Enter the Alexander Hamilton Center for the Study of Western Civilization. Announced in September, the new center, established with a $3.6 gift from Carl Menges, a Hamilton alumnus and board member, was to be dedicated to promoting “excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy, and capitalism as these ideas were developed and institutionalized in the United States and within the larger tradition of Western culture.”
Note the past tense. No sooner had Hamilton announced the creation of the AHC than the faculty went to town, intimidating the pusillanimous Hamilton administration and demanding that the center be subject to faculty oversight. The founders of the AHC responded with a revised charter that underscored that the center’s “its policies and operation comply with the resolutions of the Trustees of Hamilton College and their fiduciary responsibilities.” That was not enough. Within weeks, Hamilton’s President, Joan Stewart, capitulated to the very forces that had made Hamilton College last year’s poster child for academic fatuousness. Her administration announced that that the AHC would not be established “at this time.” Mr. Menges withdrew his gift and is reported to be considering leaving Hamilton’s board.
The AHC will explore the meaning and implications of capitalism, its genesis and impact; the role of markets, money and financial institutions in economic growth; the relations between economic freedom and political freedom; the construction of limited government; the rise of the modern, bureaucratic state and its impact on individuals and communities; the role of religion in American politics; separation of church and state; the nature of republics, democracies and empires; realism and idealism in the practice of United States foreign policy; and the role of the United States in world affairs.
and also this announcement.
Since The Husband is connected to Ham Col, this morning I called the College President’s office and was told that the negotiation over the Center reached an impasse over the issue of governance, not over the program itself. I strongly suggested that the college clarify its point publicly to both Real Clear Politics and to Roger Kimball, because from what I read in Kimball’s article, if the College were to behave in such a manner our support would end, immediately and permanently.
The person I talked to referred me to this article in Inside Higher Ed, Duel on Governance at Hamilton, which explains the issue on hand (and please read the article and all the commnents, too)
Sam Pellman, a professor of music and chair of Hamilton’s Committee on Academic Policy, said that organizers of the center approached his panel last summer with their idea. He said that, from the beginning, he and other committee members told the center’s organizers that their academic idea was strong, but that their governance plan was problematic.
“I told them I would be surprised if the college would ever agree to this,” Pellman said.
“For me, it’s a practical matter,” Pellman said, in explaining why it didn’t make sense to have an academic program at the college run by outsiders. To run a successful program, he said, “you have to involve as many people as you can. You have to trust your colleagues and bring them in as collaborators. The whole presumption of the charter was that we’re not sure we can trust the rest of the faculty to be involved in what we are doing.”
Pellman said that politics played no role in his view of the center, and that he did not think that was a motivator for other professors either. Issues of academic governance were what mattered, he said.
In fact, Pellman said part of his disappointment in the way things turned out is that the college won’t immediately have the academic programs that the center was talking about sponsoring. “I liked their idea,” he said. “I think: the more voices, the better.”
The issue of governance is not a trivial one, as the Robertson lawsuit with Princeton University’s Wilson School illustrates.
I urge all friends and alumni of Hamilton College to become involved in this process and to learn as much as they can before they make up their minds on the subject.
For now, the Alexander Hamilton Center is not dead yet, and the jury’s still out.
Update, Saturday 16 December: Commenter NB provided a link to Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform
We are a national group of alumni who desire to bring about constructive change at Hamilton. We are neither academics nor political activists but rather alumni looking to bring some constructive, unifying change to a school that seems to need it.
We were woken by the very visible matters of Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill. These events came on the heels of Tobin’s issues – the resignation for plagiarism, his handsome severance package and subsequently endowed chair – the handling of Coach Murphy, and other issues which we all know too well.
As we learned more, we came to the view that Hamilton would benefit from promoting
- the highest of scholarly standards
- openness & transparency in its governance
- diligence, focus, and independence in its trustees
- intellectual diversity and tolerance, and
- an environment where the free and open exchange of ideas also includes its alumni & governance
Its time to move forward and constructly so. We hope to offer an effective and complementary agenda to improve Hamilton and its goverance. Its time for some new ideas, some new blood, and greater transparency on the Hill.