As soon as Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence dropped a “Make America Great Again” ref­erence during his com­mencement speech at Hillsdale College in May, I knew that inviting him was a mistake — not because of his office or char­acter, but because a grad­u­ation cer­emony is no place for political gain. The success of the Trump admin­is­tration had nothing to do with the accom­plish­ments of the grad­u­ating seniors. And I know I’m not the only Hillsdale student who felt that way. But a recent article in The Atlantic seems to suggest that those of us who dis­liked the selection of Pence are morally sep­arate from Hillsdale’s lead­ership, which is a mis­guided claim.

Conor Frieder­sdorf, an Atlantic staff writer, spent 3,502 words ana­lyzing Pence’s speech, crit­i­cizing Hillsdale’s decision to invite him, and denouncing Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn as a sell-out for doing so. It went so far as to question — in the headline — whether the college “sold its soul” in exchange for “worldly gain.”

“What’s an earnest young Hillsdale undergrad who is even pass­ingly familiar with Trump’s char­acter and past actions to make of Pence’s selection as com­mencement speaker, his speech, or his broader work trying to elevate, empower, and lav­ishly extol a fla­grantly immoral pres­ident?” Frieder­sdorf writes.

Frieder­sdorf goes on to say that Pence is “engaged in a util­i­tarian moral com­promise, wherein he helps to secure great power for a morally odious man with the expec­tation that the man will wield power in ways that wind up ben­e­fiting the greater good.” Pence parades around the U.S. excusing the president’s morally vacant actions, and he did so once again at Hillsdale College in May, Frieder­sdorf says.

Many Hillsdale stu­dents, myself included, were vocally critical of the college’s decision to invite Pence. I didn’t like that Hillsdale was aligning itself with a con­tro­versial admin­is­tration. Others just didn’t want a political figure speaking at com­mencement, regardless of his or her political party. But Frieder­sdorf makes no mention of this — because, though he makes many assump­tions about the Hillsdale student body in this piece, he doesn’t ref­erence a single Hillsdale student or faculty member to back up his claims. I can’t speak to his depth of research, but even if he did reach out to stu­dents and faculty members, the fact remains that his only Hillsdale voice in the piece is Arnn, in a radio interview tran­script. Although it’s respectful, the piece does seem to question an entire college’s moral direction based on a few com­ments from its pres­ident and one com­mencement speaker.

Now, I agreed with much of what Frieder­sdorf wrote. His con­cerns about Pence were well-founded — Pence rou­tinely jus­tified Trump’s behavior on the cam­paign trail (and still does) and he endorsed a morally depraved man, Joe Arpaio, during a rally in Arizona. Both are ques­tionable and neither should be accepted without skep­ticism. But Pence’s short­comings don’t reflect on Hillsdale College just because he gave one speech on campus.

I’d also argue, like Frieder­sdorf, that con­ser­vatism has no room for Trump’s pop­ulist policies and should not blindly accept them into the fold just because he was the lesser of two evils. This is an important dis­cussion regarding the school’s direction that we, as stu­dents, shouldn’t shy away from having.

But since Frieder­sdorf also wel­comed any responses and dis­agree­ments from Hillsdale alumni, faculty, or stu­dents, I’m taking the bait.

Mr. Frieder­sdorf, allow me to explain a few things about my school. First, Hillsdale College isn’t perfect and it’s never claimed to be. Inviting Pence was not a choice I sup­ported, but the growing affil­i­ation with the Trump admin­is­tration is not leading stu­dents astray from the prin­ciples Hillsdale’s mission clings to, as Frieder­sdorf sug­gests, albeit “mar­ginally.” The school’s staff strives to live what they teach and its stu­dents pursue truth just the same. That is true regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

Second, Hillsdale is not perfect because it is led by men and women who are far from perfect. As we’re taught in class, fallen human nature inevitably leads to flawed lead­ership, including Arnn. But a 10-minute con­ver­sation between Arnn and Hugh Hewitt is not enough for Frieder­sdorf to under­stand and dissect Arnn’s thinking.

“The logic here is clear enough. Neither Hewitt nor Arnn talks as if they believe that good moral char­acter is really essential in an American pres­ident — they talk as if they believe that a pres­ident who fla­grantly exhibits all manner of char­acter flaws and odious behavior can put the country on a tra­jectory that ben­efits it greatly for decades if he appoints good judges,” Frieder­sdorf writes.

That’s a bold claim. Unlike Frieder­sdorf, I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of Arnn’s mind, but I did spend a semester studying under Arnn, and one of the many sub­jects we covered while reading Aristotle’s “Nico­machean Ethics” was the mag­nan­imous man. This man, Aris­totle writes, is fit to rule because he pos­sesses what is great in every moral virtue. This man — the perfect ruler — has attained a greatness of soul to which the rest of us should aspire. Arnn’s con­viction and authen­ticity during that lesson seem to suggest a claim opposite of what Frieder­sdorf sug­gests. Arnn has not shied away from acknowl­edging Trump’s flaws, and he appears to support him for reasons he believes to be right. And though Frieder­sdorf admits Arnn “com­mends a more ide­al­istic, prin­cipled approach, in which good char­acter is at the core of good lead­ership,” he casts that in doubt because Arnn sup­ports a politician he doesn’t like. I agree with Frieder­sdorf, however, that since he’s vocally thrown his weight behind Trump, Arnn should engage with an apparent tension. After Pence’s speech, Hillsdale stu­dents, like myself, have ques­tions about the college’s ties to the admin­is­tration, and Arnn should be willing to speak to those in both a public and private setting. That con­ver­sation needs to be had and this is the perfect oppor­tunity to do so.

Fur­thermore, Friedersdorf’s crit­i­cisms of Arnn open a huge can of worms. His argument centers on the idea that it’s wrong to support someone who’s per­sonally immoral, even if it’s for morally upright reasons. Fol­lowing that line of rea­soning, because Arnn sup­ports Trump, Arnn is morally vacant, and because Hillsdale stu­dents support Arnn, we, too, are defi­cient. See the problem there? No leader is perfect, so at some level we all support immoral people — not that we should do so blindly. I could argue that Friedersdorf’s leader, The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, made a poor, immoral choice to fire Kevin Williamson earlier this spring because of his con­ser­v­ative views on abortion, and that because Frieder­sdorf works and writes for him, Frieder­sdorf is also immoral. But I won’t, because that doesn’t make any sense. Frieder­sdorf is not Goldberg and Arnn is not Trump.

I agree with Friedersdorf’s assertion that indi­viduals who care about upright living and the pursuit of truth shouldn’t rashly throw their alle­giance behind a leader defi­cient in both. But to put Arnn in that cat­egory is evi­dence that Frieder­sdorf doesn’t know him well enough. Arnn’s support for Trump is nuanced — he gives credit where credit is due and crit­i­cizes the pres­ident when need be, like many other prin­cipled con­ser­v­a­tives I know.

Friedersdorf’s crit­icism was respectful and poignant, and it didn’t com­pletely miss the target. Yes, there’s a dis­so­nance between Arnn’s growing ties with a pres­ident riddled with moral short­comings and the values Hillsdale rep­re­sents, but it’s a stretch to argue this divide reveals an impending crisis that under­mines what the school stands for. The prin­ciples Hillsdale was founded on will remain and outlive the Trump era, with the college’s soul intact.

So, to answer your question, Mr. Frieder­sdorf: Yes, you do have some­thing wrong.