Waving around the 500-page GOP tax bill, Sen. Jeff Merkley mischaracterized Hillsdale College on Friday night in a video posted on Twitter as he argued against an amendment that would exempt any college that refuses federal money from an excise tax on their endowments.
“[Hillsdale] proceeds to not take federal funds, because it wanted to have permission to discriminate in selecting students,” the Democrat from Oregon said. “And so for this college, which is specializing in discrimination, they get a special tax provision to reward them.”
Although Sen. Pat Toomey, R‑Pennsylvania, who introduced the amendment, said Hillsdale College was “unfairly maligned,” as the amendment became the Democrats’ “metaphor” for special interest favors found in the bill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday night, the school was trending nationally on Twitter early Saturday morning.
But if Sen. Merkley had done his homework, he would know the truth about Hillsdale College.
It is an institution that abolitionists created in 1844. In Hillsdale’s founding articles, they included the first nondiscrimination clause in a college or university’s charter, which promised to educate people “irrespective of nation, color, or sex.” Hillsdale was the second college in the nation to admit women and the first to let them earn a liberal arts degree.
During the Civil War, Hillsdale had the largest percentage of students enlist in the Union military of any Northern college or university. Frederick Douglass visited twice, and Hillsdale unveiled a statue of him on campus this past spring.
In 1918, despite U.S. Army orders, Hillsdale refused to segregate its Student Army Training Corp. That same year, it left the Free Will Baptists because of the denomination’s anti-black prejudices.
When the Tangerine Bowl invited Hillsdale’s football team to participate in 1955, it refused because its black players could not participate.
Today, the college holds color-blind admissions and does not collect any information on its students’ race, ethnicity, or religion.
The school also never was sued for discrimination, as Merkley claimed in the Senate. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1975 changed its rule to make independent institutions that refused federal grants and subsidies, such as Hillsdale, subject to its regulations, including the anti-sexual discrimination law Title IX. Hillsdale fought the change, and after nearly a decade of litigation, Hillsdale stopped taking student federal loans in 1984 to preserve its independence.
In 1976, Acting Director for the Office of Civil Rights Martin Gerry responded to a letter Hillsdale sent to HEW.
“I welcome Hillsdale’s…commitment to continue operation on a nondiscriminatory basis,” he wrote.
So, no, Hillsdale does not specialize in discrimination. It was practicing nondiscrimination more than 20 years before the United States banned slavery, more than 70 before women could vote, and more than 120 before it passed Title IX.
It is an independent institution that burdens no taxpayer, and therefore, if there must be an endowment tax, it should be exempt with others of its kind.