Hillsdale College altered its mission statement this summer, for the first time since the 1980s, to more clearly reflect its foundations and adherence to Christian principles.
President Larry Arnn worked with administrators to rewrite parts of the statement to better reflect the college’s mission in regards to religion, Provost David Whalen said. The final draft was completed in the spring and introduced to the faculty assembly and the board of trustees in May.
The changes are indicative of the college’s history and purpose, Whalen said.
“As the culture around us becomes more secular or more progressively anti-Christian, it becomes more important any latent ambiguity as to the college’s beliefs and identity to be removed,” Whalen said.
Whalen said Arnn has considered making these revisions for years. The changes come just months after the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines on how educators should address transgender students.
The new mission statement quotes from the Articles of Association, written by the Freewill Baptist founders of Hillsdale College, declaring it the college’s aim to preserve and teach the Christian faith. The revised statement is a “more perfect reflection” of this founding document, Arnn said in an email.
“As a nonsectarian Christian institution, Hillsdale College maintains ‘by precept and example’ the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith,” a new sentence in the statement reads.
The revisions also removed reference to the “Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture,” stating the college is a trustee of “our Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem.”
The new version also adds that students will receive an education based in theology as well as literature and science.
Whalen said the restatement of the college’s mission is meant to clarify confusion as to whether or not Hillsdale is a Christian institution.
“Some people are just confused,” Whalen said. “A lot of people may say Hillsdale is secular, but it’s really just independent of any affiliation with a church.”
Hillsdale is financially independent from government support, but regulations could affect the accreditation of the college’s programs of study, a process the school is preparing for now, said Tom Burke, professor of religion and philosophy.
Whalen said the changes in the statement are not a result of Hillsdale’s upcoming accreditation.
Burke said, however, if the college did find itself in a position to justify its beliefs, the clearer language could help Hillsdale defend its religious liberty.
“We’re just trying to make that clear so that if there are any challenges brought, we stand within the Christian tradition, and therefore, should have the privilege of abiding by traditional Christian ethics,” Burke said.
Michael Jordan, professor of English, said as the culture becomes more secular, there is a greater need to state a religious affiliation.
“What we used to understand as the norm isn’t the norm anymore,” Jordan said. “I think it is a good thing it is now more explicit because what used to be understood is not the case, especially in the culture at large.”
Burke and Whalen said the changes to the mission statement are unrelated to new requirements in the core curriculum, which now includes a revamped religion course required for all students.
The mandate, however, does help with Hillsdale’s Christian affiliation, Burke added.
Whalen said overall the changes to the statement’s language were minimal.
“It didn’t change the mission of the college,” Whalen said. “It’s clarifying what was already there.”