Don't Radically Change H-SC

Published 7:55 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Editor, The Herald:

I respectfully and strongly disagree with Mr. Porterfield on three of his four suggestions for how to save Hampden-Sydney College from its “fiscal cliff,” as he put it, in his March 27 letter to the editor.

First of all, I question whether Hampden-Sydney is on the verge of bankruptcy and has been for the past 238 years, as Mr. Porterfield implies. I have not read any figures. I have heard rumors, however, that the college is failing to raise as much money as it would like.

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Next, Mr. Porterfield's suggestion that Hampden-Sydney become co-educational is anathema to the spirit and tradition of the institution: “To form good men and good citizens in an atmosphere of sound learning.” Typically, boys from traditional and conservative families go to Hampden-Sydney partly because it is male-only. Those second, third, and fourth-generation Hampden-Sydney students help preserve the culture and traditions that have been passed on from generations before. It helps keep Hampden-Sydney special. By making the school co-educational, the prospective students from those families may very well seek an education somewhere else. And on a more practical note, maintaining an all-male learning environment keeps the boys' eyes on their papers, where they should be-not on the latest temptation who strolls into the classroom.

Also, Mr. Porterfield's idea of recruiting more students from the Northeastern part of the country would undermine the college's culture and way of life. Those traditional and conservative families mentioned above are also typically Southern. People in the North are far different from Southerners-so different, in fact, that many Southerners would prefer to avoid them, and vice versa. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live by, learn with, and be around people who are similar and from the same region as oneself.

Artificially inserting an abnormal number of Northerners into the college would drive out many of the Southerners, who would instead look for colleges more suited to their tastes. The college's culture would change fundamentally, and fewer prospective students from the institution's traditional base would apply for admittance.

Last, Mr. Porterfield's desire to shift some of Hampden-Sydney's classes to online Internet learning would completely overturn the educational environment of the college. Hampden-Sydney is a traditional liberal arts institution, not a trade school. Classroom instruction allows a more fluid exchange of thoughts and ideas between the professors and students. A traditional education involves more than just memorizing information; that type of instruction is more suited for two-year vocational or community colleges. A traditional education involves teaching the student how to cultivate ideas, how to think, debate, and interact with his fellow citizens to become a functioning and contributing member of his local community. That is what Hampden-Sydney is, and that is why people go there. And that is difficult to accomplish while sitting alone in front of a computer screen.

My overall point is this: fundamentally and radically changing Hampden-Sydney is not the answer to its fiscal trouble. On the contrary, it would likely drive away money-holding alumni who would cease to recognize their own alma mater, while simultaneously tearing apart the very fabric of the institution and driving away the college's prospective-student base. The college has been in existence for the past 238 years for a reason-it was doing something right.

Perhaps the board or whoever should look back to see when things went wrong, what events occurred at that time, and make the appropriate changes to get the college back on track.

Angus McClellan

Class of 2007