Returning Alums Share Expertise at Reunions '11

Over the course of Reunions ’11 Weekend, speakers at 30 Alumni College events informed the more than 1,000 returning alumni and guests on a wide variety of topics, ranging from urban redevelopment to food allergies to healthcare to sustainable investments. Here are brief reports on three of those sessions: History of Terrorism, Hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale and A Bicentennial History of the College.


History of Terrorism - Pat Dunn '12

“The first thing I learned at Hamilton is that you have to define your terms,” said Jon House ’71. “The tough thing about terrorism is that there is no one universal definition.” House, a professor of military history at the Army’s Command and General Staff College and a former intelligence analyst in the Pentagon, detailed the history of terrorism and its contemporary implications.


Most people don’t realize that terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Terrorism is simply part of the process of trying to overthrow an occupying power or government, a phenomenon that inherently exists when competing powers are not on level playing fields. Insurgencies exist, explained House, as an alternative technique of warfare when one side is markedly at a disadvantage in size or availability of resources. The most common form of terrorism in history has been politically driven assassinations that occur on a small scale relative to the kind of terrorism that is dominant today.


As methods of protection for heads of state became sturdier, terrorism globally shifted its focus from individual leaders to groups of people. Since World War II, armies have become increasingly difficult to overthrow because of distinct technological advantages—radio communication, aircraft, armored vehicles and automated weapons. Fundamentally, what terrorist organizations seek to do is bypass traditional methods of warfare and make an impact by directly attacking the morale of the populace.


Ordinary, old-fashioned rebellions such as the French Revolution do not work anymore because the strength and capabilities of the state are far greater than any insurgent organization can ever hope to achieve on its own. Political dissidents, instead of launching futile assaults against established governments, stay in hiding and gain publicity (and hopefully political strength) through violence often targeted at civilians for the shock value.


House stressed that when we fight a war against terror, we must remember that the enemy is adaptive. By protecting our governments and facilities, we cause terrorists to change their targets frequently rather than attempt to thwart stringent security measures. He does not think that the war on terror has been successful, because eliminating figureheads like Osama Bin Laden only serves to decentralize terrorist organizations, whose movements can then be even harder to predict because of all of the moving pieces.


In order to end terrorism, said House, we have to work on solving the issues that bring it about. The tactic that we have been using, fighting violence with violence, is ineffective. “We have to figure out another way to bring this to a logical end,” said House.


Hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale - Pat Dunn '12

Hydrofracking is one of the hottest contemporary environmental debates. As the population continues to grow and global access to crude oil is becoming increasingly strained, natural gas represents one of the cheapest, cleanest energy alternatives. But there are some major, potentially hazardous, consequences. Alumnus Steve Wood ’98 and Associate Professor of Geosciences Dave Bailey addressed some of the biggest controversies over natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.


Natural gas certainly provides an attractive alternative to the most common sources of energy relied on today. Oil is hard to find and can be dangerous to extract. Disasters such as last year’s Gulf oil spill are all too common and nearly impossible to contain. Coal, while it is plentiful, does not burn cleanly, and the methods by which it is mined are destructive in ways that are hard to remedy. Nuclear power plants can be dangerous. There are a host of problems with renewable energy sources. The investment necessary for wind, solar and hydroelectric power to become viable alternatives is staggering. Natural gas, however, is relatively cheap and clean-burning, and we are sitting on top of a goldmine. There are trillions of cubic feet of natural gas contained in the Marcellus Shale alone, which extends from Upstate New York south to West Virginia and west to Ohio.


The term “hydrofracking” comes from hydraulic fracturing, which is a method of natural gas extraction in which wells are dug vertically into a target layer of shale and then horizontally to extend along the shale. After the drilling columns are encased and reinforced for strength, millions of gallons of a “slurry,” a cocktail of water, sand and a variety of chemicals (some toxic, some carcinogenic) are pumped into the shale to fracture the rock apart, which releases the stored natural gas.


One of the main problems, Professor Bailey explained, is what to do with the resultant wastewater. Enormous volumes of water are needed to pressurize the rock enough to crack it, and this water must come from somewhere, whether from municipal sources, aquifers or surface water. A lot of this water can be reclaimed after the fracking process is completed, but reclaimed water is highly saline and sometimes radioactive. The accepted practice for disposing of hydrofracking wastewater in Pennsylvania is to send it to sewage treatment plants, which were not designed to neutralize salinity or radioactivity. Treatment plants instead just mix the wastewater with normal treated water in the hopes of diluting the harmful chemicals. This has not been effective.


Wood pointed to some impressive numbers related to recent hydrofracking in Pennsylvania. In 2009 alone, Pennsylvania saw an output of natural gas worth $4 billion plus another $400 million in tax revenue. He provided an estimate that the gas in the Marcellus Shale is worth $1.8 trillion, and the cost of drilling may fall to one dollar per million cubic feet of natural gas. He emphasized, though, that those estimates do not take into account possible adverse side effects to drilling, including wastewater disposal, groundwater contamination and an extended reliance on fossil fuels for energy.


