Last fall, Hamilton College rejected a $3.6 million donation for a campus-based center to study the achievements and failures of Western civilization. Members of the faculty had objected to the creation of the center because it would have had “unprecedented and unacceptable autonomy.”
Now it will have complete autonomy.
The Alexander Hamilton Center for the Study of Western Civilization is being reborn as the Alexander Hamilton Institute. It will be located in Clinton, New York, the same town where Hamilton College is located, in a hotel formerly known as the Alexander Hamilton Inn.
Three professors at Hamilton will serve as senior fellows of the institute: Robert Paquette, professor of history, who was going to be the director of the original center; James Bradfield, professor of economics; and Doug Ambrose, associate professor of history. The alumnus who donated the $3.6 million, Carl Menges, has resigned as a trustee of Hamilton College and will serve on the Alexander Hamilton Institute’s board.
A September 17 statement from Robert Paquette announced the establishment of the institute and described its focus. “Inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s life and work,” it said, “the AHI promotes rigorous scholarship and vigorous debate in 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.”
The new institute will hold a colloquium this academic year exploring the role of upstate New York in the abolition of slavery. The second year’s program will focus on property rights, and the third on Abraham Lincoln and how he and other historical figures interpreted the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution.
Last fall, as the center was being formed,
Paquette wrote that the center “follows the lead of several other schools that have established similar academic centers. Princeton, for example, has established the James Madison Program, which has brought some excellent scholars and a very different point of view to that campus.” He quoted the center’s charter to underline the goal of fostering “an educational environment of the highest standards in which evidence and argument prevail over ideology and cant.”
But as he wrote that, some Hamilton College faculty members had already organized in opposition. Quoting from their statement, Paquette said that they claimed to be worried about the center’s “programming and research” and how both would “influence the reputation of Hamilton College.”
Mere weeks after announcing the program, college officials changed their minds. A statement said that the center would not move forward “due to a lack of consensus about institutional oversight of the Center as a Hamilton program.”
Robert Paquette and others believe that the opposition from faculty members at Hamilton College reflects hostility to scholarly consideration of American history. In a column written for the Pope Center last fall, Paquette asked whether any Hamilton faculty member had ever expressed concerns about the “autonomy of any other faculty programmatic initiative in the last 25 years.” He doubted it.
Paquette will be a speaker at the Pope Center’s Conference on Building Excellence into American Higher Education
Pope Center’s Conference on Building Excellence into American Higher Education October 27 in Raleigh. The panel topic will be “Independent Campus Centers: The Promise and Peril.”
For more information about the institute, see www.theahi.org.