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Democrats on the Senate floor unfairly slan­dered Hillsdale College. Wiki­media Commons

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.