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Volume 6, No. 6 September/October 1996
More from the Lingua Franca archives



RONALD TROWBRIDGE, VICE PRESIDENT FOR public affairs at Hillsdale College, is threatening me. His voice on the telephone is courteous, even jovial, but about his meaning there can be no mistake. "Back when the U.S. was in El Salvador in the early Eighties, we had Alexander Haig come here to speak," he begins. Haig, it seems, had just given a speech at another Michigan campus, where he'd been pelted with fruits and vegetables by angry student protesters. "We figured we were going to get that same El Salvador gang down here at Hillsdale," Trowbridge continues, chuckling at the memory. "So we got our football team dressed up in coats and ties and had them stand, arms crossed, one guy every forty feet, around the edge of campus. Sure enough, the El Salvador kids showed up on the other side of the street. Now, if one of those kids crossed over to campus, the football players were supposed to pick him up gently and carry him back to the other side." The image of Hillsdale's football team suited up like the Secret Service to ward off a bunch of Left-wing teenagers is amusing, and we both laugh.

Then Trowbridge delivers the punch line. "We wouldn't want to have to do that to you," he says soberly. "But Hillsdale College is private property."

Trowbridge's story isn't simply a threat. It's also a parable. At tiny Hillsdale College in rural southern Michigan, privacy is dogma. No journalist, no liberal politics, not even the long arm of the federal government penetrates here without permission. Unlike nearly every other college and university in the country, Hillsdale doesn't take a cent of tax-payer money. Instead, it subsists largely on donations from sympathetic private citizens. And this fact has earned the school a reputation. On the American Right, Hillsdale is known as the college that turned its back on the federal government and was able to do as it pleased. While dozens of conservative schools favor Western Civ courses over ethnic and gender studies, almost all of these institutions meet the government's regulations on hiring and firing, follow affirmative action guidelines, and depend on federal handouts for survival. Hillsdale College, on the other hand, actually practices what it preaches. Or at least that's the idea.

Hillsdale is quickly becoming America's premier Right-wing college. U.S. News & World Report calls it one of the best liberal arts schools in the Midwest, and though it may lack the prestige of, say, Boston University, Hillsdale offers something much harder to come by: ideological purity. Somewhere beyond the phalanx of corn-fed athletes lies the proof–millions of dollars in private aid, 1,200 of the country's most conservative students, and a faculty and administration who unapologetically promote the ideals that have become the rallying cry of the American Right. At Hillsdale, these ideals are ascribed to the Founding Fathers and repeated like gospel: individual liberty, small government, and the free market.

"Hillsdale is that shining city on the hill," says Illinois Republican congressman Phil Crane, a graduate and trustee of the college. "Its values are the values of the overwhelming majority of the American people. And it will have a reverberating impact." The conservative syndicated columnist M. Stanton Evans goes even further: "You could argue that the 1994 elections are a remote consequence of the ideas Hillsdale has been promoting all along." Some days, Hillsdale seems less like a college than a philosophical movement with a meal plan.

Of course, the connection between Hillsdale's classrooms and the ballot box may be more rhetorical than real, but the little college in Michigan and the Republican Party do share something important in common. To its supporters, Hillsdale is a conservative utopia, one that brings together the two warring constituencies that have hampered Bob Dole's presidential campaign: the Christian Right and free-marketeers. It was the uneasy coalition between social and fiscal conservatives that delivered the freshmen Republicans to Congress two years ago. And it is just such a coalition that Dole is struggling to forge today. Witness his frequent reversals on abortion and his palpable agony over choosing a running mate who might appeal to a majority of the Big Tent. Has Hillsdale succeeded at what Bob Dole only dreams of doing: uniting the Christian and libertarian Right happily under one roof?

"I'm extremely Right-wing," says Matt Johnson, almost by way of introduction. It's a Saturday night in March, and Johnson is hanging out in Hillsdale's nearly deserted student lounge. A nineteen-year-old physical education major in blue jeans and a baseball cap, Johnson is still growing into his man-size frame. His political identity, however, is fully formed. "I don't think it's the government's job to do anything other than defend the nation militarily," he continues, rising from a plaid couch where he has been alternately studying and napping. "I'm against all property and inheritance taxes. I don't believe in universal health care, or that the U.N. can tell the U.S. what to do." He adds gravely, "I'm the sort of person who'd be in the militia, if I didn't think it somewhat ridiculous for adult men to be running through the forest talking about stealing government tanks."

