On August 2nd the Chronicle of Higher Education announced Ralph Hexter, President of Hampshire College, would be stepping down. The article says details about the resignation are pending and the official statement from the College promises more information soon.
To those outside the Hampshire community, the news is surprising. Hexter seems like the perfect fit for Hampshire, a fiercely leftist Liberal Arts College nestled deep in the woods of Amherst, Massachusetts. Hexter is an Ivy-League-educated scholar of the classics, who excelled in fund raising. He was the first openly homosexual college president to marry legally.
As a student of Hampshire College the resignation comes as no surprise. Hexter has been humiliated, trashed, and beaten by the student body for the entirety of my three years at the school. During my freshman year, it was about security cameras in the parking lots. The student body cried bloody murder over privacy concerns. After a series of “all community meetings” the administration abandoned its plans.
Next came “action awareness week.” This was a student organized movement against Hampshire’s alleged “institutional racism.” Again, President Hexter was at the center of the turmoil. He was called a racist and given a hand written list of policy demands that he was expected to comply with.
Then, he had the misfortune to be slammed simultaneously by Alan Dershowitz and Students for Justice in Palestine about his noncommittal stance on Hampshire’s supposed divestment from Israel. On one hand he was criticized by SJP for not doing enough for divestment, removing all of the college investments in companies that do business with the Israeli military and government, and for not taking public anti-Israel stance as Hampshire did during apartheid in South Africa. On the other hand Dershowitz, the father of a Hampshire alum, called Hexter and the college anti-Semitic and threaten a boycott of his own against the school. This may have been the first time that Dershowitz and Students for Justice in Palestine have criticized the same person. After a series of open letters between Dershowitz and Hexter the issue was eventually resolved, but not after a long and embarrassing public relations battle.
A semester later Hexter announced, and was subsequently blamed for, Hampshire’s massive budget deficit. While he struggled to find a long-term fiscal solution he was repeatedly accused of trying to force Hampshire into the mainstream. Hexter was trying to increase the student population, have larger class sizes for freshman, and maybe consider offering graduate courses and programs. These measures were seen as diabolical, fascist, and damaging to Hampshire’s “philosophy”. When the President held meetings to address these concerns, he was accosted and harassed.
Despite these incidents, the straw that broke the President’s back may have come late in spring of 2010 when the student body was informed of a covert plan involving the relocation of several admissions offices. The administration wanted to move offices from the admissions building, located painfully far from Hampshire’s main campus, to the Cognitive Science building, a more centralized and convenient location. The students were enraged by the audacity of the plan. It was too expensive, it would take away from classroom space, and for Christ’s sake it would hurt the environment!
To protest the move nearly one hundred students paraded across Campus banging on drums and shouting about the great evil of moving admissions offices. The day after the parade, protesting students were hanging out in front of the social science building waiting to interrupt a secret meeting of the administration. They had received an anonymous tip that President Hexter was going to be meeting the admissions director to discuss the move. The protestors were planning on blocking the hallway and attending the meeting. After half an hour, the students realized that there was in fact no secret meeting.
It was a rag tag bunch looking for a fight. One student was a diehard communist from UMass jumping on the anti-authority bandwagon. Many were freshmen eager to debut their “protesting skillz,” coming equipped with freshly made signs. Denied their secret meeting, the group decided the only thing left to do was to storm the President’s office.
The crowd squeezed into the tiny office of the President. Outside I noticed one student scribbling on a sign. He was writing: “Hexter nobody likes you but you” while holding a bottle of champagne. He explained to me: “Hexter is a narcissist, he only cares about himself. All narcissists have their fall.”
Inside the office the President’s secretary was pleading with students, trying to explain that Hexter was on a conference call. She politely asked if we wanted to schedule a meeting, informing us that the President had office hours and met with students daily. The enraged students, filled with a passion only the proposed preliminary relocation of admissions office can unleash, were not having any of it. They wanted to talk to him now. They demanded answers!
Overwhelmed and frustrated, the secretary eventually retreated into side office and locked the door. This left the protestors all alone in the office. One student suggested breaking things. He was politely asked to leave by the rest of the group. Disgusted, the hipster hid behind his dark ray ban wayfarers and scoffed: “Let me know when you guys learn how to protest.”
Confused and uncoordinated, the group began chanting “Talk to us” and a select few began banging on the walls. One student even called Hexter from his own secretary’s phone. After fifteen minutes of this nonsense I went outside for a smoke. I saw the same student I spoke with earlier attempting to climb the wall of the President’s office to get a look inside his window. He was still holding the bottle of champagne.
The admissions drama would die with the semester, but the resentment towards Hexter and his administration culminated weeks later at graduation. A day usually reserved for celebration was transformed into a circus. A number of graduating seniors wore red arms bands as a sign of solidarity against the vast evils of President Hexter. Student speaker Daniel Schurr laid it on thick. He called the administration two-faced, corporate frauds, liars, and racist. Schurr called himself a survivor of the school, not a graduate. Then he took a nice pause before repeating that the administration was two faced and racist. The entire time Hexter took it with a smile. He even clapped at its conclusion. Then he gave a stale speech primarily focused on the Dreyfus Affair. The protesting students proceeded to interrupt, mock him and hold up more signs. During the diploma ceremony Schurr, along with his comrades in silly red arm bands, refused to shake the man’s hand. Mind you, this was after receiving their diplomas.
Official details may still be pending, but my bet is at this point Mr. Hexter had already packed his bags.