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April 26, 2005

2½ cheers for Hillsdale

Don Herzog: April 26, 2005

I'm a big fan of Hillsdale College.  I've never been there, even though it's an easy drive from Ann Arbor.  No matter:  I'm a big fan.

Hillsdale is the plucky little liberal arts college that became famous — or infamous, depending on who you travel with — for defying the federal government.  HEW demanded that colleges receiving federal funding file an Assurance of Compliance and then track and report all kinds of data to assure they're in compliance with Title IX.  For the record, Title IX does lots more than demand gender equity in sports.  The agency then decided the requirement would extend to campuses on which any student was receiving federal funding.  Hillsdale balked.  Eventually, the Supreme Court upheld the agency's action as clearly authorized by the statute.  And over Reagan's veto, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act to further broaden the statute's coverage.

Meanwhile, Hillsdale had had enough.  The college proudly boasts of being the country's first to ban discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and sex.  But they didn't like the idea of the feds snooping around in their internal decisions.  So they decided that they and their students would accept no federal funding.  Instead, they turned to conservative donors and raised hundreds of millions, enabling them to replace government funding with private financial aid.

Ever since, the place has been the darling of the right.  William F. Buckley, Jr., he of the waggling eyebrows, darting tongue, sardonic wit, and otiosely filigreed vocabulary, has long had a close relationship with the school.  And fabulous research opportunity here — now you can search his published work at the school's website.  This year, at the Founders Campaign Gala, Buckley, Ann Coulter, and Dan Quayle will appear as guests.  The curriculum focuses on the traditional liberal arts, clearly with a strong conservative and libertarian bent.

Oh, the school has had its problems.  There was a huge scandal in '99.  The college president's daughter-in-law, who worked on campus, alleged that she and he had had a long-running affair.  She promptly committed suicide.  He promptly retired with a splendid golden parachute.  (He was already very highly paid.)  No, sorry, none of this bears on the worth of what Hillsdale does.  And I disdain cheap shots at right-wing moralists as hypocrites.  (Oh, okay, I snicker at Tribulation Wholesome in Ben Jonson's Alchemist.)  Indeed, I'm happy that the president and his son have reconciled.  Meanwhile, disgruntled community members formed the amusingly named Hillsdale Liberation Organization.  Their website looks like it's not been updated in some years, but it alleges imperious government by the old president and ruthless ideological intolerance and censorship on campus.  (Here are some other critical comments.)

Then too, I think Hillsdale, like other campuses, would be far better off if it were more diverse.  And I'm a big fan of Title IX, though I do think the feds should think a lot harder than they do about how cumbersome and expensive it is to demonstrate to the bureaucrats that you're complying with various legal rules.

So there's plenty I disagree with Hillsdale about.  I could add more.  The old president recently resurfaced with a lecture on American history festooned with crazy judgments:  if his intellectual agenda for the school featured that sort of thing, I shudder for the students.  And the current president is a Straussian political theorist, so I'm sure I have all kinds of deep disagreements with him, just as I'm sure his little piece attacking Grutter is way off the mark.  So why am I such a fan of Hillsdale?  Because they're intriguingly different, and not in any blatantly offensive or unacceptable way.  (I would not be a fan of Ku Klux Klan U.  But don't bother trying to persuade me that conservatism is just the polite face of racism:  that's staggeringly ignorant as well as blatantly offensive.)  No one's forced to go to Hillsdale.  The rest of us can learn from its experience thumbing its nose at the feds.  We can learn about what the problems are of a staunchly conservative little college, and how they compare and contrast to those of staunchly liberal little colleges.

But there's more, and here's what I really want to insist on.  A liberal society will have plenty of groups and institutions that defy liberal orthodoxies.  Tolerance isn't yellow-bellied "relativism," and pluralism doesn't mean smiling sweetly at Nazis.  But Hillsdale is well within the bounds of liberal tolerance and pluralism.  No self-respecting liberal should wish that one association after another fall into line and dutifully affirm the same old rules about freedom, equality, the role of government, and the like.  No self-respecting liberal should want everyone to be a liberal.  No self-respecting liberal should want such a monochrome society.

