WASHINGTON, DC—Officials at Hamilton College have nixed a new center that was to study Western civilization and honor the school’s namesake, Alexander Hamilton. The administration had already announced the center—and a multi-million-dollar pledge to fund it—but reversed itself under faculty pressure. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which has been working with concerned Hamilton alumni, deplored the decision.
“The students have lost at Hamilton,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “They would have benefited from the diverse ideas the Alexander Hamilton Center would have made available. But now they will not have the chance.”
According to its charter, the Center was to be devoted to the “study of freedom, democracy and capitalism…within the larger tradition of Western culture.” It would have been a part of a growing group of such centers nationwide, including the renowned James Madison Program at Princeton.
Hamilton announced the creation of the Alexander Hamilton 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’s charter.
The resolution that passed mentioned the Center’s governance, but the student newspaper noted that many objections came because some thought the political views of the Center’s founders were “offensive.” One faculty member told the media that “there are people on the faculty who think this center has an explicit, right tendency” and that “it suggests that the left got slapped down and so the right is being encouraged.”
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.”
This action comes in the wake of other recent moves by the college that have caused concern among many alumni. Last year, Hamilton’s Kirkland Project extended a speaking invitation to Ward Churchill (who has compared the victims of 9/11 to Nazis), and announced its intent to hire convicted felon Susan Rosenberg. After public outcry, neither decision was implemented.
The Kirkland Project was subsequently renamed the Diversity and Social Justice Project, whose mission includes fostering “intellectual activity necessary for social justice movements.” Also, in 2002, Hamilton’s then-president, Eugene Tobin, resigned under a cloud of plagiarism.
In the face of mounting concerns about Hamilton’s adherence to high academic standards and accountability, concerned alumni have run for Hamilton’s board of trustees, drawing nationwide headlines in the process.
“It’s clear that Hamilton administrators and trustees would rather kowtow to faculty politics than put the educational needs of students first,” Neal said. “The College has no trouble supporting a center whose stated purpose is political in nature. And yet it can’t find a way to permit a center studying Western civilization and honoring the college’s namesake. Alumni should rise up and demand answers!”
Hamilton’s board of trustees is scheduled to meet in New York City tomorrow.
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.