The Atlantic

Does Hillsdale College’s Approach to Fundraising Jeopardize Its Mission?

Students, alumni, and other members of the Hillsdale community offer their responses to a recent Atlantic story.
Source: eandersk / Flickr

Earlier this week, I wrote about the clash between Hillsdale College’s stated values and the close ties that it has cultivated with the Trump administration—and I asked Hillsdale faculty, students, and alumni to send me their dissents or to share their own concerns about their institution in light of the recent commencement speech Mike Pence gave there.

Dozens of Hillsdale students and alumni sent almost uniformly thoughtful responses that underscore why the institution’s best qualities are very much worth celebrating and conserving, and rebut the canard that principled conservatism is dead. An outright majority came from people who identify as conservatives but feel deep misgivings about Hillsdale’s present approach to Republican Party politics.

Most emailers believe that there are “two Hillsdales.” One is experienced by its undergraduates, who enjoy many superb professors and classmates of principle who value deep learning, reflection, and nuance.

The other is driven by administrators, who ally Hillsdale with some of the least thoughtful voices in what is now inaptly called the conservative movement and the Republican Party to better fundraise off its loyalists. (Fundraising is particularly important at Hillsdale College compared to other liberal arts schools because it declines to accept federal funds; the independence that allows would seem to be somewhat diminished insofar as it requires close ties to one political faction.)

The emails that follow are arranged by class year, and edited for length and style. I’ve removed the names and identifying details from these letters, to ensure that the correspondents could speak freely. This article will conclude with an observation that may occur to attentive readers.

An incoming Hillsdale freshman writes:

I chose Hillsdale because I loved the personal experience through the admissions process and the values the school represents. "Pursuing truth and defending liberty" are two ideas I hold near to my heart. I am disappointed to see Arnn continue to prop up a president who does not share these values. As a young conservative who loves reading and listening to Ben Shapiro, Jonah Goldberg, and David French, I can say I love to see taxes cut, regulations destroyed, and judges I like appointed.

These are things that would come if Rubio or Bush were president. The damage Trump does to the conservative movement outweighs his good. I would rather a president be strong against Russians, disavow Neo-Nazis, and open his arms to legal immigrants than cut my taxes. While I have not spent a school day on campus, I think I understand many students see this. They understand the president is a morally corrupt clown. I do not think students love Trump like his most fervent supporters.

A Hillsdale senior writes:

I am majoring in politics, and I wanted to say I completely agree with your article. I've been Never Trump since the beginning, and I'm really disappointed that Dr. Arnn has tied my school so closely to the current administration.

The argument is one that happens at Hillsdale very often. The usual defense of Arnn's tying us to Trump goes along the lines of “don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” but that is just utilitarianism. The larger scale argument also largely mimics Dennis Prager's point here, but that doesn't justify not even acknowledging that his critics have a point about Trump's moral and philosophical problems.

Hillsdale is slowly morphing from a school that I was proud to go to into one that I'm embarrassed to attend. It's been going on for a while, but recently it has been accelerating. I really appreciate you writing an article that speaks to what myself and many other Hillsdale students think. Hillsdale is going to lose our credibility if this trend continues.

A current student writes:

Your article reminded me of my first

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