Insurgents Lose Bid to Become Hamilton College Trustees

September 2, 2005

Four alumni lost bids to become Hamilton College trustees in a rare contested election that followed two politicized controversies on the campus in upstate New York.

The campaigns of three of the four defeated candidates, all of whom had petitioned to appear on the ballot, grew out of their participation in Hamilton College Alumni for Governance Reform, a small group of alumni that has criticized administrators for their handling of the high-profile controversies.

The candidates who were selected through the conventional process, overseen by the college’s Alumni Council, won the three open seats on the board, receiving roughly double the votes attracted by the petition candidates. About 21.4 percent of Hamilton’s estimated 17,000 alumni voted in the election.

"I’m certainly disappointed that we didn’t get the vote, but it was an uphill battle," said J. Hunter Brown, a Hamilton alumnus who is a founder of the group seeking change. "We hope the college continues to find ways to improve its governance and its transparency, which we think is needed."

Mr. Brown’s group has complained that a failure of Hamilton’s internal controls led the college to invite Ward Churchill to speak on the campus, but later to rescind the invitation. Mr. Churchill is a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who, in an essay, compared victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to a notorious Nazi.

The group has also complained about the college’s attempt to hire Susan Rosenberg, a former radical who was linked to an infamous 1981 robbery and triple murder, as an artist in residence who would have taught a one-month seminar at the college on memoir writing.

The group and the petitioners criticized election rules that they said restricted the participation of the outsider candidates. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, two national groups, later joined the alumni group in decrying the election rules.

"The freedom of speech awarded to me by this school was less than that given to Ward Churchill," said one of the petition candidates, James W. Coupe. Mr. Coupe, who is an lawyer in Los Angeles, cited limits in the election rules on electronic communications from candidates.

A Hamilton spokesman said the college had hired an independent election firm and outside lawyers to vet the rules of the election and "to make sure that it was fair."

Mr. Coupe, however, said Hamilton administrators had viewed the campaigns of the petition candidates as a threat.

"I didn’t feel that they treated me with any respect at all," said Mr. Coupe, a fourth-generation alumnus who has been a regular donor to the college. "I will never give another cent to this school."

Schools: Hamilton College