Johnson, the son of a postman-turned—Baptist minister, was homeschooled by his mother in Dayton, Ohio. "Mom," he says, "is even more Right-wing. No smoking, no drinking, no dancing." Hillsdale is populated by kids like Matt, the children of ultraconservative, often devout, residents of small towns in the Midwest. Bright, courteous, socially poised, Hillsdale students share another, more distinctive trait–they have some of most well-honed political beliefs of any undergraduates in the country. Most are too young to have voted in a national election. But they know exactly what they think and, more impressive, relish a good argument. The college's debating team is the largest in the country and has ranked as high as second place. "I wish there were Democrats here," sighs one member, "because there are so many of us." As Michigan governor John Engler said in a speech on campus in March, "Hillsdale is one of the true heroes in America today. It's the leading liberal-free zone in the state."

To its supporters, Hillsdale is a conservative utopia, one that brings together the two warring constituencies that have hampered Bob Dole's presidential campaign: the Christian Right and secular free marketeers.

Given the Leftish tenor of higher education today, an academically competitive, nonsectarian, "liberal-free" liberal arts college is quite an achievement, one that would seem to require constant vigilance in order to sustain. Hillsdale is intensely suspicious of outsiders without the requisite political credentials–a group that in the college's view includes most of the press. My own trip to Hillsdale this spring, arranged only after lengthy negotiations, was nearly aborted when The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article alleging serious violations of academic freedom–including several contested faculty dismissals and one student suspension. "That piece was not fair," Ronald Trowbridge told me at the time, explaining why I was no longer welcome on campus. "It will do damage with the donors and students. You're just not worth the risk."

On the other hand, forbidding free inquiry can begin to look self-contradictory, given the school's liberty-loving stance. Besides, Trowbridge says, "we aggressively promote our nonconformity. If you attack us and say we're extremists, that's helpful."

It's this line of reasoning, presumably, that explains why I am here.

Hillsdale's central campus–situated on a pretty wooded lawn the size of a city block–consists of a handful of modern brick buildings and a stately Victorian-style main hall with clock tower and cupola. From the top of the tower on a clear day, you can survey the entire town of Hillsdale, Michigan, pop. 8,500, and, beyond it, miles of desolate corn-and-cow country stretching in all directions.

At the college's front gate, lunging from its perch atop a massive stone pedestal, a thousand pound bronze eagle claws the air, as if preparing for battle. Eagles are everywhere on campus: in watercolors and engravings on the walls of the convention center; in sculptured miniatures in the library; and in three more life-size bronzes scattered about the grounds. Engraved on a plaque beneath one of these ponderous allegories is a citation from On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill. "The worth of a State," it reads in part, "is the worth of the individuals composing it...a State which dwarfs its men in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes–will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished." Hillsdale has little patience for small men. Its mission is to cultivate leaders.

Since 1971, more than 700 speakers have given talks on campus as part of a lecture series billed as the largest in the country. Christian ethics and the free market are recurring themes, cropping up in speeches ranging from "How Much Leadership Does a Free Society Need?" to "The Moral Significance of Sport." The list of past speakers reads like a history of the modern American Right–everyone from Seventies stalwarts like Phyllis Schlafly to Establishment heavyweights like Ronald Reagan, George Bush, William Simon, and Margaret Thatcher. (When the former British prime minister spent an evening at Hillsdale two years ago, the college treated her to $250,000 worth of fanfare and sent her back to England with a bronze eagle of her own.) From time to time, a liberal dares to show up–Ralph Nader, Michael Kinsley, and Duke University professor Stanley Fish, who, after two trips to Hillsdale events, says he delights in playing "designated scapegoat."

