Acclaimed College History Professor Leaves after Ideological Attacks

Published March 9, 2018

Robert L. Paquette, a prizewinning history professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, decided to leave the campus after teaching there for 37 years, frustrated by what he deemed “marginalization” by other faculty and lack of support by the administration.

Stormy History

Paquette, whom Reason magazine labeled “the only conservative professor at Hamilton” in 2016 after he objected to the school’s new “diversity requirement,” has had a stormy history at Hamilton.

In 2006, Paquette and two colleagues tried to form the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization on campus. A college trustee and donor to the college, Carl Menges, committed $3.6 million to establish the institute, but college faculty members opposed it and overturned Paquette’s agreement with the college.

Paquette was not deterred. With the support of Menges and other alumni, he bought a building a mile from campus and created an independent organization, the Alexander Hamilton Institute (AHI). Inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s life and work, the AHI promotes excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy, and capitalism as these ideas were developed and institutionalized in the United States and within the larger tradition of Western culture,” the organization’s charter says.  

AHI programs include lectures on constitutional law and military history, an entrepreneurship club, undergraduate fellowships, a student-managed publication called Enquiry, and continuing education courses. Each year the institute holds a colloquium on a major topic such as “Western Civilization, Diversity and the Liberal Arts in the 21st Century.”

‘I Was Marginalized’

While AHI thrived, Paquette’s relationship with the college deteriorated. Paquette says he was shunned for his viewpoints and conservative endeavors.

“I was marginalized within my own department and prohibited from participating in departmental [faculty] searches,” Paquette told School Reform News. “The opposition, a majority faction in the department, succeeded in taking over the department. 

“My punishment occurred with the trustees’ full knowledge, and let me stress, not a dollop of academic due process was granted me on a totally bogus charge of violating confidentiality in a previous search in which a libertarian colleague was treated unfairly,” Paquette said. “I had hoped that Hamilton’s new president, David Wippman, would move expeditiously to remove this prohibition. He did not.”

Accusations of Racism

The most recent incident of harassment was a student protest last October against a speaker Paquette brought to campus: Paul Gottfried, emeritus professor of humanities at Elizabethtown College. Gottfried, who has published numerous books on intellectual history and ideological movements, discussed conservatism and fascism in two classes. Student protesters claimed Gottfried was a racist. Later, faculty members echoed the student protestors’ charges, without specifying any evidence.

The college president then wrote a letter stating Gottfried had made “claims of racial hierarchy based on spurious notions of genetics,” which Gottfried says is untrue. President Wippman also said AHI “should not invite speakers to address subjects on which they have little or no relevant expertise.” Gottfried responded he is an expert in the subjects he was invited to speak about.

Quick Surrender

George Leef, research director at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, says the Gottfried incident is representative of a typical occurrence in contemporary academe.

“The way the administration bowed down to the ‘progressive’ students—who didn’t actually have any grounds for complaint about Paul other than the fact that he isn’t one of them ideologically— is emblematic of Bob Paquette’s whole time at Hamilton,” Leef said. “Once the leftists aired their displeasure, the school had to placate them rather than standing firm. That is hard for a serious scholar to tolerate.”

‘In the Belly of the Beast’

Paquette says he has endured enough at Hamilton and has many reasons for leaving.

“Given that situation [the administration’s refusal of support], the fact that as an outspoken conservative I have lived in the belly of the beast for far too long, that Hamilton has structural problems that cannot be easily addressed, and that the time has come for me to devote full time to the Alexander Hamilton Institute, I decided to negotiate what I call an exit agreement from the college,” Paquette said.

“I leave being unable to recommend Hamilton College to any conservative high school student who might be thinking of matriculating there,” Paquette said.

Although he says he has lost hope for Hamilton, Paquette says he thinks some schools can “be salvaged under competitive pressures, with the right leadership and with the help of alumni and other benefactors who understand what has gone wrong in higher education.”

‘Showed Raw Courage’

Paul Markson, a former student of Paquette who is now a finance manager for a global agriculture company, says his professor “knew how to bring the history lessons to life through his engaging lectures.

“His passion for history and history’s characters was evident and inspired his students to feel the same,” Markson said.

Regarding the Alexander Hamilton Institute, Markson said Paquette “showed raw courage in the face of fierce opposition from many elements of the Hamilton community.”

“Given what has happened at other universities, the independence of the AHI from the college may be a blessing in disguise,” Markson said.  

Jane S. Shaw ([email protected]) is School Reform News’ higher education editor.