Dictatorships and Double Standards, Part II

Robert L. Paquette

“In a democracy, where a multitude of people exercise in person the legislative functions, and are continually exposed, by their incapacity for regular deliberation and concerted measures, to the ambitious intrigues of their executive magistrates, tyranny may well be apprehended, on some favorable emergency, to start up in the same quarter.”

James Madison, Federalist #48

“By a faction,” James Madison wrote in Federalist #10, “I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuatedbysome common impulse of passion, or of interest.” Madison, like most of the other framers of the Constitution, had serious concerns about the operation of pure or extreme democracy on minorities. Perform this test, which you can be reasonably sure most elite liberal arts colleges no longer require their undergraduates to perform. Read The Federalist cover to cover, all eighty-five essays. The word “democracy” appears about ten times, and usually in pejorative contrast with republican government. “Ambitious intriguers,” as Madison, Hamilton, and others fully understood, could rather easily whip an unreflecting multitude into frenzy and turn democracy into majoritarian tyranny. Lest we forget (and who could deny the architected amnesia pervasive on the postmodern campus) the framers drafted the Constitution as a great experiment in republican government precisely because it had certain refining or protective features that mitigated the problem of King Numbers. 

The Article

In “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” published by NAS on 19 April, I suggested how on many college campuses, including my own, the “progressive” establishment—another name really for a left-liberal majority faction—can use the democratization of process to create department by department a deterrent political culture for right-of-center scholars as well as right-of-center students. When it comes to vital issues of curriculum and faculty appointment, deans and presidents surely have the power to act in a refining role to promote intellectual diversity. Typically, whether out of fear, sympathy, or expediency, they prefer not to go against the grain. As evidence, I cited the example of my former colleague Chris Hill, a young, gifted libertarian teacher/scholar. The central questions, as a few perspicacious souls have noted in following the media coverage of Hill’s case, are not whether Professor Hill should have been handed the tenure-track position in medieval history but why was he eliminated from the search early on and was there any reason for the administration to intervene, in effect, to act as a refining element, in the search?

Before coming to Hamilton College, Professor Hill had published a prize-winning novel. During his four-year term at Hamilton, he completed his dissertation; created six new courses, including a magnificent primer in the Western legal heritage; published in the Wall Street Journal, and eventually taught more undergraduates than any other member of Hamilton’s history department. Hamilton College’s own faculty handbook, it should be noted, emphasizes (p. 29), that “The quality of teaching is to be the most heavily weighted criterion for reappointment, tenure, and promotion.” A few weeks before Professor Hill departed the campus with a terminated contract, Hamilton’s student assembly intervened to award him, arguably, the College’s most distinguished teaching prize, one that goes to a faculty member "who is recognized as a mentor and active participant within the Hamilton community." And there is more good news. Thanks to foundational grants and to donations to my independent Alexander Hamilton Institute from concerned Hamilton students and alumni, Professor Hill has accepted an invitation to join the AHI as a resident fellow. He will be teaching his first class at the AHI starting in September.  

The Penalty

My NAS piece also resulted in another kind of academic achievement award, for which I am truly grateful, since, as I will now explain, it substantiates points in the original posting about the problem of majority faction. On Tuesday afternoon, 4 May, I received at my home a letter from Dean Urgo announcing his punishment of me for alleged violations of the College’s confidentiality policy. On Tuesday morning, I learned from a colleague that Hamilton’s faculty LISTSERV, to which I do not subscribe, was humming with an orchestrated movement of ambitious intriguers, led by a member of my department (also a diva of the Diversity and Social Justice Project), to have me formally censured at the next faculty meeting for alleged violations of confidentiality in the Chris Hill case. Her communication to colleagues droned on about all manner of distress and harm to the world my NAS piece had inflicted on faculty, students, the College as a whole and, no doubt, on the Longdong Stream Salamander as well. Although Dean Joseph Urgo (now president of St. Mary’s College in Maryland) had previously urged faculty using this particular LISTSERV to confine themselves to curricular matters, he and the Academic Council opened throttle on this mass mailing site to full discussion of the range of punitive actions that could be applied to the unnamed perpetrator—me. The movement’s chief challenged Urgo to take action: “To date,” she pronounced, “I am unaware that my colleague has been rebuked for this breech [sic] of confidentiality.”  

