Students, faculty at Hamilton College back controversial discussion
Fri, Feb 4, 2005
CLINTON -- The cancellation of Ward Churchill's appearance at Hamilton College
didn't prevent students from gathering on campus Thursday night to discuss
the larger issues that placed the liberal arts college in the national spotlight.
More than 150 students and faculty members gathered in the Kerner Building
to discuss the future of intellectual inquiry at Hamilton. The two-hour discussion
covered a number of topics, asking whether free speech is an absolute right
and examining the conflict between intellectual freedom and the loss of financial
But those in attendance overwhelmingly expressed frustration that the event
was canceled. Churchill was scheduled as a panelist for the discussion "Limits
of Dissent?" The event was cancelled after his writings, which compared victims
of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to Nazis, gained media attention
and college officials received threats of violence.
Hamilton College President Joan Hinde Stewart said Churchill had received
100 death threats. She was upset that the threat of violence had silenced
an event that many students had looked forward to.
Sophomore psychology major Jessica Mariglio was also upset the event had
been cancelled. She said she wanted to have an opportunity to question Churchill
about his writings.
"I was robbed of an educational experience," she said. "There was no personal
"What makes an education is the ability to voice your opinion, and then have
that opinion challenged," she said. "What also makes an education is to hear
other people's opinions and challenge them. How well do you know how your
opinions hold up in the face of opposition if they've never been opposed?
How do you learn from that?"
She also decried the depiction that Hamilton students were young, impressionable
and not able to think for themselves.
"We are 18- to 23-year-olds," she said. "We're able to vote, to be drafted,
yet we cannot choose who to listen to or ask questions."
Psychology professor Todd Franklin, who served as co-moderator of the event,
said it was important that students come together and voice their opinions.
He shared the feeling that the cancellation of Churchill's speech was a loss
for the college.
"The entire affair has struck a blow to academic freedom in general, not
in principle, but in practice," he said. "At the end of the day, this campus
didn't have the opportunity to engage this speaker in critical dialogue."
Senior history major Thomas Acampora observed that while the college had
cancelled the panel discussion, it had stuck to its commitment to academic
integrity and free speech.
"In the aftermath of the controversy, we're still a community," he said.
"We were threatened with violence. That's a troubling thing."