Speeches deemed sufficiently Right-wing are published in Imprimis, a monthly newsletter distributed free to 640,000 readers here and abroad. Upbeat, patriotic, and unabashedly doctrinaire, Imprimis is the conservative politico's Reader's Digest, each trim issue offering a chatty sermon from the likes of William Bennett or Ralph Reed. Growing largely through word of mouth at a rate of 5,000 new subscribers a month, Imprimis may actually be, as Hillsdale contends, the world's single largest journal of opinion. It is also a highly effective recruitment tool. Explaining his transformation from a Wyoming high school student into a Hillsdale junior, Julian Orr sums up the process: "My dad's a donor, he got Imprimis. That seems to be the thing that gets it all started." For Richard Viguerie, a Hillsdale parent and conservative strategist, Imprimis is a badge of authenticity. "I don't know anyone who doesn't subscribe," he says. "You're suspect if you say you're a conservative and you're not on George Roche's mailing list."

In conservative circles, the names Hillsdale College, Imprimis, and George Roche are virtually synonymous. Since 1971, when, at thirty-four, he became one of the youngest college presidents in the country, Roche has been the principal architect of Hillsdale's ascendancy, and he has attained semi-mythic status on campus. A tall, stiff-jawed, ruggedly handsome man of sixty– "the matinee idol of blue-haired millionairesses," quips one local professor–Roche hovers over Hillsdale like a bracing if slightly ominous wind, a presence more often felt than witnessed, more often feared and respected than liked. One freshman, who spotted Roche just once last semester, calls him "the Hologram." According to college officials, Roche spends about a third of the year on the road, giving speeches and passing the hat. But these absences, they quickly point out, have helped transform Hillsdale from a fiercely independent but virtually unknown local school into an undergraduate think tank with a national following. "George," says Ronald Trowbridge with uncharacteristic reverence, "is a strong, strong captain."

Strong leadership may explain Roche's long tenure at Hillsdale (according to the American Council on Ecucation, the average college presidency lasts seven years). What is less clear is whether this strength derives more from personal conviction or shrewd political calculation. Roche's early writings, including contributions to the dogmatic libertarian monthly, The Freeman, displayed a hard-line, anti-government bent. In recent books and speeches, Roche has taken up Christian themes. When Roche, in a March lecture entitled "Capitalism and the Future of America," told his audience, "We're committed to the private sector not because it works.... It works because it is good," he offered a formula sure to appeal to Christians and libertarians alike among the assembled students and guests. "We shouldn't wallow in the problems of society, in all that mess," he added bluntly, in case anyone had missed his point. "God believes in choice. He lets us even deny his existence, if we are stupid enough to do so."

Not everyone in the audience is seduced, however. "[Roche] realizes that much of the donor constituency is strong evangelical or devout Catholic. He tells them what they want to hear," says one professor who, fearing that his office phone may be tapped, will speak to me only from his home.

On the American Right, Hillsdale is known as the college that turned its back on the federal government and is able to do as it pleases.

Until Roche arrived on campus, it had never occurred to anyone that there was money to be made marketing Hillsdale's image. In 1971 the college was on the brink of financial disaster–partly a result of its refusal to accept government funding in the post-Sputnik decades of frantic plenty for higher education. Recruited from Westchester County's Foundation for Economic Education, a free-market think tank where he was director of seminars, Roche had convincing libertarian credentials: a hardscrabble Rocky Mountain boyhood steeped in homilies about the virtues of hard work and self-reliance; a brief stint as a professor of American history at the Colorado School of Mines; and a book on the dangers of federal intervention in elementary education. Roche brought his Rolodex to Hillsdale and immediately launched the lecture series, with a roster of speakers whose talks he distributed to a thousand like-minded friends. Imprimis was born.

But the first real test of Roche's political beliefs came in 1975, over affirmative action. Since its founding by Freewill Baptists in 1844, Hillsdale has never taken federal funds or turned away qualified applicants, regardless of sex or skin color. Outspoken abolitionists, the Hillsdale College Baptists wrote an anti-discrimination clause into the college's charter, and graduated women and blacks a decade before the Civil War. But in 1975, when the federal government ordered schools to show compliance with affirmative action guidelines, Hillsdale officials, under Roche's direction, refused to fill out the paper work and, along with Grove City College in Pennsylvania, took the government to court. Because they received no direct federal funds, the colleges argued, they should not have to obey federal regulations. In 1984 the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the case: Since some students on each campus received federally subsidized loans, both colleges were indeed subject to government rules.

