How Hamilton College Defines 'Academic Rigor'

The insanity that passes for "scholarship" at a radical liberal arts college.

What do college presidents mean by “academic rigor”? Good “judgment” in the classroom? Making the campus “inclusive”? Recent developments on the campus of Hamilton College after the visit of Paul Gottfried, Horace Raffensberger Professor of Humanities Emeritus, Elizabethtown College, provide clues.

Gottfried was invited to speak to two classes by Robert Paquette, Executive Director of the nearby Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. As I described at the AHI’s website, Gottfried on October 25, 2017, discussed conservatism in the United States in “Modern Conservative Politics” in the Government Department, and then gave a lecture based on his recent book, Fascism: The Career of a Concept, in a history course, “Nazi Germany.” Although he was greeted by students holding signs accusing him of racism, Gottfried gave two informed performances and responded to questions, including hostile ones, with intelligence and courtesy. 

Nevertheless, his visit inspired campus-wide denunciations in a letter from the Government Department, editorials in the student newspaper, and a letter from the college president. 

Two days after the visit, students, faculty, and administrators received the following proclamation: 

We the undersigned full-time members of the Government Department would like to speak out regarding Paul Gottfried’s visit to one of our courses. We are still learning about what transpired on Wednesday… .  However, we have already heard multiple complaints from students about racist remarks allegedly made by Gottfried.  We unequivocally condemn any and all such racist remarks… . 

Similarly, the student newspaper vaguely claimed that Gottfried was “espousing hateful opinions” and therefore should not have been allowed on campus. It took until December 4 for President David Wippman to reply, which enraged student Katherine Barnes who wrote “Too little, too late, too tolerant: President Wippman fails to condemn Gottfried.” 

But Wippman’s letter would be considered laughable if it weren’t so slanderous. “I write to address issues of serious concern to every member of the Hamilton community,” it began as it addressed “the aftermath” of Gottfried’s visit and repeated the Government Department’s hearsay of “’racist remarks.’” Wippman, too, wrote that “racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of bigotry are anathema to our core values.” 

“Second,” he intoned, “we are a community that insists upon academic rigor… . [W]e should not invite speakers to address subjects on which they have little or no relevant expertise or who espouse views that have no grounding in reason or fact.”

Wippman then declared his commitment to the “free and open exchange of ideas,” noting the “dozens, if not hundreds,” of invited speakers every year, but added, “Special considerations apply when a speaker is invited to a class, in which attendance is expected… . It is essential that all members of our community exercise good judgment… .” 

“Academic rigor”? “Good judgment”? History Professor Paquette rightly contends, “no one on Hamilton’s campus approaches” Gottfried’s level of scholarship. He wrote multiple scholarly books on the topics of his lectures. 

In contrast, we have two members of the faculty recently touted on Hamilton’s website. Ashley Bohrer, Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, at Hamilton since at least 2016, has a department web page describing her scholarship as “making philosophy transcend disciplinary and institutional boundaries,” with research focusing “on the intersections of capitalism, colonialism, racism, and hetero/sexism in both the early modern period and in the contemporary world.” The page advertises her as “a committed activist who has organized with a variety of feminist, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist grassroots collectives.” Yes, she served on the “education committee” of Occupy Chicago and was an “activist with SlutWalk Chicago (photo). At Hamilton, she has taught “Philosophy and Incarceration” (with which she appears to have had firsthand experience) and “Marxism, Feminism, Antiracism.” 

Bohrer has been bestowed with at least three grants from the college: the “Emerson Foundation Scholars Summer Grant for Collaborative Research,” “Building Inclusive Classrooms Seminar Grant,” and a “Social Innovation and Transformational Leadership Course Development Grant.” Bohrer, though a visiting professor, has been a member of the Hamilton College Humanities Council and of the Arthur Levitt Center Council for Public Affairs. In 20162017 she served as an “organizing faculty member” on “problematizing whiteness.”

Her “scholarship”–spouting Marxist drivel—was displayed at the 2016 Marxist Feminist Conference in Vienna. She claims a forthcoming book bearing the title, “Marxism and Intersectionality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality under Contemporary Capitalism,” information derived from a notice about her presentation on “gender policing” to Red Bloom, a “Communist Collective” in April.