Pressure on Dean Urgo to punish me had been mounting for weeks, ever since I had written a letter praising Chris Hill to the editor of the campus newspaper. At the faculty meeting, one person preached about the need for “extraordinary action” against the “extraordinarily unprofessional behavior” of this dangerous man. Another colleague—who has openly referred to me as a McCarthyite after I led the public opposition a few years before to a campus visit by Ward Churchill—came prepared to drum up support for the spectacle at hand by distributing copies of my NAS piece to all the attendants. The irony of her own role in stoking bullying, persecutory behavior, it seems, was lost in the swill of that heady moment in the people’s court. After the demand for punishment had been issued, “Many faculty,” as reported in the faculty minutes, “stood to register their concern.” Such displays, a common campus tactic usually prearranged by the majority faction, have proven effective in buckling the knees of our administrative profiles in courage.   Where were the calls for equity, fairness, and process? During this entire episode, Dean Urgo never once contacted me or invited me into his office to discuss the matter. No attempt—I repeat, no attempt—was made by Dean Urgo to contact me from 19 April, the date of the NAS posting, to 3 May, the date of my punishment letter. Had he done so, he might have learned that I was not in fact at the meeting in which Professor Hill’s fate was deliberated. The chairman of the department had cast my vote in absentia.

In an ardent letter, dated 11 November 2009, to President Stewart and Dean Urgo, Professor Hill raised questions about the history department’s majority decision, whether it involved bias and the application of double standards. Revealingly, the administration sat on its hands, not even acknowledging the receipt of the letter. Dean Urgo fiddled despite the fact that a distinguished senior professor (not me) entered Urgo’s office after the decision on Hill was made and pleaded for his intervention into a department that in recent years had become obviously dysfunctional to even the most casual campus observer. Please note: At no time from day of his arrival in 2006 to assume the deanship to the day of my punishment (3 May 2010) did Dean Urgo see fit to meet with the history department on any issue, including the raging matter of whether courses in American history and the history of Western culture should be required of Hamilton’s history majors given that they must take at least three non-Western history courses to graduate. 

The last time I received a phone call from Dean Urgo during his five years at Hamilton College was in 2007. During the spring semester, he had learned from a senior Hamilton administrator that I had discovered the College’s behind-the-back attempt to trademark the name “Alexander Hamilton Center” after the College had publicly announced it was no longer going forward with the project. He left a message: he wanted to assure me that there was no reason for me to get upset. Out of curiosity, I have searched my computer for the dates of Dean Urgo’s last few email messages to me. One, dated 25 November 2009, deals, curiously enough, with the issue of confidentiality. A sub-committee of Hamilton’s Committee on Academic Policy had announced another diversity initiative. At 9:49 a.m. I sent Urgo an email, which included a confidentiality footer, that I would in no way back the proposed initiative. Less than an hour later, I received from a senior African-American professor involved in the initiative another email, explaining that Dean Urgo had forwarded my email—the confidentiality footer notwithstanding—to him. The professor was extending to me the much appreciated courtesy of alerting me that he had taken notice of the confidentiality footer and would be deleting the communication that Urgo had improperly forwarded. 

In his punishment letter, Urgo announced that because of alleged violations of Hamilton’s policy regarding confidentiality in the Hill case, I “will be barred from participation in future searches until and unless your colleagues can convince the Dean’s office” that I “will adhere to College policies regarding faculty recruitment. Along the same Orwellian lines, Dean Urgo also asked that I remove “the essay as a whole” from the NAS website, finding the content, which was only partially related to the Hill matter, “unworthy” and “unbecoming” of a professor. The same leadership that a few years past had defended in virtually absolutist terms the academic freedom of the likes of Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill to come to campus to pour forth their noxious effluvium was demanding the faculty’s lone out-of-closet conservative to white out an article that was in essence attempting to explain why so few conservatives populate this country’s elite institutions of higher learning.