Roche's response was characteristically defiant. The college renewed its vow of independence by replacing every one of its students' federal loans with money from private donors. "Federal money is the most overrated and incredibly expensive tool that ever came to do harm–ultimately lasting harm–to American colleges and universities," Roche tells me with the weary patience of someone frequently obliged to repeat the obvious. His message has not changed much over the ensuing thirty years: his latest polemic, The Fall of the Ivory Tower, blames excessive federal funding for everything from administrative impotence to declining student performance to the Leftward drift of academic study.

To protect Hillsdale from the liberal onslaught, Roche has raised $230 million since 1985; most of the money, say school officials, comes from contributions by Imprimis readers, many of whom have never set foot on campus. The Hillsdale College catalog lists nearly 400 privately endowed scholarships, including a "Freedom as Vocation" scholarship for students who demonstrate leadership skills and a "working knowledge of the free market," and a Stouffer Foods scholarship for business majors with a "B" average.

Over the last decade, Roche has also doubled Hillsdale's endowment, which now stands at $100 million. Roche himself takes home a handsome cut: his $448,646 salary and benefits package made him the fifth highest-paid college president in the country in 1994. Even so, between privately endowed scholarships and endowment-funded grants and loans, some 86 percent of Hillsdale's students get help in meeting the $17,000 annual tuition.

Very little of the aid is spent on minority students, a point not lost on college officials, who have called minority scholarships "the worst possible form of racism." Robert Blackstock, Hillsdale's dean of admissions, admits that there were four to five times as many black students twenty years ago. Just how many minorities are at Hillsdale now is hard to say. Local estimates put the number at around 4 percent. "I don't have the foggiest idea," shrugs Ronald Trowbridge. "It's none of my business."

As Hillsdale has become whiter and Righter, it has also, thanks to Imprimis and to its high-profile battle with Washington, improved academically. During the last decade, the average SAT score for incoming freshmen climbed an astounding 300 points to 1,210; the average entering GPA is up from 2.6 to 3.66. Although half of Hillsdale's students currently come from Michigan, that number is dropping. National Review editor William F. Buckley, Jr., a longtime friend of Roche, sent a niece to Hillsdale. "The college is doing a remarkable job emphasizing Great Books and the private sector," he says.

In fact, the Hillsdale curriculum serves up more or less traditional academic fare. The core includes classes in American heritage, Great Books, rhetoric, science, and philosophy, combined with course work in canonical subjects–the novels of Henry James, the history of the Enlightenment. Despite Trowbridge's insistence to me that "we're not going to be balanced, we're not going to devote equal time to Marxism," Marx is on sale in the college bookstore (and was on the syllabus for two classes last spring), as are Thomas Pynchon, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Zora Neale Hurston. Hillsdale senior David Bobb mentions a course he took in cultural relativism, with readings by Clifford Geertz, Richard Rorty, and Stanley Fish. "Professors are inculcating an orthodoxy," he says. "That's where the conservatism comes into play. But at the same time, there's absolutely no consensus among the faculty as to what or exactly how they should teach these things." Hillsdale's strength, says President Roche, "is that we allow for individual difference in how we approach things. If you deny that, you deny the whole premise."

"Let's face it," says a professor. "The libertarians and the Christian Right do not speak the same language. The college is really having problems trying to keep both ends happy."

Of course, it helps that at the official level, anyway, differences between Hillsdale individuals are not all that great to begin with. There is no gay and lesbian coalition on campus. ("If one tried to start up, the administration would shut it down," hazards one student.) There are no College Democrats either. ("'Democrat' is almost a curse word here," declares another. "Clinton's pretty much the Devil.") Instead, Hillsdale has the largest InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter in the state of Michigan; a Political Economy Club to promote free-market theory; and an Objectivist Society, devoted to the teachings of the free will atheist Ayn Rand.

"Hillsdale's the institution of choice for libertarians," explains Ayn Pillsbury, a junior from California, who grew up "in an Objectivist household where everything was chaos and anarchy." But while Ayn, a cherub-faced sorority sister, came to Hillsdale "to get steeped in all these libertarian ideas of freedom," senior David Bobb learned about the college at Summit Ministries, an evangelical Christian leadership program for teenagers in Colorado. "We have fifty kids at Hillsdale," boasts Summit Ministries' founder, David Noebel.

