ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Hamilton College Digs a Deeper Hole

July 14, 2005 by ACTA

Hamilton College is currently running its first alumni trustee election in over thirty years--and, despite the terrible press Dartmouth garnered when it tried to place unreasonable restrictions on candidates' speech during its own recent alumni trustee election, Hamilton appears to be doing exactly the same thing. A reader writes:

Typically, the alumni trustees are nominated by the Alumni Council and, absent any nominees acting by petition, duly appointed. This year four alumni have submitted petitions for nomination as alumni trustee.

A series of events, some nationally known, some less so, have damaged the reputation of the school. These include but are not limited to the matters of Eugene Tobin's plagiarism, resignation, severance package, and the subsequent endowment of a chair in his name; Susan Rosenberg; and Ward Churchill.

A group of concerned alumni formed Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform (HCAGR) to review various matters of Hamilton College and offer suggestions and candidates to reform & improve governance of the College. Our objective is to restore Hamilton's reputation and credibility as one of the premier liberal arts institutions in the world.

We currently are sponsoring three candidates by petition for alumni trustee.

We created a web site,, early this year to serve as a forum [for] all views on Hamilton; submitted a position paper dated Feb. 17, 2005, that includes specific recommendations regarding governance and policy to the President and trustees of Hamilton College; and have gathered what we believe to be a significant following among like minded alumni.

We invite you, as a party interested in educational matters and freedom of speech, to comment on the rules regarding the conduct of the election.

Evidently, Hamilton feels a compelling need to limit what candidates can say and their manner of communication. Freedom of speech, it seems, only goes so far when it comes to elections run by Hamilton and its Alumni Council.

For example, candidates for Alumni Trustee "may not include any contact information or references to specific hard copy or online resource material..." in their statements of candidacy which are limited to "100 words in length" and will be mailed to all alumni. Further, "Candidates and their supporters are urged not to use email for campaign purposes" (source: Hamilton College Alumni Association, 2005 Alumni Trustee Election Procedures, June 17, 2005).

These specific prohibitions on the content of the statements of candidacy are tailored to prohibit the mention of HCAGR's website, the articles and views thereon, and its position paper of Feb. 17, 2005. The 100 word limitation is clearly designed to preclude any substantive discussion of issues, particularly in light of the other limitations.

See for yourself.

The rules of the election are posted on or at

Hamilton may be reeling from recent publicity disasters--but the administration's attempt to prevent additional ones by muzzling discussion about college governance during an election whose purpose is to elect a new member to its board of trustees bids fair to be the college's worst publicity disaster yet. Worse, it's a predictable and preventable one, one that arises not out of individual faculty members' misconduct or a committee's controversial decisions about whom to invite to speak, but rather out of the administration's shockingly naive notion that censorship is an effective method of damage control.

Read all about the election at Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform and read FIRE's commentary here. Dartmouth's dark horse candidates won; may Hamilton's alumni also succeed in electing a new trustee who genuinely champions the free exchange of ideas--even if that means criticizing the college itself.


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