Wood showed a video clip that featured a retired Vietnam veteran living in Candor, New York, lighting his tap water on fire.  Having lived in the house for more than 30 years, the man had had no problems with his tap water until drilling for natural gas began nearby. Wood and Bailey both acknowledged that the controversy over hydrofracking is far from being resolved. There are major players on both sides, and the science behind its implications is still far from perfect.


Bicentennial History of the College - Pat Dunn '12

James L Ferguson Professor of History Maurice Isserman is the author of the highly anticipated  On the Hill: A Bicentennial History of Hamilton College, a collection which chronicles 200 years of tradition and change at Hamilton. As part of Hamilton’s 2011 Reunion Weekend, he gave a short presentation to students and alumni about the storied history of the College.


Isserman noted that while the College remains much the same in function as it was in the 19th century, its day-to-day operation is almost unrecognizable. Before there were residential dormitories, students lived in fraternity houses on campus and made a 1.5 mile trek to and from the village of Clinton twice daily in order to feed themselves—once in the morning before the compulsory chapel service and once again in the evening for dinner. To make the trip into town a little easier during the snowy winter months, upperclassmen would sled down the hill (apparently a very dangerous pastime). It was the responsibility of freshmen to drag the sleds back up the hill so that upperclassmen could ride them again.


Class hierarchy was central to student life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Traditionally on the last night before classes started in the fall, sophomores armed with cans of green paint would decorate the campus with graffiti lauding their class and insulting the freshmen, who were called “slimers” because of the green beanies they were made to wear. On the same night, freshmen would insult the sophomores by marking the campus with red and brown paint, which signified the rust that the sophomore class had collected in their first year.


In its early days, tradition was a particularly strong force at Hamilton because many of the students had fathers and grandfathers who had also attended the college. Legacy was the single most important factor considered in admission in those days, so Hamilton gained a reputation as a “college of cousins” because the student body was so dominated by large extended families.


Samuel Kirkland, Hamilton’s founder and a missionary to the Seneca (and later the Oneida) Indians, originally founded the college as the Hamilton-Oneida Academy, whose purpose was to educate the children of the colonists who settled here as farmers in the 18th century. When Hamilton obtained its charter from the state of New York in 1812, it had modeled its curriculum on Yale’s and was mostly concerned with classic texts and languages with some science and mathematics mixed in. The College offered only one tract of education, so all students took the same classes at the same respective points in their education. Over the course of the century, Hamilton remained dedicated to its old-fashioned brand of education.


“It was a school that was going to be hard to change out of conviction,” Isserman said. “Generation after generation took the same classes that their fathers had taken in the same buildings with the same members of the faculty.”


As time went on, Hamilton became subject to external pressures, and the ideology of education on the Hill began, at first grudgingly, to evolve. The College rose to national prominence under President Melancthon Woolsey Stryker (1892-1917), who was so committed to the classics that he threatened to resign if changes were made to the curriculum. Stryker’s successors, Frederick Carlos Ferry and William Harold Cowley, however, made some major changes to the curriculum and were also credited with bringing electricity to campus and instituting the first professor evaluations.


World War II triggered even more changes, first as the College became a safe haven against the draft and second as many former GIs took advantage of stipends from the government to continue their education. These GIs brought their families to campus, and the college built a series of GI villages on North Road leading down to Rogers Estate.
Many of the most radical changes in the history of the College occurred in the 1960s when Kirkland College, built directly across the road from Hamilton, was chartered for women. Kirkland was originally part of a “cluster plan” devised by the faculty and trustees, based on a similar model at Claremont Colleges in California. The cluster plan proposed chartering a series of smaller, autonomous colleges in the country around Hamilton to increase the college’s national visibility.


According to Isserman, the women who enrolled at Kirkland in 1968 were generally upper- and middle-class and were more forward-thinking than the trustees had envisioned when plans for Kirkland were originally made in 1963. They elected to have no rules regarding social behavior in the dormitories, and Hamilton quickly changed its policy to match Kirkland’s.  This was the first in a series of changes that would revolutionize student life on campus.


More than 30 years after the merge with Kirkland College, Hamilton is still working to adjust to modern pressures and controversies to maintain its status as a prestigious liberal arts institution. Isserman said that compiling research for the book has been a remarkable experience, one that changed the way he thinks about the campus. When Hamilton was founded, he said, it was a template for what it meant to go to college with residential students and a permanent faculty, and that is an experience that only 5 percent of students in higher education get to experience. As Hamilton continues to evolve and adapt to society around it, Isserman is convinced that the best days are still yet to come.


On the Hill is due for publication later this summer.


Giants in the Earth - Briana Wagner '13


Hamilton Alumni Review Editor Emeritus Frank Lorenz led a guided tour titled "Giants of the Earth" of the Hamilton cemetery. Stopping at various monuments, he told the story behind each headstone. The cemetery is reserved for those administrators, faculty, trustees and presidents who have contributed to the Hamilton community in some significant way, Lorenz explained. 