Over the last decade, the Christian Right has embraced–some might say seized upon–Hillsdale as one of its own, much in the way the same group has embraced the Republican Party and come to wield enormous power. Hillsdale's student body is heavily Protestant: Evangelical, Methodist and Episcopalian. One third is Roman Catholic. "Our Christian contingent is growing," says Carol-Ann Barker, Hillsdale's dean of student affairs. "Our students are told over and over again, 'It's God, family and your country.' That's reinforced in English classrooms, history, philosophy–all kinds of classrooms. So it's a natural alliance."

Richard Viguerie, a co-founder with Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority and a pioneer of direct-mail political proselytizing, agrees. I run into Viguerie on campus, where he is visiting his son, a senior at the college. "Hillsdale is the Harvard for conservatives," he declares. "If you want to be active in the public arena and policy, you come here." Also visiting is Ron Floit, the father of a Hillsdale sophomore and a small-business owner. Religious belief, both men agree, is as central to their children's attitudes and ambitions as are the conservative values for which the college is known. Then why aren't their kids at a Bible school?

"Just because a school's Christian is no guarantee that it's going to preach the conservative line," Floit explains. "Our institutions of higher learning are captive to liberal socialist–you could say Marxist–thought and goals. There are very few places left that champion free markets and liberty. My niece went to the University of Colorado, at Boulder. She came out a militant feminist extremist environmentalist. How do you do this? You prescribe certain things to read, like The Feminine Mystique."

George Roche also sees it this way. "What is necessary for Christian morality is also necessary for a freely emerging marketplace and for the philosophy of limited government," he maintains. "I don't think a working marketplace is possible without self-transcending individuals, and that's a Christian idea. But it's also a modern economic idea. The two go together wonderfully well."

To hear Roche tell it, Hillsdale has achieved the impossible: keeping Right-wingers from both ends of the spectrum happily ensconced together. There's even some evidence to support his claim. "We're very much to the right of the Republican Party, and particularly critical of the Big Tent philosophy," says David Bobb, chairman of the College Republicans. "The pro-life issue is very important, but on fiscal issues we're still critical of mainline Republicans. Bob Dole has no money among our members." In a College Republicans straw poll this spring, the pro-life, social issues candidate Alan Keyes won first place.

Christian and libertarian students may get along fine on campus, but pleasing donors turns out to be a substantially more difficult feat. "Let's face it," says one professor. "The libertarian end and the Christian Right almost do not speak the same language. There is a vast middle ground, and we try to play on it, but finally, you get to the libertarian edge, the fundamentalist edge, and the college is really having problems trying to keep both ends happy."

In the days following parents' weekend, it's Hillsdale's free-market libertarians who are especially in evidence. The week of March 10 is devoted to the annual Ludwig von Mises lecture series, named after the Austrian Jew whom Hillsdale reveres as "one of the greatest free market economists" and who left his entire library to the college when he died in 1973. This year's topic is "The Future of American Business." But regardless of theme, the heroes remain the same from lecture to lecture and year to year, men whose names at other institutions are mostly limited to footnotes: Frederic Bastiat, Friedrich von Hayek, Henry Hazlitt. The single exception might be Ronald Reagan. "He's almost like a martyr," says one senior.

Several hundred students scribble into notebooks during each lecture. At the end of the week, they will be tested on what they have heard. "The speeches are meant to validate what the students are learning in the classroom," says Lissa Roche, George Roche's daughter-in-law and director of seminars. "They represent the successful application of ideas."

There are eleven speeches this week, including one entitled "Keeping Free Enterprise Free," by Harry E. Teasley, Jr., the former CEO of Coca-Cola Foods, and another on the beauties of deregulation by a buoyant John Engler.

But even Governor Engler, with his breathless litany of deficit-reducing, unemployment-lowering, tax-cutting accomplishments, can't compete with Dave Thomas, the charismatic, sixty-four-year-old, high-school-educated founder of Wendy's Hamburgers. For Thomas's speech, the hall is filled to overflowing, and eight hundred undergraduate heads bend dutifully over notebooks while Thomas, introduced by Roche as "a genuine American hero," makes antigovernment wisecracks and gleefully recounts the details of his career as a professional ham.

