Robert L. Paquette is Publius Virgilius Rogers professor of American history at Hamilton College and co-founder of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. His two previous articles are Dictatorships and Double Standards and Dictatorships and Double Standards, Part II.
Senator Pat Geary: “Was there always a buffer involved? Someone in between you and your possible superiors who gave the actual orders.
Willi Cicci: “Yeah, right, a buffer. The family had a lot of buffers.”
The Godfather: Part 2
Mendacity. What do you know about mendacity? I could write a book on it.
Big Daddy, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
On 17 January, the administration of Hamilton College announced that the Ferry Building on College Hill Road would now be rededicated as the home of the recently created Cultural Education Center (CEC). The CEC lies across the street from a capacious “beautifully renovated and expanded” building called the Sadove Center, whose very “planning, shape and purposes speak to the student-centeredness and diversity of the Hamilton campus.” The multimillion dollar Sadove Center lies next to an impressive “multifaceted” complex of yellow buildings called the Beinecke Student Activities Village. The multimillion dollar Beinecke Village was designed and completed not too long ago “to enhance the quality of social, cultural and educational programming.” The CEC, according to its director, will operate as a “safe space” for “multicultural” collectives like the Rainbow Alliance and the Womyn’s Center, whose members will, they say, not only feel more comfortable within the building’s compartments, but will use them as a base of operations to enhance the educational experience of all the campus’s denizens. Perhaps all this safe space is needed to justify the high cost of tuition or the absence of a core curriculum. For a student body of 1800 students, our little campus on the hill now has in addition to a Cultural Education Center, a Consulting Director of the CEC, Diversity Coordinating Council, Associate Dean of Students for Diversity and Accessibility, Chief Diversity Officer, Diversity and Social Justice Project, Director of Diversity Recruitment, Multicultural Alumni Relations Committee, Social Justice Initiative, Student Assembly Diversity and Accessibility Committee, and more.
The CEC will bear the names of two Hamilton trustees who labored assiduously to get this separatist safe space created: Drew Days, President Clinton’s solicitor general, and Arthur Massolo, a liberal businessman from Chicago. Both of these gentlemen, as it turns out, opposed the agreement reached by me and the administration in 2006 to establish on campus the Alexander Hamilton Center (AHC), a programmatic initiative dedicated to the traditions of Western civilization and the American ideals and institutions that sprung from it. How do I know this? A little birdie provided me with information from the October 2006 board meeting. In fact, it was Mr. Days, widely recognized as one of the more left-wing members of Hamilton’s board, who grabbed the charter of the AHC and proceeded to rewrite it over a period of three weeks without once contacting any or all of the AHC’s co-founders. He did so, I found out, without even having full information about the specifics of the deal reached with President Joan Hinde Stewart previous to the board meeting. So extensive was the rewriting of the original charter that after Mr. Days completed his task Dean of the Faculty Joseph Urgo refused to show the result to me and my two co-founders, knowing full well that we would not be pleased and probably insulted by the do-over—an unprecedented act, I might add, in the history of Hamilton College with respect to a programmatic initiative previously agreed to by the administration.
The AHC emerged, it should be recalled, in the aftermath of a widely publicized brouhaha regarding the hiring of Susan (the felon) Rosenberg to teach writing, the courting of Ward (the poseur) Churchill to campus as a distinguished scholar, and the role of Hamilton’s Kirkland Project, the extravagantly funded left-wing redoubt, that was behind the offers to both rent-a-radicals. Mr. Massolo, after years of quiescence on the board about the shenanigans of the Kirkland Project, which carried on business with virtually no administrative oversight, now felt compelled to iterate that if the AHC was to exist, it had to be governed the same way a (temporarily) reined-in Kirkland Project would now be governed. Today the Kirkland Project not only survives but thrives, though renamed as the Diversity and Social Justice Project (DSJP).
