do you like Western Massachusetts?

It's beautiful.  These are absolutely beautiful places to hike and to be outside.  My family likes to hike and camp, things like that, but while also being here where there's everything you might want to do in the city, there's at least one or two versions of that here.

Read even more about Ed: https://www.hampshire.edu/presidents-office/edward-wingenbach-0

A special thanks goes to President Edward Wingenbach, The Office of the President and to the Communications team!

56 views0 comments