In short, my disagreements with Hillsdale are precisely why I like them so much.  So this unreconstructed liberal is a big fan of Hillsdale College.  (They do lose half a cheer for the allegations of thought control.)  For real.


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Posted by: Tad Brennan

Brian Leiter made a similar point about Geo. Mason's law school.
(http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2005/04/intellectual_di.html )

It has done well for itself and carved out a niche precisely by *avoiding* diversity, i.e. by hiring lots of libertarians (a community of libertarians, you might say). And not only have they benefited themselves, they have actually increased the diversity at the national level by reducing the diversity at their institutional level.

This is a general point about diversity: you cannot consistently maximize diversity at every level of compositional analysis. My whole dinner is diverse because the courses differ from each other--but some of those courses exhibit no internal diversity whatsoever (e.g. the meat course is just meat). Some of the courses are also internally diverse, but there too diversity at one level depends on non-diversity at another: my salad is diverse because some regions of it are exclusively tomato and some are exclusively cucumber. If I tried to maximize diversity down to the millionth of a milliliter, I wouldn't have salad, I'd have consomme. If I tried to make every volume of my meal diverse, I would wind up with a meaty-veggy-bready-soggy pablum, every fraction of a spoonful nauseatingly the same. (Cooking with Anaxagoras).

This was brought home to me when I did a visiting stint a decade ago at a decent regional liberal arts school, which at the time was much in the grip of diversity-worship. Some deans proposed that every course should have a "diversity component", esp. of non-Western comparative material. So my course on Greek philosophy was supposed to have a component on, say, ancient Chinese Confucianism, while down the hall the China scholar's course on Ancient China was to have a component on Socrates. And all of a sudden, what do you know--the students see the same damn pablum in every class. They have lost the option of getting their diversity just by going down the hall. And they have traded a bunch of specialists, who at least know their own stuff, for a bunch of ill-informed dilettantes trying to teach what they don't know.

There was a fair bit of grumbling from the faculty about this proposal, and the plan may have been killed--it was scheduled for the year after my visit, so I don't know what happened. I then went off to a big Ivy where this fad had swept through and withered a decade previous--bad ideas take a while to reach the provinces. After they pass, serious scholars get back to serious scholarship, i.e. becoming expert in their narrow, non-diverse fields.

Real diversity at the university level is best insured by allowing individual courses to take on strong individual flavors, and offering students a wide enough array of these strongly-flavored courses so they have good menu options. On the other hand, real diversity at the national level is promoted by allowing institutions to develop their own personalities, even when that means that some of them will offer a narrow range of menu-choices. And whaddya know--the U.S. higher education system is big enough to accommodate all of these possibilities. One of the many, many reasons I love America.

Posted by: Tad Brennan | Apr 26, 2005 10:06:04 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I just hate it when I agree with both Messrs Herzog and Brennan, but there you have it. I’d add that the nation is a better place because women’s colleges still exist and because of such idiosyncratic places as St. John’s College, Annapolis, etc. I’d also point out that George Mason University has become quite adept at this niche marketing, with an economics department that boasts two Nobel Prize winners and probably more 'Austrians' than you can find in modern day Vienna. I once attended a Liberty Fund seminar* which included several faculty members from Hillsdale and they were delightful people with the sort of quirky intelligence and interests that (almost) make the academic life seem so attractive.

* (Repeated shameless promotional plug – If anyone out there is ever looking to fill a vacancy on one of those wonderful Liberty Fund seminars, I’m your boy!)

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Apr 26, 2005 10:45:03 AM

Posted by: Tad Brennan

Mr. Ridgely--

"I’m your boy!"

Here too we agree--the glorious name of Liberty never sounds sweeter than when its announced by the conductor of a gravy train. Give me Liberty, and keep me, too.

