Stu­dents work in the lab. Madeline Barry | Col­legian

Whether by acci­dental or delib­erate over­sight, Hillsdale College is failing its stu­dents and faculty by refusing to implement both an Insti­tu­tional Review Board (IRB) and an Insti­tu­tional Animal Care and Use Com­mittee (IACUC).

This over­sight does not just keep research taking place in Dow, Stro­sacker, and Kendall from pub­li­cation in sci­en­tific journals. By not taking ade­quate steps to emphasize the role and place of science in a rig­orous, authentic liberal arts edu­cation, the College fails to live up to its mission statement, which claims “to furnish all persons who wish, irre­spective of nation, color, or sex, a lit­erary and sci­en­tific edu­cation.”

As Madeleine Jepsen reported in the March 30th edition of the Col­legian, the College’s refusal to implement neither an IRB nor an IACUC con­tinues to cause the sci­en­tific com­munity at large to overlook the con­sid­erable sci­en­tific achieve­ments of Hillsdale College faculty and stu­dents. As an insti­tution that show­cases the oppor­tunity to perform research in front of prospective stu­dents and faculty, the refusal to provide access to research mate­rials, and at minimum an IRB, is both hyp­o­critical and untenable.

Both the faculty’s and stu­dents’ lack of College-pro­vided access to, much less ability to publish in, essential primary lit­er­ature mate­rials such as the journals Nature and Science further under­scores the lack of these basic review boards. The College dis­courages schol­arship and injures itself by inhibiting its aca­d­e­mi­cians from per­forming their work within the appro­priate ethical guide­lines.

Not choosing to implement an IRB and IACUC because com­pliance is fed­erally reg­u­lated indi­cates a woe­fully sparse under­standing of the ethics involved. The IRB and IACUC policies that have been cod­ified in the laws of the United States arose directly from hor­rific and gruesome human sub­jects research per­formed in the 20th century. If Hillsdale wishes to com­mu­nicate that it does not find the guide­lines rising from the ashes of the Tuskegee Syphilis Exper­iment, the Wil­low­brook Study, and the Nuremburg Trials sig­nif­icant and rep­utable, then so be it. If, however, Hillsdale is truly com­mitted to pre­serving the ethics of Western civ­i­lization that are part of “modern man’s intel­lectual and spir­itual inher­i­tance,” Hillsdale must take action to implement both an IRB and IACUC.

Were any of these reasons insuf­fi­cient to merit concern, it is also in the College’s best legal self-interest to implement these boards forthwith. Human sub­jects research is per­formed at Hillsdale College, and Hillsdale’s faculty are obligated to take suf­fi­cient and appro­priate steps to protect the iden­tities and data col­lected from their research par­tic­i­pants. Per­sonally-iden­ti­fying or med­ically-rel­evant infor­mation that may be col­lected from research par­tic­i­pants must be pro­tected appro­pri­ately — failure to do so puts the College at legal risk and could endanger par­tic­i­pants if dis­closed inap­pro­pri­ately. Com­pa­rable liberal arts and Christian insti­tu­tions such as Calvin College, Hope College, Aquinas College, Belmont Uni­versity, and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College all rec­ognize the impor­tance of these issues and maintain active IRBs (and IACUCs if their faculty perform animal research).

The lack of these resources at Hillsdale typ­ifies a widening rift between the sci­ences and the human­ities. This rift con­tinues to grow at an alarming rate in con­ser­v­ative insti­tu­tions, where Christian fun­da­men­talism col­lides with liberal edu­cation. By nature, a Hillsdale liberal arts edu­cation ought to encourage, rather than stifle, com­plete intel­lectual diversity. Requiring all stu­dents to take full-fledged coursework in the human­ities while crafting an atten­uated science cur­riculum for non-majors is equally unac­ceptable.

Sci­en­tists on the whole are noto­rious for their poor com­mu­ni­cation skills, as demon­strated by the increasing demand for quality science writers. Likewise, the general public lacks under­standing of fun­da­mental issues tested and developed via the sci­en­tific method such as vac­ci­nation, public health ini­tia­tives, and sta­tistics. A truly rich liberal-arts edu­cation, which Hillsdale claims to provide, encourages the inte­gration of all edu­ca­tional dis­ci­plines and does not pick and choose which aspects to include. There is no reason that science, a Western Her­itage, and a Judeo-Christian faith cannot live together in perfect harmony. In fact, when com­bined, they guar­antee a student the richest edu­ca­tional expe­rience pos­sible.

William H. Bragg, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, echoed this sen­timent in a Christmas 1919 lecture for the Royal Insti­tution.

“From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Some­times people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another,” he said. “They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an oppo­sition by means of which any­thing can be grasped.”

Hillsdale must rec­oncile the values espoused in its mission statement with its current stances on research ethics and the role of science in the liberal arts. In this regard, the College would do well to take counsel from Dr. Bragg.

Mr. McDonnell ’15 is a PhD can­didate in micro­bi­ology and immunology at Van­derbilt Uni­versity School of Med­icine and Mr. Dro­gowski ’15 is an MD can­didate at Oakland Uni­versity William Beaumont School of Med­icine.