Posted on August 3, 2020

Hillsdale College Did Nothing Wrong

Josiah Lippincott, American Greatness, July 30, 2020

Hillsdale college students are honest in word and deed. At least, they should be. Certain alumni, it seems, could use a reminder. This past week Liz Essley Whyte published an essay at The Bulwark demanding that her (and my) alma mater, Hillsdale College, “join the national reckoning on race.”


{snip} Whyte insists that Hillsdale comb through the opinions of individuals associated with the college, often tangentially, in order to “lament” this “evil” in its past. Absurd. The Hillsdale of today is not responsible for the sins, real or imagined, of yesteryear. The current college administration must answer for itself alone. The wrongs of our ancestors are not our sins. Guilt isn’t passed through the bloodstream or institutional lineage.

The goal of a college is to educate. Lamenting the past gets in the way of teaching it. We cannot think critically when we are busy casting heretics into the flames. None of the examples of wrongthink that Whyte details demand the institutional reckoning she recommends.

For instance, she points to former Hillsdale College President George Roche’s cautionary view of central power, deference to federalism, and support for American noninterventionism towards South African Apartheid. None of those positions are intrinsically evil. Roche’s libertarianism and anti-imperialism were not illegitimate positions. Wrong maybe, but not reprehensible. Current college president Larry Arnn is certainly in no position to answer for them.

Argumentum ad Hominem 

Whyte’s favored argument is guilt-by-association. She claims the college kept “odious company” by including a response from Ian Smith, then prime minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in a 1973 copy of Imprimis, the college newsletter and speech digest. The response in question was to an open letter to the Rhodesian prime minister by Dr. Arthur Shenfield, a visiting professor. Whyte alleges that this letter defends “minority white rule of Zimbabwe and private discrimination.”

For one, Whyte’s imputations are simply wrong. Shenfield explicitly opposed those who insisted on “white rule” in Rhodesia. He instead favored slowly incorporating blacks into Rhodesia’s political structure through land requirements for voting. {snip}

Shenfield’s belief in a prudential and slow expansion of the franchise wasn’t evil or even obviously wrong. {snip}


Allowing Prime Minister Ian Smith to write a response to an open letter in Imprimis was not, as Whyte claims, an instance of the college keeping “odious” company. Instead, it was an attempt to foster debate on a particularly difficult political problem between the college’s faculty and the leader of a foreign country. {snip}

Yet More Guilt By Association

Whyte makes a number of similar guilt-by-association charges against the college.

For instance, she castigates Hillsdale for inviting Jared Taylor, editor of the “white supremacist American Renaissance magazine” to speak at an event in 1995. Taylor is a fringe figure now, but that wasn’t always true. His 1994 book Paved With Good Intentions, an analysis of the breakdown in racial relations in America, received reviews in the Wall Street JournalNational ReviewWashington Times, and Human Events. Hillsdale asked him to speak on “Racial Relations and Welfare,” a topic connected to his book. This was an entirely legitimate offer. That Taylor’s wider views are so controversial now is irrelevant with respect to what happened in 1995.

Of course, it is interesting to note who Whyte doesn’t fault the college for hosting. For instance, in 1994, 2003, and 2004 Hillsdale invited  Bill Kristol—an unrepentant cheerleader of the unjustified and disastrous Iraq war—to come speak. Jared Taylor’s views on race and IQ are deeply controversial, but on the question of whether America should invade foreign countries and kill people of color in the name of democracy, he was far more sane than Kristol ever was.

Today, Taylor is a pariah. Kristol, on the other hand, has gone on to the heights of billionaire-funded NeverTrump ventures. In fact, he currently sits as editor-at-large for The Bulwark—the very publication where Whyte published her critique of Hillsdale.

Whyte, it seems, keeps her own “odious” company. Maybe she should start the “reckoning” by canceling herself.

This assumes, of course, that guilt-by-association is the standard. It shouldn’t be. Whyte’s work stands or falls by her own arguments and not her editor’s. Whyte does not owe the world an apology for Kristol’s views on the Iraq War, just as Hillsdale does not owe an apology for Taylor’s opinions on race.

Whyte’s argument culminates in her claim that Hillsdale’s lack of diversity is due to a self-imposed “special challenge” the college hasn’t done enough to “solve.” Not true. There is nothing wrong with Hillsdale’s racial composition. Hillsdale’s “whiteness” is not a problem—it’s just a fact.

Hillsdale long ago placed its educational mission above trying to create a certain ethnic mix among its students. That was the right decision and it shows. Hillsdale attracts serious students who wish to study serious ideas. That, and not racial composition, is what matters. Hillsdale has no need to flog itself over the beliefs of individual speakers, the skin color of its students, or the principles of limited government and personal liberty it champions. On these counts, Hillsdale owes no one an apology.