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The interior of the new chapel. Sheila Butler | Courtesy

The new chapel is undoubtedly expensive. $28.5 million is a lot of money and, frankly, much of the adver­tisement for the chapel seems cen­tered on the decadent grandeur of the project. Why, for example, do we need two organs?

As a weekly show host at the radio station (which is cur­rently oper­ating out of a con­verted main­te­nance closet) I under­stand the frus­tration of seeing money spent on a new chapel when there are things that seem far more pressing.

Nonetheless, Hillsdale College wasn’t founded to please me or any of the stu­dents, pro­fessors, or donors that interact with the school. According to our Articles of Asso­ci­ation, Hillsdale College was founded “to furnish to all persons who wish… a lit­erary, sci­en­tific or the­o­logical edu­cation… and to combine with this…moral, social and artistic instruction and culture.” If Hillsdale College thinks the best way to do that is to build a chapel, it should build a chapel. If building a chapel were in utter con­tra­diction with my prin­ciples, I could leave and pursue edu­cation else­where; a pro­fessor could quit; a donor could give some­where else.

Some stu­dents are upset because the admin­is­tration seems to be restruc­turing Hillsdale in a way they do not like. Unfor­tu­nately, paying tuition to Hillsdale does not give you a right to rep­re­sen­tation in its exec­utive deci­sions. Tuition is not tax­ation. You’ve vol­un­tarily paid for a service. If Walmart were to rad­i­cally change its mar­keting scheme in a way you found dis­tasteful, you might express that opinion on a comment card. It might be expressed so elo­quently and per­sua­sively that Sam Walton himself reads it. But Sam Walton would be under no oblig­ation to listen to you just because you shopped at Walmart.  Likewise, the college might listen to our com­plaints — it might even be sym­pa­thetic in some cir­cum­stances — but it remains under no oblig­ation to act according to our desires simply because we’ve paid tuition.  

Some say the chapel is the college’s way of cur­rying favor with donors. Perhaps it is. Why should it not be?  After all, “donor” means “people that give the college money,” and if those people that give the college money want a chapel, it seems expe­dient that the college should build a chapel. The Board of Trustees has authority to direct the college however it thinks best to achieve the college’s purpose. The Board, who decides the mission, and the donors, who support the mission, think we should build a chapel. The only reason this should not be is if building a chapel would be con­trary to the college’s founding prin­ciples — which it is not.  

Some say the chapel is an attempt to “Chris­tianize” the school, an argument with two pos­sible sources: some believe building a chapel isn’t the best way to advance the estab­lished Christian char­acter of the school; in some cases, however, it stems from the mis­taken belief that Hillsdale was not already Christian. Hillsdale was, from its inception, “per­meated with Christian influence.” Edmund Fair­field, Pres­ident of Hillsdale College from 1848 to 1869, intended Hillsdale to “stand for ages to come,’’ as he writes in “The College and the Republic,” “sacred… to sound science, pure morality, and true religion.” All Hillsdale stu­dents receive a copy of this speech in their American Her­itage reader, so it’s not as if the college has been secretive about its reli­gious foun­da­tions, nor has it just now decided to be Christian. Article 6 of Hillsdale’s Articles of Asso­ci­ation states: “Reli­gious culture in par­ticular shall be con­served by the College… it shall be a con­spicuous aim to teach by precept and example the essen­tials of the Christian faith and religion.” Since Hillsdale is a Christian college, it seems pointless to protest building a place to practice Chris­tianity.   

We needn’t, however, docilely accept any decision of the college just because we don’t have gov­er­nance over it. It’s a waste of time and energy to argue that the college should not pursue its mission. It’d be better to point out ways to pursue that mission more effec­tively. The college believes this chapel is an important part of advancing its mission — let’s strive to make it so.

Ms. Suchyta is a sophomore George Wash­ington Fellow studying eco­nomics and history.

  • George Gibbs

    The writer seems to think that Christian-influ­enced “foun­da­tions” make for a de-facto Christian insti­tution. Not so. The American Founding was unques­tionably influ­enced by Chris­tianity, yet has the U.S. ever been offi­cially a “Christian nation”? No. By that analogy I was always proud to interpret Hillsdale College as a microcosm of America itself. Hillsdale history is American history. With the official “Christian” des­ig­nation of late, I am nothing but com­pletely dis­ap­pointed.