The idea that a college owes no consideration to the opinions of its students is just as dangerous as the now-popular idea that it should cater to their every whim. I have kept this belief of mine in relative silence throughout the last year and a half, within which Hillsdale College undertook some significant endeavors without gauging the thoughts of students or faculty. Last week, however, I was truly disheartened when I saw a piece in the Collegian written by Jenna Suchyta entitled “The College Pursues its Mission with a Chapel. We Should Too.”
Suchyta makes the claim that the students of Hillsdale College (who are the reason for the institution’s existence, lest we forget) are not entitled to any kind of representation in the decisions made about the future of our school. Her next argument, however, demonstrated a misunderstanding of Hillsdale College’s purpose. In an effort to illustrate her point, she compares the students of this institution to nothing more than customers at a commercial megastore.
Glossing over the offense that Hillsdale might feel at being portrayed as a Walmart, the argument is preposterous. One does not become a “Walmartian” by stopping off to buy snack food and bottled water for one’s dorm-room refrigerator. One does, however, become a Hillsdalian by partaking in the school’s enriching educational tradition. We have all heard President Larry Arnn’s iconic refrain at fundraisers, orientations, and parents’ luncheons: “College means partnership.” Our school claims that, as students here, we have joined the institution as partners, not subjects. We have become a part of a community for the rest of our lives.
The students of this school have a vested interest in its future, and they are more a part of it than harried customers who thoughtlessly flow in and out of automatic doors. We are not here for the benefit of the faculty, the administration, or the donors. They are all here because they believe in forwarding the mission: to benefit the students by furnishing us with “a literary, scientific or theological education.” This school is meant to prepare us for self-government, but can it do that without allowing us into the conversation?