UA president receives award for supporting academic freedom

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton received an award from a national group in recognition of his support of academic freedom.

Hamilton's support of free speech throughout the UA system inspired the award he received from the association Sunday night.

''It's the rare college president or chancellor that today is willing to consider academic freedom and freedom of speech as worthy of unqualified defense,'' said Bradford Wilson, executive director of the National Association of Scholars.

Hamilton is the first recipient of the association's award for academic statesmanship and academic freedom. The commendation stems from a memo Hamilton sent to UA chancellors in March of last year in response to outcry over a poem, written and published in a University of Alaska Anchorage quarterly by UAA professor Linda McCarriston. Some alleged that the poem was racist.

In Hamilton's response he wrote, ''What I want to make clear and unambiguous is that responses to constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech CANNOT BE QUALIFIED. Attempts to assuage anger or to demonstrate concern by qualifying our support for free speech serve to cloud what must be a clear message.''

Hamilton, who came to the university after a lengthy military career, told the crowd gathered Sunday that free speech is essential to academic freedom.

''Freedom of speech is the mechanism for diversity of thought,'' he said, which is essential to a university.

Judith Kleinfeld, a northern studies professor and president of the Alaska Association of Scholars, called Hamilton ''a real hero.''

His actions made faculty and students feel safe to express their opinions, she said.

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