- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

On Tuesday, Joan Stewart, president of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, citing security concerns, cancelled the appearance of Ward Churchill, an academic poseur invited to campus by Nancy Rabinowitz and the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture. Mr. Churchill, a virulent anti-capitalist, called the victims of September 11 “little Eichmanns” deserving of their fate. Miss Rabinowitz and her allies have shamelessly begun the spin, saying that voices on the other side need to be heard. Sad to say, therecentproblemsat Hamilton College have analogues on other campuses.

The Kirkland Project has long exerted an undue influence over the educational environment at Hamilton College. In all the debate about free speech and academic freedom — two quite different terms that have frequently been conflated — few commentators have asked how money and access to resources affect speech on campus. The Kirkland Project sits atop an endowment that generates tens of thousands of dollars in annual interest. This money, when combined with dollars controlled by sympathetic faculty and students and spent with minimal administrative oversight, translates into power.

In their appeals to the college community, Miss Rabinowitz and her allies chant the mantras of “social justice” and “diversity.” The Kirkland Project has existed since its inception as an openly “progressive” interest group, interested less in the pursuit of philosophy than of ideology. I defy the Kirkland Project’s leaders to name one person invited to campus under its auspices in all the years of its existence who was libertarian, conservative or even centrist. On the matter of “social justice,” it is instructive that every totalitarian regime of the 20th century embraced the concept.

In truth, the Kirkland Project has sought to redefine the ethos of the institution. The Susan Rosenberg affair serves as a trenchant case in point. Under “Kirkland Project,” the college catalogue refers to “an artist/scholar-in-residence program.” Before the convicted terrorist and felon “withdrew” from her appointment, hundreds of flyers had circulated around campus. They announced Rosenberg as the Kirkland Project’s “artist/activist-in-residence for 2005.” At a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues challenged Miss Rabinowitz about Rosenberg. Listen carefully to the response recorded in the faculty minutes: “Nancy [Rabinowitz] added that Rosenberg will be here as an artist and activist in residence.” Only under the media spotlight did Miss Rabinowitz redefine Rosenberg for public consumption into a mere “artist-in-residence.”

For years I have made administrators and trustees aware of my concerns about the decline of standards and the blurring of the line between advocacy and scholarship. In 2001, for example, the Kirkland Project imported two activists to teach “Point of Entry: Radical Writing/Historical Context in the Americas,” essentially a history course on race and slavery. The flyer that went out to advertise this course clearly identified the “professors” as activists and — get this — required that prospective students “be committed to working as a writer/performer-activist.” I protested; the dean fiddled. Can you imagine the decibel level of outrage had Hamilton College offered a course that limited student attendance by, say, race or gender?

A recently formed faculty committee will review the Kirkland Project. I fear a whitewash and have urged the administration to appoint instead an outside panel of distinguished educators to conduct the review. To be sure, someone needs to look into the books, assuming any exist. Reports have surfaced that Mr. Churchill was going to be paid a handsome $3,500. One suspects that Mr. Churchill’s wife, Natsu Saito, also on the panel, would have received a similar sum. Several years ago, when I was chairman of the history department, I refused Miss Rabinowitz’s request to contribute to the appearance of some activist non-entity, who was to be paid a speaker’s fee of $6,000. Most of the finest historians of my generation, I said, would come to Hamilton to speak for $2,000 or less. Overpayment for activists, I suppose, is one way to build a network, but don’t expect alumni to be forthcoming with dollars to subsidize an endless procession of infantile transgressives and unabashed cultural subversives.

No doubt, Miss Rabinowitz and allies willbespouting charges about how a vast right-wing conspiracy silenced poor Mr. Churchill. Since conservatives on the Hamilton faculty number less than the fingers of one hand, please put that base canard to rest. By the way, none of the four facultymemberswho signed the published letter thatexposedWard Churchill’s rantings would consider themselves conservative. Sadly, one of the signatories, Sidney Wertimer, Mr. Hamilton College for generations of undergraduates, died on the very day that Miss StewartcanceledMr. Churchill’s appearance. Mr. Wertimer,aneconomist whose love of the college was legendary, worried during the last days of his life about how the Kirkland Project was undermining the educational mission of the institution. Let’s hope the trustees register his sobering words.

Robert L. Paquette is Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History at Hamilton College.

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