Among the more prominent monuments are those dedicated to Samuel Kirkland, a missionary to the Oneida who founded Hamilton-Oneida Academy; Azel Backus, the College's first president who asked the trustees for a place to live and land for a garden and chickens before he would come to campus; and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elihu Root '64, the Secretary of War under McKinley and Hamilton Board of Trustees chair until his death in 1937. Arthur Percy Saunders, a chemistry professor and musician known for his peonies, as well as Alexander Woollcott, the famous critic, commentator and author, are also buried here. The graves of individuals whose surnames are associated with campus buildings including Edward North, Robert McEwen, Samuel Eels, and Edward and Grace Root are also in the cemetery.   A student who had come to Hamilton from Africa, who passed away tragically during a scheduled surgery in 1956, was also buried here when his family could not be located.


The cemetery also includes pillars that stand as a monument to the philosophy building that once was located where Burke library is today. On the path leading into the cemetery are small stone monuments bearing class years. These had been traditionally placed throughout the campus grounds by graduating classes along with time capsules and newly planted trees, but they were eventually relocated to the cemetery.


Lorenz ended his tour by taking questions from alumni about the professors they had known while they were students at Hamilton and other facts about Hamilton's history.


Changes in the Publishing World throughout the Last 25 Years – Brian Wagner ‘13


Al Prettyman '56, who worked at Harper's Magazine before founding Emerson Hall Publishers in 1969, is a publisher of books in the social and behavioral sciences that deal primarily with the black experience.  In his presentation, Prettyman noted that sales of virtual books have increased by roughly 150 percent in the past year. Many in the audience, however, were not e-reader owners, but they were interested in the differences—and difficulties—the e-readers might present as opposed to paper books.


Prettyman, who is also a teacher, expressed concerns about how e-readers affected students in his classroom; they have no pagination, there is little room for marginalia, and the formatting is different from the physical books that other students in the same class are using.  Most of all, he was concerned his students would skim books on an e-reader the way they skim most of the information they encounter on a screen.


When polled, many audience members were opposed to e-readers. They worried about the loss of the serendipitous encounter with new books if stacks in libraries were to disappear. They were also concerned that digital works might be unstable and that great works could be lost if the world did not keep physical copies in addition to the digital ones.


Nonetheless, there were audience members in favor of virtual books; they praised particularly the ease with which digital information can be distributed to readers. Rare or out-of-print books are no longer unavailable to those without access to a library that owns a physical copy. Prettyman noted that the trend toward virtual books is not a disaster or a tragedy, but simply a change for publishers as well as readers. Books will still be written, and a team of editors and distributors will still be needed to help with the process, no matter what the format. In the future, the industry will adapt.


The topic of e-books often dominates conversations of how the publishing industry has changed, but Prettyman addressed other issues during his talk as well. He described the new practice of expanding the bestseller book lists from simply fiction and nonfiction into nearly 20 categories, including combined print and e-book fiction, children's picture books, e-book nonfiction, and hardcover advice & misc. He noted that self-publishing has become more viable and that sales teams now play a greater role in the publishing process than before. He also dispelled the myth that publishers are to blame for high-priced textbooks, explaining that college buyback programs have prevented publishers and authors from receiving profit from the textbook sales, forcing them to price them high enough that they can profit from the first print run.


The presentation ended with a question and answer session and the opportunity to take home some of the books Prettyman has published.


A Nature Walk in Root Glen – Briana Wagner ‘13


Ernest Williams, the Christian A. Johnson Excellence in Teaching Professor of Biology began a mile-long nature walk through the Root Glen in the newly-built gazebo behind the Anderson-Connell Alumni Center. Before starting out, he recounted some of the history of the glen.


Until the 1850s, the building that is the Alumni Center was a tavern, and the land behind it was used as a dumping ground.  Across the stream was a sheep pasture. In the 1850s, Hamilton Professor of Mathematics Orin Root purchased the tavern and the surrounding property, and his family began planting trees, flowers and groundcover plants, many of which remain today.


In the early 1900s, Professor of Chemistry Arthur Percy Saunders began breeding peonies on campus. He hybridized 73 varieties of tree peonies—characterized by stiff woody stems—and approximately 50 varieties of herbaceous peonies. Many Saunders peonies are planted in the College's Grant Garden and labeled with their years of hybridization. Close to the peonies grows the largest Norwegian spruce in North America.  It measures 110 feet tall with a 185-inch circumference and a 64-foot spread.


Williams led the group to the formal garden, where raised beds were added in the 1970s containing arctic-alpine plants, including dryas octopetala and pussytoes. He explained that mountain plants tend to grow low to the ground in order to escape cold and drying winds. Often they are characterized by gray foliage with small hairs that help the plants block wind and prevent water loss.


Entering the Root Glen, Williams quizzed alumni on their knowledge of the trees and invasive plants such as Queen Anne's Lace, Dame's Rocket and garlic mustard. Williams pointed out periwinkle, one of two plants added by the Roots for groundcover, and he broke a leaf of bloodroot to show its reddish sap. The tour passed the primroses that were once tended by Grace Root and ended back in the formal garden.


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