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Opinion

Letters to the Editor

By Ben Yeo ’15, Paul A. Carrier ’14, John Kennedy ’14, Ming Chun Tang ’16

May 9, 2013

Re: Housing changes awaken apathetic students

Apathetic. It is an adjective used to describe indifference, a lack of passion or emotion: and, when used to characterize people, docility or excessive obedience.

That is precisely why it struck me as odd that The Spectator ran an article last week entitled “Housing changes awaken apathetic students,” and confirmed this sentiment with a letter from the Editorial staff decrying an “alarmingly low level of student interest in writing Opinion articles” about happenings on the Hill.

In addition to the sweeping generalization made by The Spectator—that the Opinion section of their publication is chronically sparse and driven to publish incoherent tirades like that of “Hamilton men should stand up for their rights” because of the endemic indifference of the “Millennial Generation”—I take issue with the notion that Hamilton students are primarily to blame for remaining complicit in, and indeed “apathetic” to, the more recent decisions made by the administration.

As I noted in an email to Deans Bonham and Hill, the October 2010 decision to allow for gender neutral housing came not only with an email from Dean Landry noting the policy change in the handbook, but a follow-up email from Dean Hill with the subject line “Gender Neutral Housing” with a message about the “new policy change by [ResLife] that [he] wanted to highlight.”  Why did the administration and ResLife “highlight” this policy change, but not a similarly substantial change involving upperclassmen housing?  The response I received was that, “we have always planned to publicize further the housing changes in the coming year as we plan for the implementation of first-year housing.”

For a liberal arts college that prides itself on its “need-blind” admission process—a practice which reinforces the inkling that anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can call themselves a Hamiltonian if they work hard enough—our administration and indeed our campus newspaper seems rather quick to latch on to the idea that we want our housing, spring concert, Greek life and sports teams to work for us, but aren’t willing to do the same for it.  I would point to countless examples of evidence to the contrary, but I’ll just direct you to the 530 signatories of the petition calling for the adjustment or reversal of the housing changes—a body of students larger than the incoming class of freshmen whom supposedly stand to benefit from the policy changes.

If we have the content right, (i.e. the student body has come up with legitimate reasons as to why the changes in housing will negatively impact our time on the Hill), but got the timing wrong, then who is really to blame?  Clearly it is the fault of the apathetic, impassionate ‘sheeple’ that are accepted to Hamilton, and not that of the campus newspaper which supposedly keeps them informed, as well as the administration who don’t want to share their PB&J in their “brown bag lunch.”

—Ben Yeo ’15

 

Re: Alexander Hamilton, Fiscal Responsibility and European Debt

Alexander Hamilton gave his life to the project of raising the new United States to the standing of established European powers.  He saw fiscal responsibility as elemental to that task.  Now, Greece and Cyprus face crises resulting from dearth of fiscal prudence.  What Hamilton believed holds true today: states that do not exercise fiscal responsibility do not enjoy the respect of their peer nations.    Hamilton wanted the new America to pay its bills.  In his First Report on Public Credit of 1790, an assessment of the US fiscal situation at the time, he argued that the means to improving American credit rested in, “a punctual performance of contracts.  States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct.” Hamilton did not renounce all national debts.  On the contrary, he viewed our Revolutionary war debt as, “the price of liberty.”  Hamilton was not an ideologue: he knew there were causes worthy of running up debt, and situations where it was economically rational to do so.  However, for America to enjoy dignified international standing, it must have means of paying the debts it incurred.

Today, Greece and Cyprus face shame internationally and difficulties internally because of fiscal obligations they cannot meet.  Recent Greek financial problems are, in part, the result of a culture of profligacy in which citizens did not pay taxes while their government spent as if they did.  Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, an excellent read, documents this culture, mentioning how an overwhelming majority of Greek doctors reported incomes of less than 12,000 Euros a year.  Though we may laugh at the ridiculous statistics, the consequences of this fiscal irresponsibility are less humorous.  International news outlets such as the UK’s Daily Mail have blamed economic conditions for an increase in Greece’s suicide rate.  Internationally, Greece has had to turn to the European Union to dictate the terms of Greek recovery.  The problems do not end with Greece.  As you may know, Cyprus recently agreed to a harsh one-time wealth tax on all deposits within its shores as part of its acceptance of a EU bailout.  This tax has already harmed international faith in Cyprus as a stable place in which to conduct business.

