Yalies are accustomed to receiving campus-wide e-mails — from Police Chief James Perrotti, from University President Richard Levin or from Yale College Dean Peter Salovey. But a new name in their inboxes Wednesday evening had many students scratching their heads.
An e-mail addressed to “Members of the Yale Community” condemned a “disturbing series of racist, homophobic, and sexist acts [that] have occurred on campus” and quoted the University’s harassment policies.
The message — ostensibly prompted by the recent surfacing of a photograph in which pledges from the Zeta Psi fraternity are seen in front of the Yale Women’s Center holding up a sign reading “We Love Yale Sluts” — was signed simply “Andrew D. Hamilton.”
In an informal survey of 40 students on Cross Campus Wednesday night, 32 of the students said (or demonstrated) they hadn’t a clue who Hamilton was. As many students interviewed confused him with Alexander Hamilton, the 18th-century treasury secretary, as could identify him as the current University provost, its second-highest administrator.
“Yes,” one student scoffed when asked who Andrew Hamilton is, seeming offended. “He’s on the $10 bill. He fought with Aaron Burr.”
“He was like a politician back in the day,” another said.
“The first secretary of the treasury.”
“One of our forefathers.”
Other students mistook even Alexander Hamilton’s identity.
“One of our presidents,” one answered.
“Wasn’t he a president?” another said. “Sounds like a president.”
Whereas messages from Perrotti, Levin or Salovey usually include their respective titles, only students who noticed the sender’s e-mail address — email@example.com — could determine Hamilton’s position from the e-mail.
“I heard he’s the provost, but I had never heard of him before,” Kaitlyn Sanders ’10 said. “He’s had no connection with my life at Yale.”
As provost, Hamilton is the chief educational and administrative officer of the University — a job of paramount importance but of virtually no visibility to students. In fact, it was not immediately clear why Hamilton would have sent the message — he has not sent any similar campus-wide e-mails in the last year.
“Any type of harassment — racial, homophobic and sexual — is personally humiliating and demeans us all,” the e-mail reads. “It deeply corrodes the learning and teaching atmosphere of any educational institution. It does not belong in a university. It does not belong at Yale.”
Hamilton did not return a telephone message left at his home Wednesday night. Salovey could not be reached for comment, nor could Levin, who is in Davos, Switzerland, attending the World Economic Forum.
Hamilton — the Benjamin Silliman Professor of Chemistry and the former chair of that department — was appointed provost in Oct. 2004. His scientific research focuses on molecular recognition; according to the Web site of the Chemistry Department, Hamilton and his researchers have “used careful design and computer modeling to construct a family of receptor molecules containing hydrogen bonding, electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions.”
Chemistry prowess aside, in becoming provost, Hamilton joined a line of distinguished administrators who have used the position — intentionally or not — as a springboard for top jobs at other colleges. His predecessor, Susan Hockfield, departed Yale to become president of M.I.T. And Hockfield’s predecessor, Alison Richard, left the University to take the helm of Cambridge University.
While Hamilton may not be the most famous Hamilton of all, he actually wields significantly more financial clout than the former Secretary of the Treasury who shared his surname.
In the 1790s, Alexander Hamilton founded a national bank authorized to hold $10 million in captial. In 2008, meanwhile, Andrew Hamilton was responsible for devising a University operating budget worth a total of $2.4 billion — 20 times the worth of the former Hamilton’s bank, even after adjusting for inflation.