On a fifteen-foot screen next to the podium, a video-biography relates Thomas's rags-to-riches story in sentimental detail. The film is followed by two current Wendy's commercials that feature him faking a French accent and riding a bike; and, finally, videotaped highlights from a national tour to promote his book, Well Done! "I've been talking about free enterprise, honesty and integrity, and doing the right thing," Thomas says at one point. "Everything we serve on our menus today is quality."

Later, as the crowd begins to file out, the student sitting on my left offers an unsolicited opinion. "Hillsdale is full of irony," he frowns. "They say they're free and independent, but they're not." Then he disappears.

Is it the thought, suggested by Dave Thomas's lecture, that at some academic functions fund-raising takes precedence over scholarship? ("The lectures are supposed to be more academic than they have been lately," grumbles one professor. "Over time, they've invited more and more potential donors than certified scholars.") Or is it the numerous Victorian restrictions imposed on Hillsdale students' social lives–despite all the talk about individual liberty? Or perhaps the disgruntled student was thinking of The Collegian, the campus newspaper, which, although staffed entirely by students, undergoes regular administrative censorship. Or even the fact, widely discussed on campus in March, that administrators had been caught eavesdropping on a recent faculty meeting.

There are many ironies at Hillsdale, but few if any official forums for discussing them. "Public image means everything here," says Jack Koller, a senior, "because of the private donations."

Dependent for its survival on the largesse of America's Right wing, has Hillsdale simply substituted market controls for government controls? Keeping both libertarian and Christian donors happy requires a delicate balancing act, often involving concessions to one faction at the risk of offending the other.

"Public image means everything here," says a senior, "because of the private donations." There are many ironies at Hillsdale, but few forums for discussing them.

Just how official a role Christianity will play at Hillsdale, for example, is an ongoing dilemma. Last fall, a new tenure-track hire in biology resigned after he was told by his department head that he could not teach Creationism in his classroom. Faced with faculty accusations that Hillsdale had violated the Creationist's academic freedom, as well as potential criticism from powerful Christians–like Jeffrey Coors of the Coors beer family–on his board of trustees, President Roche came up with a response intended to please everybody. The problem, he wrote in a February memo to the faculty, wasn't academic freedom. The problem was liberals: "The enemy is Leviathan, a giant standing on our left, dressed in the trappings of secular humanism, armed with all the vast powers of the state, the media, the government schools, the politically correct colleges and universities." A week later, a business professor, also devout, resigned, citing his loyalty to Jesus Christ. "Unfortunately," he wrote in a letter to his department chair, "the gulf between image and reality is so great that for me to stay at Hillsdale, I would feel like I was participating in a fraud." Indignant but intimidated, the rest of the faculty passed a motion requesting President Roche to present his views on academic freedom at their next meeting. The request received no reply. Neither did an unsigned memo rebuking Roche, which circulated on campus. "The enemy," declared the memo, "is anyone who does not defend and protect the academic freedom of well-trained, well-informed, well-intentioned academic professionals."

Hillsdale's commitment to free speech was similarly compromised following an incident involving a pro-choice slogan on campus last year; that time, however, it was to the school's Christian constituency that the administration appealed. For the last couple of years, friends and alumni have paid $150 each to have a brick engraved and planted in the walk leading up to Central Hall. Some of the bricks bear names and graduation dates; others sport political messages. (A POX ON BIG GOVERNMENT, declares a brick donated by Ronald Trowbridge.) Until a few months ago, there was one brick in the walk that proclaimed, DEFEND EVERY WOMAN'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE. After Hillsdale senior David Bobb complained to the alumni affairs office, the administration had the brick removed. "The charge is, 'That's censorship,'" says Trowbridge. "And, literally speaking, it is. George took the brick out because it implies an institutional endorsement of an idea he doesn't want to endorse. It's a paradox you can't avoid. We're for independence, but we're not anarchists. If you come here–and you don't have to–then you must follow our rules."

