Hillsdale President Gets Heat over Racial Remark

Lori Higgins and David Jesse, Detroit Free Press, July 31, 2013

The president of Hillsdale College took heat from several lawmakers during a hearing today in which he said state officials visited his campus to determine whether enough “dark ones” were enrolled.

Larry Arnn, the president of the private college, made the comments during a subcommittee hearing on Michigan’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards. Arnn, who spoke in opposition of the standards, prefaced his comments by describing an experience when he began as president in 2000 in which state officials criticized his college for, as he said, not having enough “dark” students.

The criticism, he said, was part of a 35-page report from the Michigan Department of Education that also said the college violated the standard for global and multicultural curricula “because we teach Western civilization.”

Arnn made his comments before he addressed concerns about the Common Core standards, saying the earlier experience with the MDE “makes me skeptical about these state standards and increasing control from the state and federal government.” When it was time for lawmakers on the committee to ask questions, several Democrats said they found his earlier comments offensive.

“You’re the president of a college. I would expect better out of you,” said Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, who later in the day called on Arnn to apologize.

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The controversy was addressed in a statement released late in the afternoon by Hillsdale.

“No offense was intended by the use of that term except to the offending bureaucrats, and Dr. Arnn is sorry if such offense was honestly taken. But the greater concern, he believes, is the state-endorsed racism the story illustrates.” That state-endorsed racism, college officials said, is attempts by federal and state officials to force Hillsdale to count its students by race.

During the hearing, Arnn tried to explain that his school’s charter says the college will accept students without regard to race. And indeed, the college was the first in the U.S. to prohibit in its charter discrimination by race, religion or gender. But he was cut off.

Later, subcommittee Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, asked Arnn whether he wanted to clarify his comments.

Arnn said the state of Michigan—several weeks before he became president in 2000—sent a group of people to his campus with clipboards to “look at the colors of people’s faces and write down what they saw.”

Arnn said his college doesn’t keep those kinds of records.

“What were they looking for besides dark ones?” Arnn asked.

Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education, said the department has never sent anyone to Hillsdale to identify students by race.

The MDE last year rated the college’s teacher preparation program as “at-risk” in large part because of a lack of diversity in the program. Diversity is one of a number of factors the MDE uses to rate all teacher prep programs in the state.

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Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network, said he is calling on Hillsdale board members and major funders to speak against Arnn’s comments. If they don’t, he said, “we will be very strategic in how we deal with any of their industries or venues.”

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The conservative Hillsdale College, founded in 1844, is famous for rejecting all federal and state funding to help guarantee its independence.

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