Need-Blind Admission ‘Speaks Volumes’

Hamilton’s recent decision to adopt a need-blind policy in admission despite a still-turbulent economic climate has earned wide praise from national and local media, alumni, parents and friends of the College. The policy means the College will make admission decisions without considering applicants’ ability to pay.

The Huffington Post put it simply: Hamilton is “bucking trends.” The New York Times’ Jacques Steinberg noted, “At a time when some colleges are favoring applicants who do not require financial aid,” Hamilton “has decided to swim against that tide.” Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, wrote, “The fact that you are able to do it now — in the middle of an economic downturn when many colleges are retrenching — speaks volumes about the importance the Hamilton community attaches to enhancing educational opportunity.”

The applause wasn't universal. Thomas Donlan ’67, editorial page editor of Barron’s National Business & Financial Weekly, argued that the College “can admit whomever it pleases, and give them financial aid as it pleases, but pretending that money doesn't matter is a psychological error and a bad lesson.” Nevertheless, Sally Sands P’07 lauded the College for “taking the lead at such an important time, making a difference and doing the right thing.” And Emily Stern Duwel ’83 echoed the comments of many graduates in praising Hamilton “for having taken an ethical and generous stance in challenging times.”

The decision, effective this fall with the arriving Class of 2014, has been on the College’s agenda for a number of years — the 2009 strategic plan identified need-blind admission as a “long-term goal” — but it became a reality in December, when five members of the Board of Trustees pledged $500,000 each in “bridge funds” so that the College could accelerate its timetable. A sixth made a similar pledge in March, when the board unanimously approved the policy.

Chairman A.G. Lafley said good management practices allowed Hamilton to move ahead with the policy despite the downturn in the economy. He cited the recent decision by Moody’s Investors Service to reaffirm the College's strong Aa2 rating. Moody’s cited Hamilton’s “continued favorable market position,” “robust operating performance” and “conservative fiscal practices” in its assessment earlier this year.

“We are taking this step now to make a bold statement about what we value as a college and to position Hamilton for the long term,” said Lafley, who recently retired as chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble. “Protecting our legacy as a school of opportunity is our highest priority. We are fortunate to have the resources to meet this objective, because it's the right thing to do for Hamilton.”

Heinz Prize for Stories goes to Tina Hall

Assistant Professor of English Tina Hall has been named the 2010 winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, one of the nation's most prestigious awards for a book of short stories. Hall’s manuscript, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, was selected from a field of nearly 350 entries by the esteemed author and film critic Renata Adler.

“This is a remarkable collection,” Adler said. “I am struck in particular by the range of imagination and the prose. The power, insistence, occasional humor and frequent beauty of the author's voice carry the reader as surely as conventional fiction used to.”

The book will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press this fall.

“It’s wonderfully gratifying to have this public acknowledgement of what we in the department have known for a long time now,” said Catherine Gunther Kodat, chair of Hamilton’s English and Creative Writing Department. “Tina’s work is exquisite: beautifully crafted, sensitive and haunting. And as her students will happily testify, she is a wonderful teacher and strong, supportive mentor of young talent.”

The Physics of Imaginary Objects is a “miscellany of sorts, or a cabinet of curiosities,” Hall explained. “The stories test how language determines being, how the body and words interact, how story can be tactical rather than strategic, and how the familiar might be made strange.”

Recalling her reaction to winning the Heinz, Hall said, “I was astounded and thrilled — and absolutely sure for about two weeks that someone would be calling me back to tell me they had made a terrible clerical error.”

Dean Urgo Moving to St. Mary’s in Md.

Dean Joe UrgoVice President and Dean of Faculty Joe Urgo concludes his four-year Hamilton tenure this summer, traveling south to assume the presidency of St. Mary’s College of Maryland — that state’s public honors college, with more than 2,000 students — on July 1. Professor of Biology Patrick Reynolds will serve as interim dean of faculty during the 2010-11 academic year.

While Urgo’s Hamilton stay was not long, it was extraordinarily busy, President Joan Hinde Stewart said in announcing his departure. In addition to teaching as a professor of English, Urgo served as acting president during Stewart's spring 2009 sabbatical, led the year-long development of the College's recent strategic plan, created the position of associate dean for diversity initiatives, strengthened alumni ties with a series of regional get-togethers, worked with Kirkland College alumnae on efforts to more fully integrate Hamilton and Kirkland historical accounts, and pursued a series of measures related to teaching and faculty that constituted “a strong and steady advocacy,” Stewart said.

“Joe accomplished all this with great patience, humor and integrity and with a clear sense of Hamilton’s purpose and goals,” she said. “Working with him has been a pleasure and a privilege.”

Urgo, who came to Hamilton from the University of Mississippi, said he was drawn to St. Mary’s “because of its commitment to the goals of accessibility, inclusiveness, meritocracy, and sustainability — the central aims of public education in the setting of a residential liberal arts college.” St. Mary’s officials, in turn, said they had “a palpable sense of excitement and celebration” in considering and hiring Urgo. “As we got to know Dr. Urgo, we found he understood St. Mary’s College, our sense of place, and shared our deep respect for the mission of a public liberal arts institution,” said Molly Mahoney, chair of the search committee and member of the St. Mary’s board of trustees. “We believe he will actively cultivate the intellectual life and vitality of the college.”

