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Hillsdale College put up a fence around the Quad over spring break, to mark the construction area for the Christ Chapel to protect people walking on campus. The fence will stand for two years. Nina Huffer | Collegian

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.

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    A little wordy but a well thought out editorial.

  • George Gibbs

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Camus53

    This vanity chapel will serve to dissuade more students than invite. Regardless, the school long ago began a slow slide into mediocrity of not just quality education but a culture of rich ideas and diversity of opinion.

    Whereas near half a century ago mention of the college during an interview would garner you points nowadays mention Hillsdale and you’ll likely get “oh that school”!
    Illigitimi non Carobundum

  • Philip Brenneise

    It’s overly simplistic and naive to think that secularization alone will beget an atmosphere that is more tolerant and “inclusive” than what is currently the case at Hillsdale College right now. If you look at the most secular universities in America whether it be UC Berkeley, Middlebury College, or that school in which a professor’s wife was verbally assaulted by angry students for a comment she made about Halloween costumes, tolerance is a bludgeon used by these schools to silence other viewpoints (religious or otherwise). Based on my undergrad experience at Hillsdale and my graduate studies at a state university in California, Hillsdale College is doing pretty well. Building a chapel is not the problem and secularization alone is not the solution…..

    • Jennifer Melfi

      Based on my undergrad experience at Hillsdale and my graduate studies at a state university in Indiana, I will say that the chapel is a significant symbold of the problem and that secularization will solve one of the immediate problems that Hillsdale has created for themselves. You see how that works?

      • Philip Brenneise

        When you watch Norte Dame football and see Touchdown Jesus in the background, do you suddenly feel compelled by the school to join their faith or do you feel like your attending mass when you’re simply trying to watch the game? Do you honestly think the school’s affiliation to the Catholic Church has diminished its standing as a highly rated and well respected school? Hardly. How about Oxford University? They have a massive university chapel in the heart of campus and that hasn’t stopped that school from being a top rated institution in a number of secular disciplines. If you had an opportunity to attend Oxford, would you have let the presence of a large chapel stop you from attending? I think not. The presence of a prominent new chapel on campus does not automatically signify that Hillsdale is losing a piece of its identity or is taking one more step towards compelling its student and staff to identify with a single religion. I think the school’s geographic location in the middle of nowheresville, MI will play a bigger roll in attracting/detracting students/faculty than a new chapel, which by the way will be used for a wide variety of functions, performances, etc.

        • Jennifer Melfi

          you make a great point here, unfortunately, it contradicts what I believe your position to be. The fact that Notre Dame does have a touchdown Jesus and stands prominently as a Catholic institution makes them a magnet for negative attention… Google “I hate Notre Dame” and guess what pops up – loads of vitriol pointed at a group that people clearly feel doesn’t live up to the standard that they have accepted for themselves. Oxford, while having a chapel, doesn’t present itself as a religious institution. Notre Dame does, and it increases detractors – especially when a school is unable to live up to that religious standard that people attach.

  • Jennifer Melfi

    Straightforwardly, I would not have gone to Hillsdale if they were parading themselves as a Christian school. I know many others of the same opinion. I guess they could be missing out on some students who preferred a forthright Christian institution, but considering the amount of fundies and homeschoolers that attended there when I did, I feel like Hillsdale was punching way above their weight with the religious crowd. I don’t see what they gain by this, other than a pandering to potential donors? It’s a sell-out.

  • capryl

    I am a donor to Hillsdale, and not to my Big State U. alma mater, although I never set foot on the Hillsdale campus. I regard myself as libertarian-conservative, but I lack the unquestioning faith which seems vital to being a true believer in Christianity or any other religion.

    I like Hillsdale for its focus on the Constitution and limited government as envisioned by the founders of this great nation, especially Thomas Jefferson, who was not particularly religious. I agree with this editorial. I hope my contributions are going to scholarships and education in the virtues of individual freedom, and not toward the construction of buildings devoted to one religion. While I appreciate the Christian heritage of this nation, I do not want to see Hillsdale become regarded as a Christian institution.

  • Sandy Daze

    Hillsdale does not / NOT / N O T require its students to worship any god or God.

    Get back to me when the College makes worshiping GOD mandatory.

  • Rogue A.I.

    This chapel is chopping up the quad. Bad form. This chapel is costing 28 million dollars to construct? Really? Isn’t that a bit much.

    Hillsdale should be focused on the things that make it great: teaching critical thinking skills, teaching the liberal arts and the Western tradition, and teaching the importance of self-government and individual liberty.

    Christianity was not an emphasis as an official part of the school when I was a student, even though many professors and students were Christian. If you wanted to express your faith, there were plenty of opportunities to do so with voluntary student organizations and the many churches in the area.

    This is an obscenity, and using 28 million dollars to build a chapel flies in the face of the teachings of Christ. It is obscene.

    What is the motivation for doing this?

  • Marcy Almay

    That’s so funny that you guys mention this: Hillsdale College gets its exemption from adherence to disabled, gender, race and religious civil rights from its claims to be a “religious school”. I too would like them to DARE come forth as a NON religious educational facility, because without a representative on their board who is representing the voters and the government, their billions spent for non educational related activities at that school can then end, and get kids an actual school to go to, not a political lobby for administrators of the school. They’re currently getting it BOTH ways, being they don’t have a parent church, and that should have never been allowed, since any other religious school must operate under the guidelines of a hierarchy, only a church can build a school that teaches what their religion is! Now you have a SCHOOL building a CHURCH just to preserve their right to not have to abide civil rights? I so agree, it’s time for Hillsdale College to come straight out and say they’re either BAPTIST like they were founded to be, affiliate with some actual church like they did with College Baptist Church for years, or step out of the “religious” arena altogether, so that atheists, islamics and hindi and buddahists and satan worshipers and alllll religions can enroll there.