Five College Leaders Recommend Enhancements for Consortium’s Future

The leaders of the Five College Consortium campuses have endorsed a number of recommendations to enhance the organization’s effectiveness as a search begins for a new executive director to succeed Neal Abraham, who recently announced plans to step down in June 2018.

The following message was sent May 2 to faculty and staff at each of the five schools:

We write to inform you of important developments regarding the Five College Consortium, one of the nation’s oldest and most highly regarded higher education consortia and a significant asset in the success and reputation of each of our institutions.

As you might know, Neal Abraham, who has served as the executive director of Five Colleges since 2009, plans to retire in June 2018. We are grateful to Neal for his leadership, as well as his dedicated service to the consortium and to each of our institutions over the past eight years. Thousands of students and faculty across our five campuses have benefited from Neal’s work and the work of the team he has built.

This moment of leadership transition, coupled with significant shifts in the higher education landscape, provides an important opportunity to reflect on the consortium’s successes, assess its current capabilities and plan for its future.

To that end, we engaged the consulting firm Parthenon-EY to provide an independent organizational assessment of the consortium. We wanted to ensure that Five Colleges has the appropriate academic scope, structure and support to function as effectively as possible in service of its educational and scholarly mission. More than 75 of you spoke with Parthenon representatives last fall, individually or in focus groups. Thank you for your time, insights and candor. Your collective input, along with insights from other consortia around the country, provided a robust perspective on the consortium and identified opportunities that can better position the consortium for the future.

Building on this strong foundation and on insights provided through the Parthenon review, we, the Board of Directors (BOD) endorse the following recommendations to enhance the consortium’s effectiveness:

  1. Affirm the current mission of Five Colleges: “to sustain and enrich the excellence of its members—Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst—through academic and administrative collaboration.”
  2. Maintain existing governance groups (Deans Council, Principal Business Officers, IT Directors, Library Directors, Principal Student Affairs Officers), which will continue to meet as required.
  3. Integrate the work of governance groups under a joint steering committee (JSC) composed of three deans and two principal business officers; the JSC will meet periodically with the Five College Consortium directors to help set agendas and share information across  governance groups.
  4. Align key activities with governance groups to utilize the BOD and executive director (ED) more strategically (see Appendix A).
  5. Have the ED build and deepen the consortium’s programs in consultation with governance groups. Together, they will clarify the consortium’s role in specific initiatives—e.g., when it serves as an administrator, incubator, convener, partner or strategic leader.
  6. Significantly streamline the number of committees that need to be staffed and coordinated by Five Colleges, to increase efficiency and strategic focus.
  7. Streamline reporting lines to the ED to ensure the ED’s focus can remain on strategic and structural initiatives. Changes in reporting will be determined in consultation with the JSC and the BOD and will be informed by the new ED’s own experience as a leader and manager.

As a next step, we are retaining the firm of Isaacson, Miller to assist in the search for the new ED. Our hope is to have the ED on board by summer 2018. Smith College President Kathleen McCartney is chairing the search; the search committee (see Appendix B) includes representatives from each of the five member campuses. As the search proceeds, we will keep you informed. Thanks to this study, we believe the new ED will be strongly positioned for success.

Since its founding in 1965, Five Colleges has consistently sustained and enriched the excellence of its member institutions and deepened the intellectual strength of our campuses. The Five College community depends on each of you: enormously dedicated individuals who commit time to the organization as staff members, as members of governance groups or through any number of other roles associated with the consortium. We thank you for your commitment and dedication to Five Colleges and look forward to working with you as we further strengthen our consortium and position all of us for success.


Jonathan Lash, president, Hampshire College 

Biddy Martin, president, Amherst College

Kathleen McCartney, president, Smith College

Sonya Stephens, acting president, Mount Holyoke College

Kumble Subbaswamy, chancellor, University of Massachusetts Amherst