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Opinion

Face Off: Should Hamilton sit down or stand up?

By Lenny Collins '15, Patrick English '15

February 27, 2014

Sit down: Hamilton must address student voices

In the modern age, people are unwittingly disconnected from the spirit driving the political activism of 1960s and 70s. It is often believed that people of all social sects, races, religions and ethnic backgrounds held hands as they marched down Washington. But many walls had to be demolished between people before advocacy parties such as the civil rights and political equality movements were even considered feasible. Today, with the significant innovations of the digital age, people can advocate their views to the entire globe in less than twenty-four hours, and can see comments about different political issues featured on major news stations. However, this sense of instant gratification has distorted the intimate details necessary to successfully align the process for developing political consensus.

The Hamilton College mission statement, found online, contains the sentence, “The College encourages respect for political, religious, ethnic, racial, physical, generational, sexual, and affectional differences because such respect promotes free and open inquiry, independent thought, and mutual understanding.” Although elegantly phrased, this ideal has not been fully realized within a campus environment where we are still developing mutual respect for various political and cultural groups. How, therefore, can Hamilton College take any kind of political position if the community is still divided on political issues that, as of yet, have not even been properly addressed?

The defining characteristic about a political body is the principle by which all members are unified; each member is committed to serving the organization not because it is considered politically correct or because it will make him or her a better job candidate; they commit because they intuitively know there is nothing they would rather be doing. Hamilton College continues to struggle to build a community because students remain unaware about the grievances discussed regularly in cultural organizations such as BLSU, Rainbow Alliance, ACS, HACE and even SASA. Granted, the problems of social division can be considered diminutive when compared to the issues faced by the women of Kirkland College who paraded the campus in the 1970s. However, we seem to embody a community of strangers who nonchalantly flip through pages instead of carefully analyzing the details of each other’s lives.

Last week, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education described scholarly associations’ deliberations about integrating activism into the world of academia. An important voice in this debate, Stanley N. Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies, thinks “that most scholarly associations are fairly conservative themselves when it comes to taking public positions.” Some may believe that Hamilton, by incorporating a liberal arts curriculum, does not face the conservative wall preventing scholars from reaching the general community. Yet when Hamilton struggles to publicly acknowledge the sectarian divisions influencing our social atmosphere, the question remains: How distant from these conservative positions could our college accredit itself? Political activism is a tool that has more power in a world that is, thanks to modern technology, more tightly knit than ever before. Before even considering taking a political stance, we must understand what Hamilton means to each of us. We must all have a voice, and we are obliged to use our voices if we have any hope of becoming a community, much less a political institution.

Lenny Collins '15

Stand up: Colleges should promote political diversity

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Taking Political Stands Does Not Sit Well With All Scholarly Groups,” Beth McMutrie pointed out that several scholarly colleges and organizations avoid taking political stances on major issues. The American Economic Association, for example, “has never taken a position on any political issue.” William D. Norhaus explains that such opinionated statements would be “unnecessary, polarizing, controversy-stoking, and a distraction from the real and important work of economic research and education.”

This debate can easily be expanded to colleges like Hamilton. While it may be surprising, Hamilton is already taking political stances in several arenas. These include its system of liberal arts open curriculum education, in which students can take courses as they wish, with little to no distribution requirements. This stance opposes the more conservative view, which would have students take at least one class in all of the major disciplines, i.e. science, math, history, language, etc.

Hamilton’s liberal stance continues in its participation in contests like the New York Negawatt Challenge and its number of liberal minded speakers such as Hillary Clinton, Cornel West and Al Gore. One of the bigger political decisions of the faculty was the decision not to have an Alexander Hamilton Center on campus, for fear of its conservative leanings. In these ways, Hamilton has certainly taken a political stance despite outcries from faculty, alumni and students. Hamilton’s outspoken positions on these issues raises the question of why the College is not active in other political arenas. While taking a stance would certainly be controversial, it would clarify some of students’ reservations about the school.

The College’s aforementioned liberal policies and its overwhelming majority of outspoken liberal faculty when compared to conservatives is discouraging for alumni, students, and applicants on all sides of the political spectrum. If the College were to take a more conservative political stance on any one issue, its space on the political scene would hopefully swing closer to the center. Hamilton would hopefully draw more conservative faculty and applicants, which would diversify the College and encourage the political discourse of all kinds expected at institutions of higher education.

While Hamilton’s problem of political diversity would not be easy to repair, it certainly is doable. Just 30 years ago, this school’s administration held several conservative stances including allowing military recruiters for the Vietnam war on campus. Since that time, the College has continuously swung to the left on several major issues. A few outspoken political stances on controversial issues could bring Hamilton the diverse political discourse it needs as one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation.

Patrick English '15

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