I was reading today this story about Hamilton College’s new Alexander Hamilton Center (which is designed to “promote excellence in scholarship through the study of freedom, democracy and capitalism as these ideas were developed and institutionalized in the United States and within the larger tradition of Western culture”), and I was struck by a thought: We have the initiative. Two years ago, Hamilton College was ground zero of the Ward Churchill affair — it was his speaking engagement at the university’s far left Kirkland Project that touched off the firestorm. Now the Kirkland Project (more honestly renamed the “Diversity and Social Justice Project”) is under tighter controls, and there is a new, quasi-independent center that will most likely be far more hospitable to conservative scholarship.
I know I’m not the first to talk about Hamilton’s new center, but I bring it up again because it is a tremendous illustration of the tectonic shift that is just beginning in higher education. One need merely read the message boards at Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere to see that the radical left feels under siege. While I don’t want to over-emphasize our progress — the left, after all, is still firmly in control — it is now clear that they are reacting to us, not us to them. Just a quick look at the Alliance Defense Fund’s university case page shows a long stream of legal victories, and that’s just one example of progress. We are winning in court, in the court of public opinion (with some tremendous assists from the left), and now universities themselves are reacting, adding new centers and pledging allegiance (often with their fingers crossed) to free speech and the free exchange of ideas.
In military strategy, the concept of the initiative is critical. A loss of initiative is seen as a grave tactical and strategic problem (indeed, much of the debate over Iraq centers over who has the initiative — the insurgents or the coalition). We may only be nibbling at the edges of a vast and powerful cultural institution, but those nibbles apparently hurt, and the left senses that its decisive advantage is slipping away.