The Colgate Scene
March 2000
Table of contents
An intelligently conceived program of talk
Hamilton Forum creates a time and place for community discussion
by Elizabeth Edsall

Hamilton Forum committee members, from left, David Craine, RuthAnn Loveless, Marian Blanchard, Trish St. Leger, Liz Edsall, Kim Waldron and Stella Brink [click to enlarge]
At dawn every couple weeks, a small group gives thanks for the coffee-scented air, inviting sofas and steaming beverages at the Barge Canal Coffee Company in downtown Hamilton. The Hamilton Forum committee, a lively collection of people from the Village of Hamilton, the Hamilton private sector and Colgate, meets to talk -- about talk.

     "A community program of action is really built on an intelligently conceived program of talk," said the late Raymond O. Rockwood. A professor of history at Colgate, Rockwood officially called the first meeting of the Hamilton Community Forum in 1943. Back then, meetings brought together about 100 community residents and hosted discussions around issues of world peace, farming, health, public education, post-war European relief, the Marshall Plan and civil defense. The committees that organized the forum programs comprised ministers, priests, farmers, doctors, Colgate faculty and women community leaders. There were more than ten years of active discussions, but then the formal conversations ceased -- until now.

     In 1998, consistent with collaborative community-building efforts occurring among the Town of Hamilton, the Village of Hamilton and Colgate, Jane Pinchin, provost and dean of the faculty, and Patrick Doyle, former assistant director of career services, shared a vision to revive the Hamilton Community Forum.

     "As Dean Pinchin remarked during the inaugural year of the Center for Ethics and World Societies, Colgate strives to educate students to be citizens both of the world and of the local places in which we live and work," said Doyle.

     "The Hamilton Forum seeks to create a focused space where the Hamilton community may come together and discuss issues of common concern, local and global. The forum presents a unique opportunity for people to participate more directly in shaping public life and thereby develop the trust necessary to sustain democracy."

John Feinstein
     Exploring the notion that American political life is historically centered on geographic communities, through his dissertation, Doyle is asking questions not even conceived of during the post-war years of the Hamilton Community Forum: How is the political and social structure impacted by the electronic age? How has our mobility as a society changed our concept of and involvement in the traditional hometown? These questions translate easily to the complexities of a place like Hamilton, with four-year students, longtime residents and transient professionals all living together in an intimate, rural setting.

     As the initial committee of the revived Hamilton Forum, the mayor of Hamilton, a local insurance agent and business leader, representatives from Colgate, and a student intern met at the Barge early one morning to plan the inaugural meeting.

     Open to all, and modeled on the original Hamilton Community Forum, today's Hamilton Forum endeavors to bring people from the greater Hamilton and university communities together for non-partisan conversations. We invite speakers from the political arena, business, the arts, the entertainment industry and the nonprofit sector to stimulate dialogue on a series of important public issues. We hope to raise the image of Hamilton in the regional and even national press. Hamilton Forum meetings provide opportunities for people to develop personal connections with each other in hopes that all of us will work together on Hamilton's behalf.

     In December 1998, Congressman Sherwood Boehlert was welcomed by a gathering of 150 of his constituents at the Colgate Inn -- many arriving before 7:00 a.m. He remarked that he saw more of his constituents in one room that morning than he'd seen at any gathering on the campaign trail, regardless of the hour. Boehlert has made a December meeting of the forum a regular part of his schedule.

     Next, the Hamilton Forum hosted a discussion with New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Carl Hayden. This session was a particularly energetic one, as teachers from at least three counties and representatives from area colleges offering teacher certification programs brought to the conversation urgent questions of certification and testing requirements.

     Just before leaving Colgate, President Neil Grabois, a familiar face to so many in the community, looked back on his 11 years in Hamilton and expressed his great hope for and confidence in the future of Hamilton and its surroundings.

     In an entertaining and thought-provoking presentation, Jeff Fager '77, executive producer of 60 Minutes II asked the group to respond to news story scenarios from an ethical perspective and shared with the assembled crowd anecdotes about political and TV journalist personalities.

     National sports writer and commentator John Feinstein spoke to yet another large group while he was in town to research a book on the Patriot League.

     Ray Cross, President of SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Morrisville spoke on the topic "Technical Education: Where Is It Going?" Morrisville College is now identified as an IBM ThinkPad University, where students in selected programs are issued laptops. Using interactive video, Internet and in-plant strategies, Morrisville is the first college in the nation to implement a wireless networking system throughout campus dorms.

     The Hamilton Forum has also brought together animated panel discussions around issues of economic development and challenges facing young adults in our region.

     Like the Hamilton Forum committee, the 75 to 150 people who assemble at this early hour (often arriving for the meeting in the pre-dawn dark) represent a cross-section of the Hamilton community. Before the meetings are brought to order, high school students bemoan an upcoming geometry quiz, Colgate faculty members and business owners talk about economic development initiatives, parents discuss child care issues and farmers discuss the effect of the season's rainfall on their fields. Before the formal program gets underway, the guest speakers share informal breakfast conversation with those assembled, and a dynamic question-and-answer session follows each presentation.

     From our varied perspectives, through thought -- and action -- provoking conversations that are open to the entire community, the Hamilton Forum strives to help make the Hamilton area an even better place to live, work, retire and attend college.

     As Raymond Rockwood said in 1943, "Just as discussion begets decision, decision resulting from discussion is likely to beget action."

     Of course, for some of us at that early hour, that hot cup of coffee certainly helps to invigorate the conversation.

Hamilton Forum committee member Liz Edsall is Colgate's director of corporation, foundation and government relations
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