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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.

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      Somehow, I knew you would think so. You were a least right in your first three words, ‘A little wordy.…’

  • 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

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      Hillsdale student test scores are up, per­centage of accepted appli­cants is down and the school has been rated as more selective. Your con­cerns aren’t sup­ported by the facts.

      • Camus53

        Yes…Rush would agree with you. Thanks.

        • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

          You can’t contest my facts, so you resort to insults. This debate is ended.

          • Ellsworth_Toohey

            How did they insult you?

  • 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.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            If your metric for how well your insti­tution is doing is how well you are ‘liked’ then I under­stand your concern. The Secular Pro­gressive elites hated Hillsdale College in the past, they hate them at present and they’ll hate them after the Chapel is added. It’s not reli­giosity they hate, it’s the conservative/libertarian ethos of freedom. Inci­den­tally, the donors for much of the money backing the new Chapel specif­i­cally requested it be used for that. It was not an unre­stricted grant.

  • 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.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    ‘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.’.……
    So many fal­lacies in two sen­tences:
    1. Hillsdale College has not ‘establish(ed) a Christian college identity’ by building this chapel. MSU has Chapels, UM has Chapels, WMU has Chapels-all secular public uni­ver­sities-need I go on?
    2. The approx­i­mately $ 28 Million this chapel cost was paid for by a restricted donation from a Hillsdale College donor, it could NOT be used for other pur­poses than con­struction of the Chapel.
    3. The inferred belief that reli­giosity and ‘intel­lectual curiosity’ are mutually exclusive is such an intol­erant comment and unsup­ported by facts. Are Liebhur, Mendel, Bacon, Pascal, Danti or Barrow-all eminent scientist/mathematicians and reli­gious leaders rep­re­sen­tative of those lacking in ‘intel­lectual curiosity’?
    4. ‘Hinder(ing) intel­lectual dia­logue’ can be pro­moted more by intol­erance and restraining open dia­logue from ALL VIEWPOINTS, then by any other method.
    Mr. Blake N. Estep, you’ll have to do far better than this sin­gu­larly lacking effort to mar­gin­alize those who wear their Faith openly. This wouldn’t wash at Grand Valley State Uni­versity, let alone Hillsdale College. Take three steps back and punt the ball.