Counting by Race at Hillsdale

Frederick Douglass

Hillsdale College is justly acclaimed for not taking federal funds. The Michigan liberal arts college even employs an attorney to make sure it does not unintentionally receive any. It fears the intrusiveness of federal regulations on its academic freedom and the quality of student life. (I taught for Hillsdale’s Washington, DC program, before they raised its standards. In fact, Larry Arnn, as President of the Claremont Institute rehired me there and, perhaps fearing the consequences of his decision, shortly left and became President of Hillsdale.)

Hillsdale’s principled stand has once again drawn the ire of government—this time Michigan education bureaucrats and state legislators. In 2000 the State Office of Professional Preparation Services (aka OOPPS) declared,

“It is felt [keep relying on that passive voice!] that the Hillsdale approach does not meet the intent of the standard. There is no way to ensure [sic!] that the program will produce a culturally diverse body of teachers or that candidates will complete their studies in a culturally diverse environment.”


“There is no evidence of a plan to recruit, hire and retain a diverse faculty, which currently is not a culturally diverse body….”

Hillsdale’s teacher preparation program is not certified by the State, because the College does not record information on what is known in the federal government as “protected classes” and obviously cannot report what it does not have. This of course opens the College to the charge that it lacks “diversity.”

Culturally diverse faculty!? Will we see quotas for Bible-thumpers? Goals and timetables for Slavs? Of course not, that would be offensive and, moreover, irrelevant for and even hostile to the legitimate purposes of education.

This provides some background to Hillsdale President Arnn’s recent testimony to State legislators about the Common Core standards that threaten to put schools under further federal regulation. He complained that

The State of Michigan sent a group of people down to my campus, with clipboards … to look at the colors of people’s faces and write down what they saw,” Arnn said. “We don’t keep records of that information. What were they looking for besides dark ones?”

In fact, the College’s website states that the school “was the first American college to prohibit in its charter any discrimination based on race, religion or sex, and became an early force for the abolition of slavery.”  One early visitor to the college was Frederick Douglass (pictured).

The OOPPS bureaucracy at first denied it had sent out any such campus color-coordinators but had to relent when Hillsdale produced a written memorandum of such a visit, in 1998.

C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters comes to mind:

The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ’dens of rime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Higher education policy asserts that categorizations by race and ethnicity are needed to “ensure” quality, when of course they promote the opposite. Can anyone cite a single example of their improving higher education? Legislators’ mock offense taken at Arnn’s sardonic “dark ones” comment would have been credibly directed at the instigators of such classifications, who seem to forget we are all of one human nature. This self-evident truth lies at the heart of Hillsdale’s teaching from its founding through today.