Canary Mission, which “documents individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses,” describes Bohrer’s numerous anti-Israel activities, including a “leading role in a campaign to occupy an illegal outpost in Israel, in hopes of building a Palestinian settlement.” She vocally supported Steven Salaita, whose tweet in 2014 wishing that more Jews would be kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists prompted the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to withdraw their job offer to him. She has authored several articles that “demonize” Israel and is a founding member of the Syracuse chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace, a group, which, contrary to its name, engages in disrupting pro-Israel speakers and events, and promotes BDS activities. 

Over in the Anthropology Department, recent tenure-track hire Mariam Durrani is praised for incorporating “feminist and decolonial methodologies” in her research on “Muslim youth and communities, cultural mobilities, higher education in Pakistan and the United States, race, gender, and migration studies”—as well as her use of multimedia and for being “a committed social-justice advocate.” In April 2017, Durrani participated in the “Resistance and Complicity to Empire Through Political Movements” panel at the “Beyond Bans, Beyond Walls: Women, Gender & Islam Symposium” at Harvard Divinity School, along with a Ph.D. candidate, Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen, the first elected Muslim politician in Massachusetts, and Haley Rogers, Massachusetts Director of Development and Community Relations, CAIR. The video shows her employing “Marxism” and “praxis,” and denouncing capitalism and the “military-industrial complex.”

After class, Hamilton students have had many offerings in terms of speakers and workshops, for which they often receive class credit or extra credit for attending. 

On January 18, students were offered the Art Department Visiting Artists Series lunchtime workshop, “Wise Up for Otherwise: Queer Scholarship Into Song,” in which Dr. Kay Turner described “how she writes lyrics from queer texts, and why transforming those texts into song is both an entertaining and necessary mode of queer world making.”

On April 10, Porsha O. (sic) led a writing workshop titled “Glory: On Radical Self-Love.” The student newspaper described her as the Lead-Teaching Artist & Program Manager at Mass Leap in Boston, and a “renowned poet.” A video from the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam Finals shows the self-described “Black, poet, dyke-goddess, hip-hop feminist, womanist” shouting that she is so “pissed off” about racism, injustice, and slavery that she is ready to “Break my foot open over everybody’s ass,” and repeating, “I’m pissed the F!*k off.” We doubt that students under her tutelage learned how to write sonnets. 

Two days after this workshop, on April 12, students were tantalized with an email from the Hamilton College Womxn’s (sic) Center, asking, “Do you love amazing music about queer lovin’?” and announcing the evening visit by Be Steadwell* (sic). The mailing included a link to her music video containing witchcraft, marijuana-smoking, and lesbianism.

The following evening, students had two events. From 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. in the Chapel they could hear far-left media commentator and professor of African-American Studies Marc Lamont Hill’s “message to inspire hope, courage, and constructive social change.” At 7:00 p.m. they could then learn how to implement such ideas in a workshop titled “Activism 101,” hosted by “Mexican-American spoken word artist David A. Romero.”

A few days later, on April 18, the Sociology Department presented a talk on “LGBTQ+ Polyamory and the Queering of Intimacy” by Dr. Emily Pain, whose “findings speak to current struggles over LGBTQ sexual citizenship… .” In the vital research field of “polyamory,” Hamilton students learned, the “voices of queer people of color, of low-income backgrounds, and of trans* [sic] identities have been virtually silenced.”  

On April 25, professor Durrani gave a late afternoon presentation titled “What Is Islamophobia?” at the Days-Massolo Center, a place of “intercultural dialogue,” which features speakers like Angela Davis. Later, students could go upstairs to the Womxn’s (sic) Center to make “zines,” about “healing, surviving, and trauma” and then discuss agitating for vending machines for birth control and abortifacients, like Plan B. 

One would think Hamilton College would value AHI’s generosity in providing speakers on campus and at leadership dinners at our site, as well as reading clusters on classic works of Western civilization. Instead, they have pressured students, especially African-Americans, to stay away from the AHI, and ignored threats against AHI-affiliated students, including in 2016 on the leader of the campus Republican Club, now defunct.

But in totalitarian regimes alternate views cannot be tolerated.