Foundations for Hamilton’s Next 200 Years

by Acting President Joe Urgo

Students who apply to Hamilton have opted to live for four years in a small community that the Office of Admission and Financial Aid works to make as diverse and inclusive as possible; where the dean of students works to provide living and social opportunities appropriate to a mini-city; where Information Technology Services provides an infrastructure equivalent to any contemporary work environment; and where the dean of ­faculty assures a high level of academic, athletic and creative challenge.

There are less encompassing and less expensive ways to get a college degree, if what one wants is the requisite number of course credits. But education at Hamilton is far more than a credential. The Hamilton graduate leaves this mini-city with an intellectual and social experience applicable to whatever endeavor comes next, and next, and next. I believe this is what we mean by Carissima — “Dear is thy homestead” — why so many alumni think of College Hill as their social and intellectual home base, where the adult journey commences.

In this context, Hamilton spent the calendar year 2008 in a community-wide planning process that reaffirmed what we are already doing well and discovered ways to do things better. Illuminations regarding our distinguishing characteristics emerged, among them that Hamilton is at once a very old place (we turn 200 in three years) and a very young place (much of who we are today is a product of the Kirkland legacy, and the merger is only 30 years old). We know we are as rooted in past tradition as we are committed to future innovation, and we thrive on creative tensions arising from these dual, interlocking histories.

The result of our community effort is a document of strategic intent centered on the academic program, student services, financial aid and inclusiveness — on the community we want to maintain. We’ve organized our strategic intent around four core values, which together are meant to help us strengthen the small academic city of Hamilton College:

Education for Self-Direction

Above all else, we value an academic program where students take responsibility for their own education. We'll make structural and policy improvements to existing advising and course selection procedures, and we will assess College programs to ensure that the educational experience is sufficiently rigorous, accessible, and pertinent to our changing student demographic.

Self-Governing Community

As a small city, we value our independence and self-regulation. Much is already in place for students through Student Assembly, the Honor Code and the Judicial Board; and for faculty through policies and procedures set forth in the Faculty Handbook. Because all employees add an important perspective, new governance policies will incorporate a fuller range of voices and accommodate greater representation of campus constituencies.

Dialogue and Debate

We are a community that supports academic freedom, and we recognize that with such freedom comes the responsibility to accept ownership of one's ideas, to be prepared to defend one’s position, and to be able to articulate the positions of others and engage them respectfully.

Engagement with the World

The purpose of an education centered on self-direction, self-governance and thoughtful dialogue is to prepare diverse students for effective engagement with the world — our small academic city exists to serve society at large. On a more practical level (and especially in this economy), we recognize that everything we do on College Hill is influenced by the world around us. Our mission is not to perpetuate Hamilton College but to help students prepare themselves for careers and service in the nation and beyond.

Maintaining a liberal arts college, a holistic, residential mini-city, is a costly prospect. We know our price tag is high, but we also know that the experience we offer is, according to our graduates, beyond valuation. To continue as a viable and desirable option for prospective students and their parents, we focus our energies on what differentiates a Hamilton education from that offered by other fine colleges, including those with missions similar to ours. Our strategic intent is to do just that by refining our strengths and expanding access so that future generations of students will recognize Carissima when they step up College Hill.

Dean of Faculty Joe Urgo is serving as Hamilton’s acting president this semester during the sabbatical of President Joan Hinde Stewart.  This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the Alumni Review.



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