So what?  Alexander Hamilton said something about our debt, and two economies much, much smaller than ours are in the toilet because their governments spent too much.  Why does this matter?  It matters because we have been warned.  Greece and Cyprus were unable to “observe their engagements,” so their creditors imposed measures at the expense of Greek and Cypriot national respect and standing.  Our government and its President would do well to consult Alexander Hamilton, as well as recent Greek and Cypriot economic history today.  I hope you do not come away seeing this letter as a rant against national debt or government spending.  What I do hope for is that you appreciate how both recent history and one of the smartest men America has ever produced have warned us against letting our spending push past a point of resolution.

—Paul A. Carrier ’14

 

On  the Committee  on Greek Recruitment’s recommendation:

Why is it that the practice of pledging—maybe the only act that distinguishes Greek from other organizations—warrants banning first-years from participation? I won’t pretend to be an expert on it, but isn’t pledging supposedly about developing ties with to-be brothers & sisters & organizations? Why shouldn’t first-years partake in these activities? Ask the Jillingses: first-years could use a little team building. It seems to me like the only thing that would make pledging bad is hazing.

But Hamilton fraternities and sororities don’t haze, right? Honestly, would the committee have reached the same recommendations if fraternities and sororities on campus did not haze people?

Back home in Indianapolis, the two big schools (Butler and IUPUI) both have rush and pledging first semester first year. They also have super strict rules against hazing. TKE was just kicked off Butler’s campus for making pledges hop in a van and do an overnight trip. One Sigma Nu friend of mine mentioned that hazing is just straight-up not tolerated, and so his society came up with another way and found that it was actually better.

Here’s my point: Why aren’t people saying that the committee punted? Hazing is going to be an illegal and immoral abomination whether it happens to first-years or sophomores or juniors or seniors. I acknowledge that they suggested informational meetings for pledges. Still, the whole thing is a tacit approval of (or at least a passive wave at) the hazing practices of Greek organizations. How could the committee recommend so many changes to make hazing more manageable for students and not suggest one change that actually tries to get rid of it? It’s sad that they accepted the status quo of hazing and then did just enough to piss everyone off without fixing anything.

—John Kennedy ’14

 

Re: Another look at divestment

Max Schnidman’s op-ed piece last week made a well thought out but factually inaccurate and logically incoherent attempt to refute the logic behind fossil fuel divestment. He also greatly exaggerates the risks involved in divesting the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. As an organizer for Hamilton Divests, our ongoing divestment campaign, I feel the need to clarify our position.

Despite acknowledging that fossil fuels form a minuscule share—less than eight percent—of the endowment as a whole, Schnidman nonetheless claims “our well-diversified portfolio suddenly loses its diversity and exposes itself to greater risks from other firms and sectors of the economy.” However, a report published by Aperio Group LLC titled “Do the Investment Math: Building a Carbon-Free Portfolio” demonstrates otherwise. It instead concludes that, on the contrary, divesting from fossil fuels can involve negligible risk.

Schnidman follows up by asserting that “the fiscal cost of exiting the contracts would be significant” such that “divestment could make it unfeasible for many of its advocates to continue attending Hamilton College.” Such hyperbole fails to acknowledge that the endowment is run by financial managers who are constantly buying and selling shares, details of which are confidential under college policy. Given such secrecy, it is impossible to assess whether or not fossil fuel divestment would involve any such costs, let alone costs of the magnitude Schnidman claims.

Schnidman correctly points out that our divestment alone would be insufficient to undermine the activities of fossil fuel companies. It is exactly by this logic that over 300 colleges and 100 states and cities across North America are all seeking to do the same. By mobilizing on a continental scale, we are gathering substantial political momentum at negligible risk to our endowments.

The logic behind divestment is not economic, but rather political and moral. We are not divesting to force fossil fuel companies out of business. We are divesting to send a message to fossil fuel companies: that we cannot afford the destruction of our own planet and certainly will not profit off it.

Political and moral reasons for divestment do not constitute “reasons outside the market fundamentals.” While we are nonpartisan and neutral with regards to economic ideology, it is important to note that a free market, by definition, implies freedom of choice, and we are merely exercising this freedom by choosing where and where not to put our money. There is no state and no authority coercing us to divest. We are doing so of our own accord—completely in line with freemarket principles.

Finally, Schnidman’s advocacy of geoengineering as a means of averting climate change is extremely ironic given his assessment of the risks involved in divestment. The limited predictability and potentially devastating side effects of attempting to tweak the climate make geoengineering far riskier to the entire planet than divesting from fossil fuels could be to the college.

Our planet is reaching a critical point: a point at which the calamitous effects of climate change are set to become unavoidable. There is neither reason nor time to procrastinate. The time for divestment is now.

—Ming Chun Tang ’16

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