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  • Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Board Chair Bully? Hamilton College’s David Solomon slammed in national media

NEW YORK CITY – Hamilton College’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, David Solomon ‘84, is bringing negative media attention to the school with behavior first seen in The Wolf of Wall Street. “Is David Solomon Too Big a Jerk to Run Goldman Sachs?” reads the title of Jen Wieczner’s Friday, August 10th exposé with New York Magazine that recounts an incident where he allegedly made racist, sexist, and climate denialist comments, first published in the Spectator, to a group of Hamilton seniors advocating for fossil fuel divestment in March. As the bank struggles to compete with its peers, Goldman Sachs executives and analysts appear to be losing their tolerance for Solomon’s allegedly aggressive leadership style as CEO.

“My experience on College Hill shaped who I am today, just as I know it will for future Hamilton students,” Solomon once said in a College fundraising video which as of publishing remains posted.

The national attention comes amidst growing community anger over the administration’s decision to terminate Chaplain Jeff McArn without accusation of wrongdoing and with a Campus Safety escort, apparently unnecessary for security but in part required by an alleged policy the College has so far been unwilling to prove exists to media and concerned community members. Further, the College is engaged in an opaque presidential search that has reduced chances for community input compared to 2015, though Solomon, who is on the committee, claimed it would follow “past practice.”

While a Goldman Sachs spokesperson issued statements saying the accusations about Solomon’s behavior on campus in his capacity as Board Chair are false, Hamilton College hasn’t disputed the allegations. “No, the College does not comment on board members outside of their roles on the board,” the Communications & Marketing Department told Monitor.

Secretary and Chief of Staff to the Board of Trustees Gill King did not respond to requests for comment; it is unclear whether the Board is discussing the matter.

Hamilton Headlines

Originally 52 paragraphs deep in the NY Mag piece, the incident has since made headlines in its own right in Bloomberg, Fortune, Business Insider, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, The Messenger, and more. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other major news outlets have also covered waning faith in Solomon's leadership at Goldman Sachs, but did not discuss Hamilton College. Solomon has been facing increasing resistance in the company for years, with complaints about his demeanor, company performance, allegations of fostering a sexist and harassing work environment, and the company’s involvement in international scandals.

He’s also been criticized for his side gig as “DJ D-Sol,” a hobby that many say has pulled him away from work at Goldman Sachs (and to many a holiday destination). While dozens of Hamilton students were being kicked off campus for violations of Covid-19 protocols, the then-charter trustee and co-chair of the College’s Because Hamilton capital campaign was doing DJ sets at a concert in the Hamptons that violated New York State’s regulations.

The Board of Trustees would elect him Board Chair only a year later, several months after he committed a major $1 million match donation to the College for financial aid with the school’s largest one-day fundraising goal to date. It is unclear whether there was a causal relationship between the two, and campus student media did not cover the transition at the time.

But Solomon does seem to feel money equates with the legitimacy and importance of an opinion for how to run Hamilton, according to the three anonymous students. The students alleged that he said they should "show immense gratitude because we are in debt to the college’s endowment and that we should not complain about its investment portfolio.” He is also alleged to have pointed at the students, some of whom were students of color, and said they’re likely all on financial aid, something the endowment (and therefore Hamilton’s claimed 2% of fossil fuel investments) supports.

Similar arguments were used by President J. Martin Carovano and the Hamilton Board in the 1980’s to justify continued investment in Apartheid South Africa. Critiqued as intransigent by campus activists and facing overwhelming pressure from the community for his ill-fated decision to unilaterally suspend 12 student racial and gender justice protestors in violation of the 14th Amendment, he resigned in disgrace four years after Solomon graduated.

In plans first publicized the year of the president’s departure, according to a September 1988 Spectator, the campus’s main walkway would be named after Carovano: “Martin’s Way.”

It would appear the College is having a moment of deja vu.

Hamily reacts strongly

Many in the Hamilton community, the “Hamily” as the Alumni Relations Office’s email address is entitled, have been angered by the reporting. Reactions have run the gamut from decades-long anger over the College’s handling of similarly contentious issues to accusations that the coverage of Solomon is a series of hit pieces.

“While offending Hamilton students is pretty easy to do, and while a Wall Street CEO is under no obligation to respect the investment opinions of a handful of undergraduates,”, Cooper Creagan ‘13 told Monitor, “‘the beneficiaries of support are not to question the source of that support’ is definitely the argument of the bad guy in A Few Good Men.”

“Major shifts are occurring which will have significant impacts on our community and Hamilton’s ability to support students,” shared student activist and artist Dani Bernstein ‘24. Bernstein tied Solomon’s issues to ongoing community frustrations with President David Wippman, who has overseen the College’s continued silence on the Chaplaincy crisis.