Media Buzz

National media have taken notice of this controversy. Mark Bauerlein of Emory University devoted three postings to it on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). They generated considerable discussion. Many bloggers have asked for additional information, and, indeed, much more remains to be said and clarified. For starters, let me correct three significant errors that appeared in an article, “When Faculty Aren’t Supposed to Talk,” published by Scott Jaschik on 22 June in Inside Higher Ed.

1. Mr. Jaschik: “Via e-mail, Paquette did not dispute that Hamilton's rules [of confidentiality] cover him even as someone not on the committee or attending the meeting in question.”

Not true. In an email to Mr. Jaschik, I said, “I reject the dean's contention that I violated strict confidentiality.” In responding to the charges and punishment, I wrote two letters to Dean Urgo, both sent registered mail, return receipt. He responded to neither of them. My letter of 11 May includes the following paragraph:

Your reliance [Dean Urgo] on the Departmental Chair Guidelines is improper for a number of reasons: First, the ‘Departmental Chair Guidelines’ apply to departmental chairs. Nowhere do the Guidelines state that they apply to a member of the department who is not a department chair. I am not a department chair. Second, the above underlined provision dealing with ‘strict confidentiality’ applies to search committee members only. By its clear language, ‘strict confidentiality’ does not apply to members of the department who are not members of the search committee. I am not a member of the search committee, only a department member. Therefore, the underlined language does not apply to me. Third, even if I was bound by strict confidentiality pursuant to the underlined language (which I am not), ‘strict confidentiality’ only applies to ‘discussions, conversations and exchanges.’ The snippet from the article on the National Association of Scholars website you rely on (see below) does not involve ‘discussions, conversations and exchanges.’ In sum, I violated no rule, and thus there is no justification for the punishment you have levied against me. Therefore, one must ask ‘why are you attempting to punish me?’ I dare say we both know the reason why.

2.   Mr. Jaschik cites as contained “in the faculty handbook” the following passage and offers what he claims is a link to it:

Along with the Chair, the members of the department or the search committee are expected to maintain the highest level of professionalism in ensuring the integrity of the search. All discussions, conversations and exchanges among search committee members should be considered strictly confidential, unless indicated otherwise, and colleagues should comport themselves appropriately. Communications with prospective candidates should be made through the Chair. Any deviations from these guidelines should be brought to the immediate attention of the Dean.

Not true. Perhaps misled by Hamilton’s Acting Dean of Faculty, Mr. Jaschik quotes not from the faculty handbook but from the “Dean’s Guidelines for Chairs.” A link to the faculty handbook can be found here: http://www.hamilton.edu/college/DOF/2009%20Faculty%20Handbook.pdf. The faculty handbook contains no such words on confidentiality.

3. Mr. Jaschik: “[H]e [Paquette]said that he still shouldn't have been found in violation of the confidentiality rules because the ‘information in my NAS piece was either obvious or a matter of public record long before I wrote the piece.’ He cited an article in the college's student paper, which shared the news that Hill applied for and didn't get very far in the search for the tenure-track job (but lacked the detail of Paquette's article).”

Not quite true. As I pointed out to Mr. Jaschik, not one article but multiple publications had appeared before the date of my article to provide details about the Hill case. In support of Professor Hill, students had, for example, created a Facebook site, which eventually attracted several hundred subscribers, to discuss the matter. Moreover, as I also informed Dean Urgo, Professor Hill, once informed of the majority vote of the department, owns that information as his private property, and in Hill’s unanswered letter to the administration of November, he made abundantly clear to Dean Urgo and President Stewart that he intended to discuss openly and “loudly” what had happened to him at Hamilton. In the days ahead, Professor Hill had to set straight a number of “sympathetic” colleagues who had questioned him about his fate because, mirabile dictu, they had somehow readily swallowed a story bruited about the campus that I had led the campaign to jettison him from the applicant pool. 