Faculty and students offer a simpler explanation. "The problem is called pas d'ennemis à droite," says one professor. "Don't offend the Right. The money comes from the Right." But then, why ban Creationism from biology class and risk offending the Christian trustees? "If the college embraces Creationism," responds senior Jack Koller matter-of-factly, "it will lose economic libertarians. On the other hand, Christian kids–they love authority, they don't drink, they don't do drugs. They're good kids."


At Hillsdale, goodness is inculcated so assiduously that it has become a twenty-four-hour-a-day project. Most undergraduates live in single-sex dorms under the watchful eye of a house parent. Strict visitation hours, posted in dorm lobbies, prevent unfettered mingling of the sexes. Parties are prohibited on weeknights, and even on weekends, fraternity bashes require administrative approval and adult party monitors. "I was fined ten dollars for appearing in my dorm hallway in a towel," says a first-year female student who plans not to return in the fall. "I used to get my room checked at 3 a.m. [by monitors] looking for boys. The penalty is twenty-five dollars if they catch you with someone. I grew up a little differently than most students here–with freedom. I've never been depressed in my life until I came to this school."

Not every student is bothered by all the rules: "I think they're good rules," says Kadee Drechsel, a sophomore. "I have a healthy respect for authority." And Dean Blackstock adds that the rules tell students "that there's something going on here about the male-female thing that we need to elevate ourselves above. Passions have to be controlled." But many are troubled by the discrepancies between official rhetoric and practice, of which the heavy-handed, in loco parentis bureaucracy is just one example. "I love this institution," declares one anguished senior, "but it's an awful thing if people cannot live by what they teach. There's not been a way to vent frustrations without landing in hot water."

The obvious place to vent frustrations, of course, would be in The Collegian, but the paper has become a symbol of the very problems it is meant to address. "There is a quashing of opinion at the administrative level," says David Bobb, a former Collegian editor who had articles killed by Dean Barker. He cites, as an example, the case of an education professor whose contract was not renewed. "The administration would not allow any article mentioning this man's name, even in an editorial or a simple news article. The stated reason is often lawsuits. The nonstated reason is embarrassment to the institution."

Dean Barker responds that she's simply protecting the students: "In the past, we've had some editors who wrote some very careless articles–damaging to personnel, professors, et cetera. It's a legal matter. It's not something that students know anything about. Sometimes people–an administrator or a faculty member–will attempt to use the newspaper as their own soapbox. If we have a controversial issue, such as academic freedom, I hope I can be there to direct students on how to produce a balanced presentation."

After The Chronicle of Higher Education reported alleged violations of academic freedom on campus, the college embarked on damage control. Dean Barker announced that The Collegian would devote an entire issue to the discussion of academic freedom. She would solicit the articles herself, she explained, in order to protect Collegian editors from manipulation "by individuals on either side of the issues."

The result, published on March 21, was reminiscent of the Soviet media before glasnost. "Our house is not filled with demons," wrote Charles Van Eaton, chair of the economics department. "We must all–faculty, students and administration–make sure we don't see them where they don't exist.... I support Hillsdale College and George Roche." An English professor, noting that Hillsdale employees have contributed almost $2 million to the college's most recent fund-raising campaign, took the opportunity to correct a misquote in an interview he once gave to a newspaper about the college. "When the article appeared," he wrote, "Dr. Roche was compared to Jack Palance; I had really compared him to Gary Cooper. I'm pleased now to set the record straight."

None of the Collegian articles discussed specific charges made by the Chronicle, and only a few dealt with academic freedom in general. Dr. Roche's editorial sidestepped the issue altogether. "Experience suggests that healthy skepticism is always in order when carefully analyzing what is being reported in the media," he opined. "Neither internal misunderstandings that arise from time to time nor the external forces such as the media can detract from what our college is becoming: an institution of national vision and example."

But Roche may not have the last word. Fearful but determined, at least a few conservatives on campus occasionally manage to express their dissent. One morning last fall, college officials awoke to discover the thousand-pound Hillsdale Eagle tarred and feathered.


Emily Eakin is on the staff of The New Yorker. Her article, "Walking the Line," appeared in the March/April 1996 issue of Lingua Franca.

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