The Impasse at Hamilton College

A month ago, Robert Paquette, history professor at Hamilton College, wrote a commentary at the National Association of Scholars website that concluded with a sad note. After reviewing several initiatives and offices at Hamilton that aim to promote the atmosphere of diversity and raise the “comfort level” of all students, then rehearsing some of the unfortunate episodes of the Alexander Hamilton Center (now the Alexander Hamilton Institute, which is independent of the College), Paquette takes a personal stand.
Here is the second-to-last paragraph in full:

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.

It is easy to get indignant over this. Some readers of Minding the Campus have followed events at Hamilton over the years, but when one of the best scholars at a college resigns a chair, it’s time to forget the history. The leadership and faculty may consider Paquette difficult and abrasive, and they may find his politics odious. They may want nothing more than to see him retire. But that doesn’t change the facts: his scholarly record, his popularity with students, his ability to raise funds, his dedication to the mission of higher education, and his entrepreneurship in founding and sustaining the Hamilton Institute make him a resource for Hamilton College.
My hunch is that if somebody in power at Hamilton were to step forward and say to Paquette, “Look, Bob, can you let go of everything that’s happened over the years and start working with the College constructively?” Paquette would reply, “Yes I can, but only if they start treating me like a colleague and not a demon.” Hamilton needs a diplomat to move it forward, someone who can break the prevailing conditions. Paquette feels the injury, and, no doubt, so do several people on the other side, and it’s up to someone else to turn attention forward, not backward. All of them, I presume, know that situations like this don’t go away. They just go sour.

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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