Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression at Hamilton College

Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression are understood to be complementary principles, with the former protecting academic discourse, and the other protecting free speech in public discourse and students’ discourse within a broader institutional context. Hamilton College commits to the protection of the pillars of academic freedom: scholars’ and creative artists’ freedom to carry out research and creative work according to their own lights and then to publish, perform, and exhibit their work without undue infringement; teachers’ freedom to expound and shape the subjects of their instruction according to generally accepted professional standards; college community members’ freedom to express their opinions about the governance of the College; and private citizens’ rights to express themselves as individuals (speaking for themselves, not for the College). As employees, Hamilton faculty are responsible for conforming to federal and state statutes and College policies governing, among other areas, copyright, right-to-privacy, libel, and slander, in the course of carrying out their research and teaching.

For faculty: what to do if you are attacked. (click here for additional information)

As the 2009 Strategic Plan put it, “Hamilton’s tradition of self-criticism is fostered by a commitment to academic freedom and an understanding of academic responsibility.” Several statements of the Faculty Handbook reinforce these principles.

The Faculty Handbook asserts, “The Faculty and officers of the College have the responsibility to recruit and retain the finest faculty possible within the means and resources of the institution, and they should be accorded the widest latitude consistent with academic freedom and fairness in the discharge of this responsibility.” Though the Faculty Handbook governs those who teach, it contains assertions that apply broadly: “The Trustees and Faculty of Hamilton College agree that the principle of academic freedom is fundamental to the life and work of the institution and all who serve it in the responsible performance of teaching and scholarly pursuits. The Trustees and Faculty accept the principle of academic freedom as a means conducive to that independence of mind and speech essential to higher learning in a free society.”

Further, The Faculty Handbook includes the following statement on Freedom of Expression and Dissent:

The right to search for truth, to express both popular and unpopular opinions, and to criticize existing beliefs and institutions is the foundation of intellectual life in a democratic society. Academic citizenship carries with it the added responsibility of preserving free inquiry and open expression for all members of the community.

The College encourages respect for political, religious, ethnic, racial, physical, generational, sexual, and affectional differences because such respect promotes free and open inquiry, independent thought, and mutual understanding. Members of the Faculty are encouraged to express their views on all matters, including controversial, political issues in the public domain. The College furthers this end best by serving as a forum where ideas may be debated and discussed.

Hamilton College believes that open-ended and free inquiry is essential to educational growth. There is a need at all times, but particularly in times of crisis, for intelligent persons to make their considered opinions known. Whenever the freedom of inquiry or the liberty of artistic expression is compromised, the intellectual life of the College is threatened.

Hamilton College reaffirms the 1940 statement of the American Association of University Professors on the subject of Academic Freedom, “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 10th ed. [Washington, D.C., 2006], 3). It also affirms the AAUP’s statement of November 1999 “On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation,” which states that, “…collegiality, in the sense of collaboration and constructive cooperation, identifies important aspects of a faculty member’s overall performance…understood in this way, collegiality is not a distinct capacity to be assessed independently of the traditional triumvirate of teaching, scholarship, and service.”

The College also concurs with the AAUP statement that, “Professional misconduct or malfeasance should constitute an independently relevant matter for faculty evaluation. So, too, should efforts to obstruct the ability of colleagues to carry out their normal functions, to engage in personal attacks, or to violate ethical standards.” (AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, “On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation.”)

When speaking as citizens or as individuals, the Faculty should take every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the College.

College policies that reflect these longstanding commitments include the following:

1967 Freedom of Expression Policy

Free inquiry and free expression are indispensable to the attainment of those goals to which Hamilton College is dedicated. All members of the college community should be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them, to express opinions, and to question but not suppress the opinions of others. Because of its commitment to free discussion, the faculty states that actions by individuals or groups to prevent speakers invited to the campus from speaking, to disrupt the operation of the institution, or to restrain others by physical force cannot be tolerated. In short, the right to protest the expression of opinion and the right to express opinion are mutually dependent.

See the Student Handbook

Use of Information Technology Resources Policy

Information Technology Resources (computer hardware, software, telephone systems, cable television, networks, services, data, and other information) are made available at Hamilton to support and facilitate the teaching, research and administrative functions of the College. Access to these resources is provided to employees of the College (faculty, administration, staff, maintenance and operations) and enrolled students consistent with their responsibilities. This policy describes the criteria for assignment of access privileges to these resources and the responsibilities associated with using them.

See the Library and Information Technology Services website

Electronic Mail and Listserv Use

This policy describes the appropriate use of email and the mass emailing lists.

Policy on the Protection of Confidential and Sensitive Information

Institutional information is stored in a variety of formats, including printed reports, paper documents and in electronic information systems. This networked environment also poses significant risk to the security of information. This policy covers the protection of information maintained by the College related to the business of the College and accessed by members of the College community.

Hamilton College Harassment and Discrimination Policy

The Harassment and Discrimination Policy has been developed to provide recourse for individuals who believe their rights as protected by this Policy have been violated, and serves as a means to determine, after the fact, if specific behaviors constitute violations of this Policy.

Collaborators and Guest Speakers

Faculty academic freedom extends to their choice of collaborators and their hosting of guest scholars. Hamilton faculty freely work with collaborators from other colleges and universities. Furthermore, they may invite to the campus any person of their choosing (though there are tax-related limitations on hosting political candidates), to address the community and to meet with faculty and students.

Public Speaker Request Form

Hamilton College takes seriously its mission to prepare students for lives of meaning, purpose, and active citizenship. The preparation of students for civic life through respectful conversation encompassing a variety of viewpoints and perspectives is advanced not only by faculty but by the experts invited to campus. With reference to the maintenance of public order, Hamilton College reserves the right to ensure orderly scheduling of facilities in a manner that protects safety and security, prevents unnecessary conflict with other Hamilton events and provides adequate preparation for the event. (It should be made clear to the academic and larger community that sponsorship of guest speakers does not necessarily imply approval or endorsement of the views expressed, either by the sponsoring group/organization or Hamilton College.)

Among Hamilton’s many speaker series, Common Ground features guests who debate contemporary issues from opposing perspectives, exemplifying civil discourse. President David Wippman describes the goal of Common Ground: “to model the kind of respectful dialogue across political boundaries that should occur not just on college campuses, but in the broader society as well. With capable speakers on both sides of a given issue, each willing to acknowledge strengths in the position of the other speaker, we aim to encourage students and other audience members to question their own assumptions and consider carefully the evidence and arguments supporting other viewpoints.”

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