Posted by: Tad Brennan | Apr 26, 2005 11:43:10 AM

Posted by: V The Younger

2½ cheers for proper use of the ½ character!

Posted by: V The Younger | Apr 26, 2005 6:19:20 PM

Posted by: David

Don, it's a shame this post isn't generating more discussion. Everyone's a little too excited about relativism v. objective morality at the moment, I suppose. Nevertheless, some interesting issues are tangled up with your tolerance (celebration?)of Hillsdale's ideological character. As it regards this particular institution, I think I can go along with your tolerance for it. By the way, is Hillsdale publicly supported at all? That might affect my opinion. If it is private, then I have no problem with it, just as I have no problem with private, religiously affiliated institutions of higher learning. If it is publicly supported, however, then issues other than tolerance become part of the analysis. I think you'll agree--though, I might very well be wrong--that the government shouldn't endorse a conception of the good to the exclusion of another, at least if we're talking about the kinds of personal doctrines/tastes that reasonable people will inevitably and justifiably disagree about (like religious codes of behavior, sexual attitudes, Beatles v. Stones, etc.).

But Hillsdale isn't really an example of this. Because it seems to be characterized by a political ideology, rather than a personal, comprehensive conception of the good, its personality is an expression of a public ideal. To say government can't express a conception of the public ideal is silly since that is what laws essentially do. But, I'm writing mainly to bring attention to problems that arise when the unique perspective that characterizes an institution is one regarding which the government should have no opinion. Religion is the obvious example, and (according to today's S.Ct. jurisprudence) the Establishment Clause does a lot to prevent government support for religious teachings. However, as David V.'s post on public radio/tv argued persuasively, there are other, similar ways in which the government crosses the line.

The example I'm thinking of most involves colleges like VMI and the Citadel (before equal protection made some changes). The Citadel, at least (not sure about VMI), openly proclaimed that its purpose was to build a certain kind of "man." That is to say, its design was based on a certain conception of gender--what it is (metaphysically) to be a man. I think this totally crosses the line. The government should have no opinions about what constitutes a real man, or a real woman for that matter.

But, I'm anxious to hear others' thoughts. Like you, Don, I desire an element of diversity in education and I like to think that I uphold my end when it comes to liberal tolerance. I have no problem with people actually becoming Citadel men. Indeed, I live less than mile from the school, and the cadets tend to be nice folks whom I get along with well. I just don't want the government to devote special energy to this conception of manhood.

Posted by: David | Apr 26, 2005 8:59:59 PM

Posted by: anon

it is truly fascinating to learn about Don Herzog's feelings about Hillsdale College. Cynics might lament the complete lack of sexual and racial diversity here at left2right, but I for one just love hearing more and more about what a few white men think!

you go, boys!!

Posted by: anon | Apr 26, 2005 10:16:46 PM

Posted by: Steven Horwitz

Just a few quick points:

1. Hillsdale is private. Totally. Or at least as totally as one can be. I interviewed there a few years ago and, actually, am glad it didn't work out because my own preferences are such that I would have been unhappy there. Don's overall point about the college, however, remains valid.

2. As a PhD recipient from the George Mason econ department, DA and Tad are dead on about both the dept and the law school. They have diversified their product and carved out unique and influential niches in the academic marketplace. When I was at GMU in the mid/late 80s, it was an amazing place full of intelligent, motivated, open-minded folks who wanted to change the world in libertarian ways (and many of them/us have gone on to very nice careers in the world of ideas and have generated such change). It was also the most cooperative and communal grad program you'll ever find. Faculty and students were in it together, and there was little "hazing" or the like of grad students. It was ideal.

I should note two side points: 1) I arrived the year before Buchanan won the Nobel, leading to a complete windfall profit to the value of my degree. Still the best, and maybe only good, entrepreneurial decision I've ever made. 2) Don encouraged me to go there when I was in the decision process. One reason was they gave me a good deal. I remember his words, more or less: "Steve, there's only one thing worse than having a PhD. Having a PhD and being $20,000 in debt." Wise words Don.

