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No More Pencils, No More Books?  No, Not Quite That Far — But Hampshire College Ditches Majors, Departments

October 18, 2019

Hampshire College, retooling itself after a near-death experience several months ago, is getting rid of traditional majors and departments and instead letting students design their own curriculum.

“Hampshire is removing all barriers across fields of study to create a truly transformative liberal arts college:  no majors, no departments, no curricular divisions, liberating students to formulate questions that have never been asked before,” the college announced in a press release earlier this week.

Departments and majors are too limiting for modern life, college officials say.

“The complex problems of the 21st century cannot be addressed within the traditional silos of academic departments and majors. From climate change to economic and social inequality, from artificial intelligence to strengthening the vitality of the arts, the challenges of today’s world are interconnected and require multiple perspectives, methods of inquiry, and an entrepreneurial mindset beyond what a traditional liberal arts education can provide,” the college said in a written statement Wednesday, October 16.

“… Students will have the freedom to design their own academic program with the guidance of faculty and staff, a hallmark of the Hampshire experience,” the college said. “The most successful artists, entrepreneurs, researchers, and activists know that the greatest solution to any complex problem comes from an ability to look beyond assumptions, identify interdependencies, and create disruption.”

The new model is expected to be ready for the fall of 2020.

Hampshire College is a small nontraditional liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. It admitted its first class in 1970.

In November 2016 some students tore down the American flag and burned it after Donald Trump was elected president, leading the then-president of Hampshire College to take down the flag indefinitely. It was later put up again.

In January 2019 school officials said they were looking to merge with another institution, but eventually decided to continue as a standalone institution.

This fall, college officials are preparing to defend the college’s curriculum for accreditation before the New England Commission of Higher Education.

College officials decided to retool the structure of the education the school offers. They considered a model that envisioned more collaboration among students, but rejected it for ditching departments and majors, a bolder approach that the school’s board of trustees says “represents a genuine reinvention of higher education.”

The school’s board of trustees said it doesn’t expect that Hampshire College will meet the standards set by other schools of higher education, but rather will exceed them and surpass all other schools.

“The College will once again establish itself as higher education’s unrivaled leader by building a genuinely unique, clearly relevant, and authentically Hampshire approach to the student experience,” the Hampshire board of trustees said in a written statement earlier this month.

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