In truth, the founders of the on-campus AHC (now the independent Alexander Hamilton Institute, AHI) intended their endeavor to be an unsafe space where students, faculty, and others would come to have fierce but civil exchanges based on evidence and argument rather than on feelings and cant. The director of the CEC insists that the safe space of the CEC was created “in response to the needs of an increasingly diverse community.” With all due respect to the touted experience in these matters of Mr. Days and Mr. Massolo, what about intellectual diversity? For all of their professed commitment to diversity, there is at Hamilton College precious little intellectual diversity among the faculty. Most of the trustees know it, and the situation is getting worse. I have served Hamilton College as a demanding teacher and reputable scholar for thirty years. In that time, I have watched the faculty lurch ever more sharply left. I have made my concerns known about this trend over a period of twenty years. Two of the faculty members most closely associated with the Alexander Hamilton Institute, Jim Bradfield (a libertarian) and Ted Eismeier (a neoliberal) have announced their retirements. I am approaching retirement age as well, sooner if the trustees give me an offer I can’t refuse, though preferably not one from Luca Brasi. To Mr. Massolo, I have hurled this open challenge: name those faculty members at Hamilton College who are self-identified conservatives. Name one—just one—faculty member at Hamilton College either in a freshly tenured position or tenure-track position who identifies himself or herself as a conservative.
Perhaps Mr. Days and Mr. Massolo find this situation a cause for quiet rejoicing. I suspect they do. To judge from my own treatment at Hamilton College, to identify yourself as a philosophical conservative runs the risk of labeling you insane in the eyes of campus “progressives.” (Juan Williams, I feel your pain). Mr. Massolo, in fact, served as the trustee representative of the ethics and academic freedom subcommittee in the development of the College’s most recent strategic plan. When I submitted to that committee a carefully prepared document evidencing a long list of grievances that bespoke what I believe to be a serious pattern of discrimination against a conservative professor and asking for at least a respectful hearing, Mr. Massolo acted, I am told, like a Pro Bowl left tackle, protecting President Stewart’s backside. He would hear none of it; Paquette was not a subject for fit discussion, despite the pushing and prodding of at least one principled faculty member on the committee who has no love for me but understood full well the facts of my case and their relevance to ethics and academic freedom. In protecting the powers that be, the Hamilton family, as I’ve discovered, has a whole lot of buffers.
With funding rolling in, one wonders precisely how the CEC will enhance the education of this increasingly diverse community of students at an allegedly elite liberal arts college. Hamilton, after all, has a much ballyhooed open curriculum, which means no curriculum at all. Do Mr. Days and Mr. Massolo really believe that gifted students from, say, Senegal or Haiti or the Bronx, benefit more from the fare emanating from the CEC and allied programs than from an honestly taught core curriculum that demands attendance in foundational courses in math, science, English, history, and philosophy? Do Mr. Days and Mr. Massolo really believe the open curriculum and such glosses as the CEC advantage our students relative to their counterparts in nationalist China or India? Organizations like the CEC typically enhance the educational experience of all students on campus by increasing the already high levels of self-censorship among conservative students and others. What will count at the CEC is not Mr. Massolo’s or Mr. Days’ good will, but those folk who inhabit the center on a daily basis and those faculty and administrators who advise them. Will the CEC become a ghetto for activist student factions and their faculty coadjutors? Time, of course, will tell, but it is hard to imagine that the CEC will not become another hothouse of the kind of campus radicalism that has already transformed the campus and made it increasingly less hospitable to religious students, conservative students, and students who desire a traditional liberal arts education.
Enough is enough. For seventeen years I have held the title of Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History. Last week I sent a letter to Chairman of the Board A. G. Lafley, resigning my chair. Mr. Lafley, formerly CEO of Proctor & Gamble, is on record as having advanced P&G by, as he told Charlie Rose, taking complaints seriously. May I beg to differ? My letter contained no Jefferson-like statement of a long train of suffering. Nor did I ask him to resolve several rather Orwellian situations in which I’m currently embroiled with the current president and her buffers. Neither Mr. Days nor Mr. Massolo was decisive in my reaching of this decision, but they do qualify as contributory.
In resigning my chair, I now understand better the love of the founders for Cato the Younger. At the time of the Spartacus rebellion he refused to accept an award from his commander after the crushing defeat by slaves of a Roman army of which he was a part. His honor would not permit it. Honores mutant mores.