Students, faculty at Hamilton College back controversial discussion


Fri, Feb 4, 2005
MARSHAND BOONE
Observer-Dispatch
 
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 support.

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 dialogue.

"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."



Back to Ward Churchill's "Some People Push Back"