The construction of Christ Chapel cost Hillsdale College the exorbitant amount of $28.5 million, and inconvenienced students by restricting their use of the quad. Yet what is most controversial about the Chapel is that “[it’s] location in the middle of everything is profoundly intentional.” The deliberate location of a Christian symbol in the center of campus, as well as statements supporting the College’s “Christian identity,” make clear that the administration desires Christianity to become a more central tenet of the College.
The College aims to enrich the community through its actions, but will ultimately harm it by limiting thoughtful religious dialogue on campus. Therefore, Hillsdale College should end its religious affiliation because such an identity is counterproductive to the goal of “pursuing truth.”
The purpose of a college should be to provide the student with the means to attain knowledge, namely through the liberal arts. The liberal arts form the foundation of students’ education, binding them together through a common understanding and freeing the mind and soul to allow for the cultivation of a virtuous life. Per the College’s mission statement, “The liberal arts are dedicated to stimulating students’ intellectual curiosity, to encouraging the critical, well-disciplined mind, and to fostering personal growth through academic challenge.”
Hillsdale College’s classical liberal arts curriculum is commendable precisely because it enables the student to rise to self-government and pursue truth. With a shared intellectual foundation, however, students will reach different intellectual conclusions; this includes conclusions that do not align with the Christian faith. In this sense, the College should be inclusive of differing intellectual conclusions, while also fostering healthy dialogue and debate over their veracity.
The College is generally inclusive of non-Christian students and dedicated to the ideal of religious liberty; the College has admitted students of various religious beliefs since its founding. Yet a vital aspect of a liberal education is intellectual discussion among students, which encourages “the critical, well-disciplined mind” and “intellectual curiosity” among the student body. The establishment of a Christian college identity runs counterproductive to this ideal, in that the College will deter prospective students who are not Christians, and thereby hinder intellectual dialogue. When faced with the choice of attending a secular school and a Christian school, prospective students who do not adhere to the Christian faith will likely choose the former. With fewer non-Christian students on campus, intellectual religious dialogue will be limited to a majority Christian perspective. Such a scenario is not conducive of “intellectual curiosity” or “the critical mind.”
The College should instead welcome greater religious diversity, which will enrich intellectual religious discussion on campus. This is not an argument in favor of Affirmative Action, where the College accepts students based on their ethnicity or religion. However, the College should not form its identity in a way that will limit diversity. If the goal of the College is to provide a truly liberal education, then it should desire to produce dialogue, not limit it. The best way to accomplish this is to remove its religious affiliation, thereby fostering healthy religious diversity and dialogue on campus.
This alteration of a college’s identity is not in any way “anti-Christian,” but rather a change in favor of inclusivity and discussion; any action meant to limit dialogue at a college, including the exclusion of Christian belief from such discussion, could not be further from the goal of a liberal education. Christian students, Christian professors, and even chapels exist on the campuses of secular colleges.
The difference, however, is that these colleges do not promote a single faith. The Christian faith was, without question, a fundamental part of Hillsdale College’s founding. Yet many secular liberal arts colleges began as Christian schools, too. For instance, Oberlin College was founded by Presbyterians for the explicit purpose of promoting Christian leadership and principles; it became a secular institution in 1964. Swarthmore College, founded as a Quaker institution, officially ended its religious affiliation in 1906. Denison University was first established as a Baptist theological school, and secularized in the 1960s. St. John’s College, a school similar to Hillsdale College in its focus on the liberal arts and the Western tradition, was founded as a non-sectarian institution in 1793. Similar examples are numerous.
The mission statement of Hillsdale College says that, “Hillsdale’s founders opened the doors to all, regardless of race or religion, in 1844.” But what purpose do open doors serve if the College persuades those of different beliefs not to enter? Identifying as a Christian college will do just this, causing fewer non-Christians to apply. Secularization would be a rational solution to this issue. As an institution without religious affiliation, the College could foster a more religiously diverse student body, thereby enriching the state of intellectual dialogue on campus and furthering its goal of pursuing truth.