3. The GMU/Hillsdale (and if you know it, Francisco Marroquin University in Guatemala) strategy is the right way for conservatives and libertarians to diversify academia. True diversity need not be at the course, department or even school level as Tad notes (although I do think more of it would be desirable at those levels). Another way to diversify is across institutions, with some carving out unique niches to serve the needs of students deeply interested in those ideas. Yes, it would be good for students to be exposed to more diverse ideas in courses at dominantly liberal schools, but if not that, at least let more flowers bloom across schools.

4. Liberty Fund conferences are absolutely the best game in town. It's precisely the way to do a seminar to maximize participate enjoyment and payoff.

Posted by: Steven Horwitz | Apr 26, 2005 10:26:09 PM

Posted by: Josh Jasper

it is truly fascinating to learn about Don Herzog's feelings about Hillsdale College. Cynics might lament the complete lack of sexual and racial diversity here at left2right, but I for one just love hearing more and more about what a few white men think!

Lack of sexual diversity? You mean you're all genderqueer bi poly kinky people too?!

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 26, 2005 10:37:57 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Tolerance can be such a condescending little virtue, can’t it? (“Well, I tolerate liberals but of course I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”)

Moving right along, last time I checked our government supports predominantly black colleges and women’s colleges, both directly and indirectly, so I wouldn’t fret too much over whether such support constitutes any endorsement of some particular and therefore necessarily exclusive conception of the good. Besides, what does “publicly supported at all” mean? In case of enemy attack, will the U.S. Army defend Hillsdale as well its environs? I suspect the answer is yes.

I think the world was a better place when VMI was all male. Sadly, it’s a state supported institution and I think a reasonable case can be made that no state supported institution should discriminate on grounds of gender, but then I’d prefer all colleges and universities to be private, anyway. If there is sufficient demand for co-ed military academies (or all female academies, for that matter), I say swell, go start one.

That’s not to say I “endorse” VMI’s vision of manhood. Quite the contrary, in fact. Let’s say, instead, I was happy to, ahem, tolerate it in exchange for the same toleration of my different views on the subject. Alas, the powers-that-be were not so tolerant.

I think roughly the same case can be made for religious institutions, by which I mean the ones that remain actually committed to religious ideals as opposed to, say, Georgetown. As long as the state doesn’t give any special preference to religious colleges or women’s colleges or military academies or, as the Feds now call them, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the fact that it supports them one and all on an equal basis doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Again, for those who scruple endlessly over the slightest possible cracks in that Great Wall between Church and State (“Better let the synagogue burn, Harry. This is a municiple fire department.”), the better solution is to get the federal government and the states entirely the hell out of the business of education and let people go to school wherever the hell they wish. (N.B., I use “hell” here specifically in its vulgar, secular sense so as not to offend anyone whose eschatological views might be offended.)

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Apr 26, 2005 10:45:17 PM

Posted by: Josh Jasper

Some people think it was a better palce when it was all white. So what's the differnce between you and them?

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Apr 27, 2005 9:06:36 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Well, for one thing, I think there really are significant and culturally immutable differences between men and women, while I don't think the same is true of people of different ethnic origins. Also, as I noted earlier, VMI is a state supported institution, and when everyone is forced to support an institution, it resultingly loses the autonomy it would have if it were entirely private. For another, I agree with African Americans who complain that whatever the struggle for political and social equality might entail for women, homosexuals, the disabled, etc., it is not the same situation as race in America.

However, I'll rise to the true underlying bait behind your question and answer, ultimately, nothing. If entirely through private consentual association, people chose to create an all-white or all-black or all-whatever college or university, I would be critical of that association (for roughly the same reasons I am critical of all male or all female institutions), but I would happily 'tolerate' them.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Apr 27, 2005 9:34:08 AM

Posted by: RonZ

Is there really such an animal as a "Private" university in the U.S.? I went to high school at Yeshiva University -- a "real" religious university, as opposed to Georgetown, as Mr. Ridgely suggests. Many of my friends went there for college and graduate school. All went with the support of federally subsidized loans and grants. Those were your tax dollars at work.