Dean Urgo, in justifying punishment of me, cited two sentences in my NAS piece:

A majority faction, similar in composition and outlook, to the one responsible for the abolition of the Western civilization requirement, determined, despite the dissenting voices of four senior members of the department, that Professor Hill was largely unworthy of serious consideration for the tenure-track position. Indeed, because of King Numbers, he didn’t make it out of the blocks past the first lap of consideration.

Peruse the two sentences. The second divulged no new information because Hamilton’s own campus newspaper in a substantial article dated 11 February reported, “[W]hen Hill applied for the tenure position, he did not make the first cut of applicants, meaning he would not get the chance to interview for the job.” In the sentence about the four “dissenting voices,” put aside for the moment the question of whether “voices” meant “votes.” Which denizen of the modern academic campus does not know that majority vote stands as the “industry standard” for appointment and promotion? As one principled senior colleague wrote to Urgo in response to his action against me, “Does ‘strict confidentiality’ mean that a faculty member may not tell an unsuccessful internal candidate for a job or an unsuccessful candidate for tenure and/or promotion how he voted on her candidacy and why? Does ‘strict confidentiality’ mean that a department chair or an individual faculty member may not tell an unsuccessful internal candidate for a job or an unsuccessful candidate for tenure and/or promotion what the number of yeas and nays were on his candidacy?” If not, then any number of senior Hamilton faculty at Hamilton, I can assure you, have over the years violated the majority faction’s understanding of confidentiality postured with great success at Hamilton’s May faculty meeting.  

Hypocrisy at Hamilton

Because my registered letter of 11 May elicited no administrative response, I sent another a few weeks later, asking once again that the punishment be immediately rescinded. In this letter, I asserted as an example of double standards on Urgo’s part, his own published references in a 2006 essay in the journal Symploke to deliberations in a tenure case over which he presided as chairman of the English department at the University of Mississippi. This issue also surfaced in the third of Mark Bauerlein’s blogs on my case in the Chronicle of Higher Education.   To deflect the charge, Urgo (or one of his surrogates) contacted Professor Bauerlein to note that Urgo had slipped into his essay one footnote (on p. 37), which contains the following disclaimer: “In this and in all subsequent anecdotes, I have combined and rearranged actual events to protect the privacy of the real persons involved. None of the anecdotes are wholly factual, but each considered an aggregate representation of an idea.”  

None of the anecdotes are wholly factual? On the one hand, thoughtful readers might wonder how could much of anything in Urgo’s essay, including his rendering of the “aggregate representation of an idea” (whatever that means), be taken seriously with such a slippery disclaimer about evidence. On the other hand, Urgo’s description of departmental deliberations seems to be of such an intimate character as to make it unlikely that relevant senior members of Mississippi’s English department could not identify the brilliant but unlikable colleague who had stood for tenure. No matter. If Dean Urgo thinks he has escaped with clean hands from hoisting on Professor Bauerlein’s petard, let him, however, be hoisted on another. Ever since the collapse in November 2006 of the initiative to establish an Alexander Hamilton Center, persons have wondered how I was able to identify the several members of Hamilton’s board of trustees who joined the majority faction of Hamilton’s faculty in opposing the original signed agreement between the founders and Hamilton’s administration. As I’m sure Hamilton’s administration would admit, the cloak of strict confidentiality covers formal deliberations of the board. From whom did I learn on 14 October 2006, the day of a board meeting about the Alexander Hamilton Center, the names of members who had emerged as obstructionists to implementing it? Why, it was none other than Dean Joseph Urgo.

Several years ago, during the Susan Rosenberg episode at Hamilton College, a venerable (and venerated) economics professor who had dedicated his adult life to the College stopped me at the campus mail center. He said, “Paquette, a dog doesn’t p--- in his own house.” “Sid,” I answered, “what if the house is on fire and there is no water around.”   My next NAS posting will address the incendiaries on Hamilton’s campus and elsewhere and whether the fires can be extinguished or contained.         

See also “Hamilton College to Prof. Paquette: Shut Up,” by Peter Wood, NAS, July 27, 2010. 

Robert L. Paquette is Publius Virgilius Rogers professor of American history at Hamilton College and co-founder of the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. 

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