On April 19, 2010, Robert Paquette, professor of history at Hamilton College, in New York, published an article entitled “Dictatorships and Double Standards” on the Web site of the National Association of Scholars. It’s a biting piece on dogmatic liberal/progressivist attitudes among professors, and it takes as a prime example the fate of Christopher Hill, a medieval historian hired to teach at Hamilton on a “term appointment” in 2006. Paquette reviews Hill’s record as a scholar and teacher, then recounts the unpleasant fact that he was rejected as a candidate when his position was redefined as tenure-track. Paquette believes that Hill was turned down because of his politics (a “self-described libertarian”) and for his failure to fit preferred diversity categories. Others hired recently “seemed not to have faced the same standard for publications that were excluding Professor Hill from serious consideration.”
Read closely Paquette’s two-sentence rendition of the search committee judgment:
“A majority faction, similar in composition and outlook to the one responsible for the abolition of the Western civilization requirement, determined, despite the dissenting voices of four senior members of the department, that Professor Hill was largely unworthy of serious consideration for the tenure-track position. Indeed, because of King Numbers, he didn’t make it out of the blocks past the first lap of consideration.”
That forms the basis for an action taken a few weeks later by Joseph R. Urgo, dean of faculty at Hamilton.
In a letter dated May 3, Dean Urgo responded directly to Paquette’s essay. It begins with a pat reminder:
“It is understood throughout the academy that when department members discuss job candidates, those discussions are held in confidence among the participants.”
He then cites specific Hamilton policy:
“All discussions, conversations and exchanges among search committee members should be considered strictly confidential, unless indicated otherwise, and colleagues should comport themselves appropriately.”
Urgo charges that Paquette violated this policy in publishing the sentences noted above, adding, “I find your actions unbecoming to a professor with your length of experience, and unworthy of one holding a named chair at the College.”
A disciplinary action is in order, for Urgo thereby bars Paquette from participation in any future searches “until and unless your colleagues can convince the Dean’s office that you will adhere to College policies regarding faculty recruitment.” Finally, Urgo asks that Paquette remove his essay from the NAS site.
This is the first episode in the affair. Next posting will summarize Paquette’s first written response to the dean. At this point, note that Urgo took his position without first consulting Paquette to discuss the matter. In fact, apparently he acted on the prompting of a colleague who wrote to Urgo complaining about Paquette’s “breech [sic] of confidentiality and professional misconduct.” That may, perhaps, explain why he seems to operate under the assumption that Paquette served on the search committee and attended the meeting during which Hill’s candidacy was reviewed. He did neither.
Also, it is strange to place Paquette’s reinstatement entirely in the hands of “colleagues” who must “convince the Dean’s office” of Paquette’s future good behavior.
This is, of course, a serious turn of events, which is why I’m devoting several posts to the matter. The immediate questions are 1) whether Paquette’s statement did violate confidentiality; 2) if so, whether the punishment was proper; and 3) whether Urgo had the right to ask that the statement be removed from the Web site.