“Existing at an institution that takes minimal action regarding student needs and does not make marginalized students feel welcome is becoming increasingly difficult. Claiming to support students while taking no substantial action and moving farther and farther from transparency are incredibly concerning. These actions, or lack thereof, coming from the figureheads of the college (two white, wealthy, cis male Davids) are making it increasingly clear that Hamilton cares far more about its business interests than supporting students and cultivating a safe and inclusive educational experience.”

Another student leader in the Class of 2024 wrote, “I think the way to tell if someone really cares about an issue or not is the way they act/don’t act to someone or something they’re closely affiliated with. Then it becomes a test of values vs. blind loyalty.”

Recent decisions have caused some to rethink their relationship to Hamilton. Kathryn Woodruff ‘25, a student faith leader writing about concerns with the Chaplaincy to senior College officials prior to the NY Mag article, shared, “I still have an empty hole inside of me when I think about returning to Hamilton without Jeff’s presence. I have also thought about whether I might need to transfer colleges to find the religious support that I have, up until now, found at Hamilton, but I am trying to be hopeful that Hamilton will take students’ needs into consideration and continue to support the welcoming chapel space that Jeff worked so hard to create and improve.”

Hamilton College’s apparent disinterest in publicly providing information that could offer a more favorable view of the institution than what the media has presented has left defending its image to others. Some of its loyal alumni donors have come to Solomon’s defense in rather matter-of-fact terms.

“Fuck them kids,” tweeted Jason Paulino ‘06. Paulino works as a salesperson for a luxury real estate company in NYC and has been lauded in the College’s marketing material for his success as a novelist.

Paulino, who says the news was sent around a Hamilton group chat he is in and has left his tweet up as of publishing, told Monitor, “My 23 year old cousin starts at Goldman Sachs as an analyst later this month. Most of my tweets are satire. I’m proud to call DJ D-Sol a Hamilton Alum. I’ve been to several of the annual events he throws in New York City.” He closed, “Power to the kids, but some things are messy no matter what in this world.”

Another alum and donor wrote in a social media post directed to the author of this piece, “Not to sound condescending - but that's the way the world works. As students, you are basically on the bottom of the college hierarchy.”

They continued, “The college is essentially run by alumni - and mainly alumni that have graduated long ago and have done lots of work for the college to earn their influence. Attacking the Chairman of the Board of trustees is not an effective way to change college policy. You need to work within the system.”

(They later told Monitor that what they wrote was conjecture, and they had initially “oversimplified” and “neglected to acknowledge the role of professors in college governance.”)

Some alumni have drawn parallels to their own experiences on campus. “I don't know him, but we were on the hill at the same time, and this kind of behavior from Hamilton men, especially those who were in certain frats, was accepted, normalized, and rewarded socially,” Emily Feiner ‘81 shared. Feiner sarcastically drew attention to what she saw as the classism present during her attendance, “Now he's obscenely wealthy and powerful and the board doesn't care as long as the coffers are filled. I mean, how else are the little people going to get their financial aid and a chance at the brass ring of a Hamilton pedigree?”

Monitor has not been informed of accusations of poor behavior by Solomon while on campus. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that Solomon was the social chairman of his fraternity while on campus, Alpha Delta Phi.

Hamilton’s fraternity life was under fire during and around Solomon’s time on campus from 1980 to 1984. According to On the Hill: A Bicentennial History of Hamilton College (pgs. 319-321), a history and marketing book published with support from the College, fraternities were responsible for events including: smashing windows on the Chapel, stealing the Alexander Hamilton statue, shoving firemen who responded to an event several times over safe capacity while urinating on the fire trucks, and alleged by the faculty to regularly engage in discrimination. (It should be noted that Solomon is a member of a protected class that was discriminated against by frats, as he is of Jewish descent.)

A 1981 incident wherein a frat leader marched pledges through the library on Holocaust Remembrance Day while he wore a Nazi armband triggered a faculty vote demanding a total end to private societies on campus. It was met with a one-year suspension for the responsible fraternity, DKE, and a 1985 prime rate loan of $1 million from the Board to fund frat house renovations. A 1986 report conducted by the faculty against the wishes of President J. Martin Carovano and the Board of Trustees found “fraternities are a big part of life at Hamilton, but not a useful or healthy part.” The faculty again voted to abolish private societies on campus, which the President and Board again denied.

Solomon also played rugby and ran for first-year Student Assembly class representative in 1980, according to contemporary Spectator issues. It’s unclear whether that first foray into Hamilton’s institutional governance proved successful.

Hamilton’s VP for Advancement Lori Dennison ‘87, P’16, responsible for Hamilton’s fundraising and alumni relations arms, did not respond to questions. The Hamilton Alumni Student Coalition has called for a halt to donations of time or money to the College in response to the Chaplaincy crisis, an advocacy Hamilton also has not responded to requests for comment on.

The first day of classes is August 24th.

Updated 8/15 to add that Solomon was a member of Alpha Delta Phi fraternity on campus.

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