St. Mary’s, which is 70 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., on the peninsula between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, boasts a history to rival Hamilton’s own. The liberal arts college was founded in 1840; the surrounding city was established in 1634 — making it the fourth-oldest permanent English colony in North America — and is now largely designated a national landmark.

Kirner-Johnson Gets Green Award

The renovated Kirner-Johnson Building has received Gold certification as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) site, one of several environmental awards recently granted to Hamilton facilities.

“As the users of Kirner-Johnson, we appreciate that, along with the function and aesthetics of the space, the College was dedicated to incorporating sustainable or environmentally responsible design,” said Economics Professor Paul Hagstrom, who served as the faculty liaison for the project for more than a decade. The expanded KJ, which was built as the heart of the Kirkland College campus more than 40 years ago, reopened in 2008.

LEED, established by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the nation’s pre-eminent program for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. Another Hamilton campus building, Skenandoa House, received LEED Silver certification in 2006, but this is the College's first LEED Gold-certified building. Only five other colleges and one secondary school in New York State have buildings that have been certified LEED Gold.

LEED certification is difficult to achieve, since projects must meet myriad requirements in five environmental categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. It is Hamilton’s policy to build all new structures to LEED standards, whether or not the College decides to seek actual certification.

Hamilton also has received Energy Star certification for Skenandoa House and Spencer House, identifying them as highly energy-efficient buildings. Additionally, the College purchased renewable energy certificates for the coming fiscal year, including 100 percent renewable energy for KJ and Emerson Hall, plus another four million kilowatts for the campus from Renewable Choice Energy. Skenandoa also uses 100 percent renewable energy from Sterling Planet through the National Grid Green Choice program.

Public Speaking Prizes go to Five

Five students were honored following the College’s traditional public speaking competition March 6, addressing topics ranging from the liberal arts to Facebook.

Winners of the McKinney Prizes were Trang Nguyen ’13, whose speech was titled “You’re Beautiful”; Xiaohan Du ’12, on “A Call for the Revival of Humanism in Liberal Arts Education: When the Diversity of Ideas Meets the Idea of Diversity”; Ian Doran ’11, who spoke on “What’s One More Test? Encouraging STI Testing at Hamilton College”; and Yan Kit Pang ’10, on “Dance Education for Youth at Risk.” McKinney speeches must be persuasive, with arguments supported by factual information. Topics must be socially relevant and of interest to the extended Hamilton community. Charles McKinney signed an agreement in 1878 that allowed Hamilton to claim a portion of his estate for the purpose of establishing these prizes, one of which is awarded to each class.

Yan Kit Pang was also the recipient of the Clark Prize. His speech was titled “Facebook: Enough Already!” in response to this year’s topic, “Facebook: How Much Information is too Much?” The prize, which is open to all seniors on an assigned topic, was first established through a gift from Aaron Clark in 1859 and re-established in 1892 through a gift from the Fayerweather estate.

Amanda Bowman ’10 was awarded the Warren E. Wright Prize for her speech, “Iowa: The Gay Mecca?” Wright competition speeches must be informative (rather than persuasive) speeches on socially significant issues of current interest. The prize was established in honor of Warren E. Wright, the Upson Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Hamilton from 1977 to 1993.

Judges for the competition included trustees, alumni, Hamilton faculty members, administrators and staff as well as representatives from other colleges.

As If You Didn’t Already Know This

ChapelJust in time for spring, Hamilton’s campus was cited as one of the nation’s “Most (Overlooked) Beautiful Campuses” by the March 15 Chronicle of Higher Education Web site.

“Maybe I have a thing for hilltop colleges,” wrote author Scott Carlson. “One drives up a hill from Clinton, N.Y., to get to Hamilton. The campus’s historic buildings have an astounding beauty, especially on the misty late-winter day I was there.”

A photo of South Hall, with the Chapel in the background, was included. Hamilton was joined on the short list by Johns Hopkins, Davis and Elkins College and St. John’s of Minnesota. Carlson was writing in rebuttal to an earlier article in Forbes magazine, which hit some familiar notes in claiming to identify the world's most picturesque campuses: Oxford, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, the usual suspects

If he liked the Hill that much in late winter — bleak days in almost every alum’s memory — one can only imagine how knocked out he’d be in October or May.

Haiti Earthquake Support
Robyn Gibson '10 speaks to students while collecting funds for Haitian earthquake relief

Those on Campus Respond to Quake

Though students were busy preparing for the beginning of the spring semester as the Haitian earthquake struck, many quickly reached out to the victims with their time, effort and donations.

The Social Justice Initiative, Lambda Upsilon Lambda and Sigma Lambda Upsilon quickly raised more than $1,200 for UNICEF, selling bracelets as well as taking donations of food, clothing and supplies. The West Indian and African Association collected contributions, while the Hamiltones, Tumbling After, Special K and others appeared at a Haiti Relief Benefit. Students for International Public Health Awareness directed its collections to Partners in Health, long active in Haiti. HAVOC raised funds through a FebFest dodgeball tournament, while the Black and Latino Student Union and Emerson Literary Society made Valentine’s Day appeals, selling candygrams and handmade cards, respectively. The ELS effort benefited Architecture for Humanity, an organization working to rebuild schools in Haiti.

The quake was “the latest and most devastating blow for Haiti,” Robyn Gibson ’10 said in urging the campus community to support Partners in Health and other help agencies. “The recovery will be long and hard.”

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