Moreover, those tax dollars were unavailable to others. Scarcity matters, and the money spent there was not spent on others. Their endowment might be private, but the money that pays the bills is as public there as it is at any other college.

And all of this ignores the tax benefits that a school gets as a charitable contribution. By saying that I can deduct contributions to my alma mater, the government is, in effect, saying that they will let me substitute my judgement of what to do with this part of my income for theirs. I know that idea has been discussed frequently on this site, but the charitable deduction is a major subsidy of private education.

Given that, can we go back to the distinction between VMI/Citadel and Y.U.? Because it's a smaller distinction than one might have thought.

How does that matter to Hillsdale? Well, if it's defensible to regulate VMI, it's defensible to regulate Yeshiva University; both can only survive (as currently configured) with the help of the government. (Yes, we could change that, but do we really want to suggest a major overhaul of the current university system in 500 words or less?) I suspect Ridgely's response is, "Exactly! No regulation! If you don't like my (religious/all white/all male/all black/all female/all libertarian) school, go to another one! Let the all-holy market determine which schools survive." (OK, he probably wouldn't say "all-holy.")

But for those of us who are not libertarians, do we have as coherent an answer? Because, while I'm absolutely certain that Ridgely's universe is not acceptable to me, alternative's aren't so hot, either. I also want to be able to go to a libertarian college, though I might not choose it. Or one that speciallizes in Wittgenstein. Or any other view of the world. (Can I just assume Prof. Herzog's caveat about KKK University, please? Thanks.)

That said, I think that single sex and single race schools are very much in a different category than an all-conservative, all-liberal or all-Wittgenstinian faculty. I mean, we talk about heightened levels of scrutiny in Supreme Court decisions, and I think it does mean something.

In other words, though I see the similarities, I think there's an obvious difference between Hillsdale and VMI. One voluntary association is made based on something I can change, namely my beliefs. The other is made on something I can't, namely my sex. I don't mind admission standards and practices that enshrine the former constraint, but I do mind those that enshrine the latter.

And that is also my problem with Mr. Ridgely's "If entirely through private consentual association, people chose to create an all-white or all-black or all-whatever college or university, I would be critical of that association (for roughly the same reasons I am critical of all male or all female institutions), but I would happily 'tolerate' them." Those who are outside the all-white or all-black college cannot be considered to have consented to the same sex or same race college, but are nonetheless forced to accept them.

Religion is, of course, more difficult, as earlier posts by Prof. Herzog have examined. I leave that one to smarter people. But I don't think this is as easy as we want it to be, or as cut and dried. (Except, as always, for Mr. Ridgely. I may disagree with him about, well, almost everything, but I sure do admire his consistency of vision.)

Posted by: RonZ | Apr 27, 2005 6:05:47 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I appreciate RonZ's comments. I do think that people should be permitted to do all sorts of disagreeable things, though I admit I would choke at the prospect of a KKKU myself. However, for what it's worth, I disapprove of those all male or (basically) all black, etc. colleges not because of the harm that results to those who are barred admission, but because of the harm to the students who do go there.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Apr 27, 2005 7:08:34 PM

Posted by: catfish

It is worth pointing out that there are no longer "black colleges" in the sense that other races are not allowed to enroll there. It is instead the result of voluntary decisions made by individuals. I can sympathize with the desires of African American college students to attend an institution in which they are the majority, although I think the students would probably benefit if the proportion of non-black students increased. Does anyone know of any historically black instituitons that have a 30% non-African American student body.

Posted by: catfish | Apr 29, 2005 11:31:37 AM

Posted by: Tom Perkins

catfish, would an about 90-95% Caucausian student body count?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

Posted by: Tom Perkins | May 2, 2005 10:43:38 AM

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