The Spectacle Blog

A Defense of Hillsdale and Its President

By on 8.6.13 | 11:43AM

When I recently heard that the president of my school, Hillsdale College, was in hot water for making racist remarks at a state hearing on education, I was stunned.

But upon learning the facts, it was immediately obvious that this was simply another case of liberal scandal-mongers scraping the bottom of the barrel to try to discredit one of the nation’s finest -- and most conservative -- colleges.

Hillsdale College President Dr. Larry Arnn was speaking at a Michigan Department of Education hearing in Lansing last Wednesday on his opposition to Common Core curriculum (which should be the real story here, but we’ve conveniently managed to cut that out of the conversation). Arnn presented his argument against state interference in education, and included a story of state officials visiting Hillsdale College in 1998 to inspect the school’s “racial diversity." Arnn was outraged – as am I – that the state would act in such a blatantly race-based manner. Not to be Mr. Obvious here, but to have bureaucrats walking around the campus of a top-tier college with clipboards, taking notes on the skin color of the students they see, is by definition racist because it doesn’t recognize a person’s character or individuality, but only the color of their skin.

Arnn sought to express disgust at the backwards and dehumanizing actions of the state officials, which were revealed when he later received a letter from the Michigan Department of Education. The letter, he said, notified him that Hillsdale College “violated the standards for diversity because we didn’t have enough dark ones, I guess, is what they meant.”

“To that I told them, we are probably the first college in human history, certainly one of them, founded with a charter that says we will take black and white men and women without any discrimination,” Arnn said.

The committee members immediately took offense at the use of the term “dark ones.” Such stunning adeptness at bending over backwards to find offense in a statement by ignoring the plainly-stated context -- which had just been declared literally right in front of them moments before -- is truly astonishing, and depicts either a mind-hobbling willful ignorance or a frightful ineptitude of the English language. Never mind that the term was only meant as an ironic slam against the hypocrisy of state officials who preach the virtues of a color-blind society, and then measure students by skin color alone. The point was clearly so above the committee members’ heads that it almost took out a satellite.

Who has time to listen to what the man said when you could be taking offense?

The Michigan Department of Education originally denied any such visit and letter, only to recant and acknowledge the episode on Thursday. In the meantime, Arnn and Hillsdale College have issued clarifying statements to apologize for any offense taken because of Arnn’s remarks.

Anyone who seeks to advance the cause of civil rights, racial integration, and social diversity in the U.S. would do well to recognize that Hillsdale College has always been one of the foremost proponents of racial equality in America’s history. It was the first American college to ban discrimination based on race, religion, or sex in its charter, and it was founded by Freewill Baptists in 1844 in fierce opposition to slavery. Hillsdale’s founders were also instrumental in creating the Republican Party as an anti-slavery party soon after, leading to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860.

As a current senior at Hillsdale College, I know that the school’s legacy as a bastion of liberty and classical education is still honored and upheld by its student body and faculty, with a determination rooted in an understanding of and dedication to the principles of freedom that Hillsdale was founded to defend. This is especially true of Dr. Arnn, who has been an exceptional representative of the college since he became its president.

Now you may understand my total shock and exasperation to hear the accusations against Dr. Arnn. But sadly, we already know that liberals aren’t used to letting facts get in their way. So go ahead: Accuse one of the first colleges on the planet to grant degrees to African Americans and women of harboring racism and bigotry. Good luck with that.

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