The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Hampshire College

Hampshire College campus photographed 21 April 2001
Hampshire College campus photographed 21 April 2001

Hampshire College is an experimenting private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. Its alternative curriculum is very different from most traditional colleges'. It was founded in 1970 as an experiment in alternative education by four other colleges in the Pioneer Valley: Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Together, they are known as the Five Colleges.

The College is generally well-reputed for its film, writing and art programs. In some fields it is among the top undergraduate institutions in graduate-school enrollment; fifty-six percent of its alumni have at least one graduate degree. Its School of Cognitive Science was the first interdisciplinary undergraduate program in cognitive science and still has few peers.



Hampshire College describes itself as "experimenting" rather than "experimental" in order to emphasize the continually changing nature of its curriculum. However, from its inception the curriculum has generally had certain non-traditional features:

  • An emphasis on project work as well as, or instead of, courses.
  • Detailed written evaluations for completed courses and projects, rather than letter or number grades. Additionally, portfolio evaluation is used throughout.
  • A curriculum centered on student interests, with students taking an active role in designing their own concentrations and projects.

The curriculum is divided into three "Divisions" rather than four years, and students complete these Divisions in varying amounts of time.

  • Division I, the distribution stage, requires students to complete one course in each of the five Schools of Thought and three other courses, either on or off campus. (Until Fall 2002, Division I required student-directed independent projects ; the new system, designed with the goal of quicker and smoother student progress, has caused some controversy.)
  • Division II, the concentration or "major," requires students to learn about a single subject (which may or may not be a traditional academic field) in detail. Each student is responsible for designing their own Division II in cooperation with a committee of at least two faculty members. Many students choose a faculty committee whose members represent their own interdisciplinary interests.
  • Division III, the advanced project, requires students to complete an in-depth project in their field of choice (which is generally related to the Division II field). Division III generally lasts one year and is completed while taking few or no courses (and certainly none unrelated to the Division III topic). A Division III topic can be a long written academic paper (in which case it is best considered something between a traditional college's "bachelor's" or "honors" thesis and a Master's or other graduate thesis), but it can also be a collection of creative work (writing, painting, photography, and film are popular choices) or a hands-on engineering, invention, or social organizing project.

The Hampshire College faculty are organized not in traditional departments but in broadly defined Schools. The Schools' names and definitions have varied over the College's history, but there have always been between three and five of them. As of 2003, the Schools are:

  • Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies (HACU): includes film, some studio arts, literature, media studies, and most philosophy
  • Social Science (SS): includes most sociology and anthropology, economics, history, politics, and some psychology
  • Natural Science (NS): includes most traditional sciences, mathematics, and biological anthropology
  • Cognitive Science (CS): includes linguistics, some psychology, neuroscience, and computer science
  • Interdisciplinary Arts (IA): includes performing arts, some studio arts, and creative writing


Though the college opened to students in 1970, its history dates to the immediate aftermath of World War II. The first "New College Plan" was drafted in 1958 by the presidents of the then-Four Colleges; it was revised several times as the serious planning for the College began in the 1960s. Many original ideas for non-traditional ways of arranging the College's curriculum, campus, and life were discarded along the way, but many new ideas generated during the planning process were not described in the original documents.

For several years in the early 1970s, directly after its founding, Hampshire College was the most selective undergraduate program in the United States. Its selectivity declined thereafter, but the school's applications increased in the late 1990s, making admissions more difficult. The College's selectivity in admissions is now comparable to many other small liberal arts colleges'.

The school has struggled with financial difficulties since its founding, and ceasing operations or folding into the University of Massachusetts Amherst were seriously considered at various points. Today the school is on more solid financial footing (though still without a sizable endowment), a condition often credited to the fundraising efforts of its most recent presidents, Adele Simmons and Gregory S. Prince, Jr. . The College has also distinguished itself recently with plans for the future including a "sustainable campus plan" and a "cultural village" through which organizations not directly affiliated with the school are located on its campus. Currently this "cultural village" includes the National Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

On April 1, 2004, Prince announced his retirement, effective at the end of the next academic year. On April 5, 2005, the Board of Trustees named Ralph Hexter , presently a dean at University of California, Berkeley's College of Letters and Science, as the college's next president, effective August 1.

Some of the most important founding documents of Hampshire College are collected in the book The Making of a College (MIT Press, 1967; ISBN 0262660059). The Making of a College is (as of 2003) out of print but available in electronic form from the Hampshire College Archives [1]. A new edition is rumored to be in progress.

Despite its small size and short history, Hampshire has made its own mark on pop culture and political activism. Its annual Halloween party, once legendary for its ubiquitous debauchery and hallucinogenic drugs, is said to have been profiled by Rolling Stone magazine. It was the first college in the nation to decide to divest from apartheid South Africa in 1979 (with the nearby University of Massachusetts Amherst rapidly coming second). In November 2001, a controversial all-community vote at Hampshire declared the school opposed to the recently-launched War on Terrorism, another national first which drew national media attention, including scathing reports from the FOX News Channel and the New York Post ("Kooky College Condemns War"). Until he left the show, Saturday Night Live had a regular sketch, "Jared's Room", starring Jimmy Fallon which purports to take place at Hampshire College but is grossly inaccurate, referring to non-existent buildings ("McGuin Hall") and featuring yearbooks, tests, seniors, fraternities and football team, none of which have ever existed at the school.

Current issues

In the spring of 2004, a student group calling itself the Re-Radicalization of Hampshire College emerged with a manifesto called The Re-Making of a College, critiquing what they see as a betrayal of Hampshire's founding ideas in alternative education and student-centered learning. On May 3, the group staged a demonstration which packed the hall outside the President's office during an administrative meeting. Response from the community has been amicable, but none of the manifesto's major demands has yet been fulfilled.

The Re-Radicalization movement is responding in part to a new "First-Year Plan" entailing changes to the structure of the first year of study in the curriculum. Beginning in the Fall of 2002, the requirements for passing Division I were changed so that first-year students would no longer be required to complete independent projects (see Curriculum above). Though presently a major source of contention, this change is rapidly fading from memory as most of the students who entered into the old plan have graduated or are in their final year.

Alumni and faculty

Well-known Hampshire College alumni include:

Well-known past and present faculty include:

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-19-2005 23:41:35
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