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HCAGR Statement of Opposition to Proposed 'Diversity Requirement'

Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform opposes the faculty resolution proposing the addition of a so-called “diversity requirement” for all Hamilton students. The requirement would improperly impose esoteric ideological values on the student body and fail to live up to the college’s commitment to freedom of inquiry.

The proposed resolution reads as follows:

MOVED that, starting in the 2017-18 academic year, every concentration shall have a requirement that will help students gain an understanding of structural and institutional hierarchies based on one or more of the social categories of race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, age, and abilities/disabilities. Departments and programs shall determine how their students will fulfill this requirement in a way that is most consistent with their disciplines. The requirement should encourage students to think critically about accomplishments, experiences, and representations of various social groups in the United States and/or other countries.

In addition, the [Course] Catalog language under “Educational Goals and Curriculum,” Section III. Concentration, shall be amended as follows: “Each student must meet the requirements for a concentration, including a requirement that will help students gain an understanding of structural and institutional hierarchies based on one or more of the social categories of race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexuality, age, and abilities/disabilities.” [New language is underlined.]

Moreover, the Committee on Academic Policy (CAP) will establish a subcommittee to review proposals from departments and programs with concentrations to make recommendations to the full CAP for approval for each concentration in Spring 2017 and, further, in 2021-22 to review the implementation of the requirements by concentrations.

HCAGR encourages the Committee on Academic Policy to reject this proposed resolution, which improperly advances a prescribed ideological position and mandates its universal instruction.

Hamilton’s relative lack of course requirements is a staple of its style of open instruction, but it also makes those few requirements of particular academic and symbolic importance. They speak to the school’s core values. A requirement is therefore a weighty thing: instituting one signals that the school believes its content to be representative of and essential to a Hamilton education as a whole.

The “diversity requirement” would therefore signal that the Hamilton community as a whole takes for granted the hierarchies described therein, their importance in contemporary America, and their prevalence as overriding drivers of social and political conditions. It would take a controversial and disputed ideological proposition and elevate it to accepted and essential wisdom within the Hamilton community. Certainly large swaths of the faculty do take that position for granted, but it is undoubtedly a controversial and disputed position.

In that sense, then, the diversity requirement would erode the precise type of diversity that Hamilton should be encouraging first and foremost: that of ideas. The proposed resolution would have the effect of preempting questions about politics and society that run counter to prevailing faculty wisdom about their structures. We find that preemption intolerable and counter to the spirit of open inquiry essential to a liberal arts education and Hamilton’s history and character.

To the extent that the faculty believes these “hierarchies” should be taught, professors and academic departments should be free to incorporate them into coursework and department-specific requirements. Instruction on “diversity” as described in the proposed requirement may fit with some disciplines better than others, and professors should be free to teach such lessons, just as students should be free to take classes that examine them.

But a requirement placed on every student regardless of his or her area of study imposes the ideas inherent in such a course and improperly elevates those ideas to such a level that defines a Hamilton education in general.

Such a requirement would eclipse freedom of inquiry on the structure of politics and society in the United States and elsewhere. The course requirements at issue would begin not from a position of open dialogue, but under assumptions that carry far-reaching cultural and political implications.

As the American Association of University Professors wrote in its landmark 1915 statement on principles of academic freedom, “Genuine boldness and thoroughness of inquiry, and freedom of speech, are scarcely reconcilable with the prescribed inculcation of a particular opinion upon a controverted question.”

In that spirit, we urge the Hamilton administration to reject the proposed diversity requirement.

Posted on May 6, 2016 at 10:47AM by Registered Commenterhb | CommentsPost a Comment

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