CLINTON, NY—Despite significant student demand, Hamilton College has scuttled a vibrant new center to study Western civilization and Alexander Hamilton. The creation of the new center was announced with fanfare earlier this year, only to be dropped in the wake of faculty objections. Since the announcement, Hamilton has increasingly drawn the ire of national commentators who say the university has allowed faculty politics to trump student needs.
“Students and alumni may rightly say the Grinch has come to Hamilton,” said Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “Instead of giving students a new center of learning, Hamilton is taking educational opportunities away—and drawing negative national attention as a consequence. It’s simply inexcusable!”
In a recent speech at the University of Notre Dame, Neal condemned the college’s actions. ACTA has been working with concerned Hamilton alumni for years to effect reforms on the campus.
Hamilton also received harsh criticism in an article appearing in the national magazine The New Criterion and a recent syndicated column, which called the college’s move an example of the “toxic spirit” that “clearly lives on at Hamilton”—among others.
The national publicity joins a chorus of student complaints, including two recent editorials in the Hamilton Spectator, the student newspaper, bemoaning the death of what was to be theAlexander Hamilton Center. In an editorial, students took the college to task: “Hamilton students have lost a great educational opportunity because people could not compromise.” According to the editorial:
We have lost, among other things, the opportunity for internships, fellowships, research stipends and a greater dialogue with other institutions of higher learning, in correspondence with the Center’s mission to open up communication with outside colleges and universities and engage in serious scholarship.
Another student columnist later added that the Center “would have significantly enhanced the students’ educational experience at Hamilton.” He added:
Yet again, many professors, because of their ideological biases, personal vendettas and politics, have deprived students of this great intellectual opportunity. They have ideological blinders on and cannot see that this center would greatly benefit the students, Hamilton and the larger academic community.
“Clearly, this is not just a local issue,” ACTA’s Neal said. “Hamilton’s distaste for intellectual diversity is the symptom of a much larger problem on our nation’s college campuses.”
In her speech at Notre Dame, Neal noted that the Alexander Hamilton Center “would have been a part of a growing group of such centers nationwide, including the renowned James Madison Program at Princeton headed by Professor Robert George.” But now, she said, the Center’s fate has become an example of a “prevalent culture on the modern campus that is politicized, one-sided, coercive, and manipulative.” She continued:
This situation is the product of nearly three decades of postmodernist transformation of the academy. Whereas political bias used to be considered the enemy of dispassionate teaching and scholarship, postmodernism has turned partiality into a virtue….
Too often the ambitions of the postmodernist academy reflect narcissistic faculty interests rather than student needs; academic freedom without academic responsibility; political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically.
According to its charter, the Alexander Hamilton Center was to be devoted to the “study of freedom, democracy and capitalism…within the larger tradition of Western culture.” Hamilton announced the creation of the Center on September 6. It then announced a $3.6 million pledge from a life trustee on October 13. But in the process, the Hamilton faculty voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Center.
Amid the controversy, a dean sent an e-mail on Nov. 27 saying that “now is not the time to proceed with the establishment of the center on campus.” An announcement was also posted on the Hamilton website saying: “Hamilton College has announced that the Alexander Hamilton Center will not be established at this time due to a lack of consensus about institutional oversight of the Center as a Hamilton program.”
“Hamilton is due for a serious course correction,” Neal concluded. “It has just hired a new dean for diversity issues, but if it continues to neglect diversity of thought, its reputation will be seriously harmed.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a bipartisan, national nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability in higher education. ACTA has a network of trustees and alumni across the country and has issued numerous reports including How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.