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Dear Editor,

In the Oct. 11 edition of The Col­legian, Ms. Krystina Skurk argued that Hillsdale should invite newly con­firmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to speak at the 2019 com­mencement cer­emony. This propo­sition would do a great dis­service to the stu­dents and mission of Hillsdale College.

To begin, the intention of this response is not to rehash the debacle sur­rounding Justice Kavanaugh’s con­fir­mation. While I am dis­heartened and dis­turbed by the timing and nature of the alle­ga­tions levied against Justice Kavanaugh, I am per­sonally happy that he was con­firmed since there was little cor­rob­o­rating evi­dence to dis­qualify him from ascending to the Supreme Court. With that said, inviting him as our 2019 com­mencement speaker would not be a good decision.

In the opening of her piece, Ms. Skurk writes “Brett Kavanaugh will be Pres­ident Donald Trump’s greatest legacy. For the first time in gen­er­a­tions, the Supreme Court has a con­ser­v­ative majority. To cel­e­brate this new era of American pol­itics, Hillsdale should invite Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to speak at its 2019 Com­mencement.” This raises the essential question: What is the point of a com­mencement speaker in the first place? Is it simply a way to fill the June edition of Imprimis and cater to the friends of Hillsdale College, or does it stand for some­thing more? It should be obvious, but com­mencement itself and the speakers invited to address it exist to cel­e­brate the grad­u­ating class, their parents, and the Hillsdale faculty that have worked tire­lessly to educate these stu­dents for the past four years. Com­mencement is not a time to cel­e­brate a new era of con­ser­v­ative pol­itics, but rather a time to cel­e­brate a crop of young people who have received a liberal edu­cation, hope­fully preparing them for the chal­lenges they are sure to face. While pol­itics and cit­i­zenship are an important part of life, a clas­sical edu­cation from Hillsdale teaches us that there is much more to it than what goes on in Wash­ington D.C. A Hillsdale edu­cation teaches its stu­dents the impor­tance of living as good people, good spouses, good children, and good parents along with living as good cit­izens. Empha­sising the latter over the former mis­char­ac­terizes the mission of a clas­sical liberal edu­cation.

In defense of her propo­sition, Ms. Skurk con­tinues: “Just like Hillsdale, Kavanaugh is a bulwark against pro­gressive lib­er­alism.” Once again, this car­i­cature of Hillsdale is mis­leading. And iron­i­cally, it’s typ­i­cally adopted by those that oppose Hillsdale rather than those who support it. While it is true that Hillsdale in many ways stands firmly against modern day pro­gressive pol­itics, it is far more important to note that Hillsdale stands for much more. Char­ac­ter­izing us by our achieve­ments in Wash­ington hollows out the core of Hillsdale College and the eternal prin­ciples it stewards. Hillsdale was founded on prin­ciples that precede the American Pro­gressive movement and, God-willing, will outlast it as well.

Ms. Skurk writes, “Kavanaugh embodies much of what Hillsdale as an insti­tution stands for. As a tex­tu­alist, Kavanaugh cares about the correct inter­pre­tation of the Con­sti­tution and he under­stands that gov­ernment exists to protect indi­vidual lib­erties.” She also lays out the case that Kavanaugh is by all accounts a good, God-fearing man who is a pillar for his family and com­munity. I do not dis­agree with her asser­tions, but it does raise another important question: Would Brett Kavanaugh even be on the short list of com­mencement speakers if not for the recent political scandal sur­rounding him? If he was never nom­i­nated by Pres­ident Trump and was still a judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, would Ms. Skurk still be touting him as the ideal 2019 com­mencement speaker? I hazard to say that Kavanaugh’s appeal rests more squarely on the con­ser­v­ative political clout his invi­tation would gain the college and the statement it would make rather than the sub­stance of his words to the grad­uates or the respectable back­ground he may possess.

Finally, Ms. Skurk touts Kavanaugh’s agenda as “an advocate for social change. As he told the Senate Judi­ciary Com­mittee, ‘A majority of my 48 law clerks over the last 12 years have been women.’ Kavanaugh has sent more female law clerks to the Supreme Court than any other judge in the country.” Obvi­ously there is nothing intrin­si­cally wrong with Kavanaugh’s actions, but why are they inher­ently worthy of praise? Since 1844, Hillsdale has sought to “to furnish all persons who wish, irre­spective of nation, color, or sex, a lit­erary, sci­en­tific, [and] the­o­logical edu­cation.” Why should we flaunt how well we adhere to pro­gressive stan­dards of identity pol­itics that Ms. Skurk proudly pro­claims we stand so firmly against? Hillsdale sees people as indi­viduals and we should cel­e­brate Kavanaugh’s clerks for their attributes and abil­ities, not simply because they are women. Hillsdale College refuses federal funds so that it does not have to count its stu­dents by arbi­trary char­ac­ter­istics — we should not all of the sudden cel­e­brate these char­ac­ter­istics simply because doing so may be expe­dient in the present.

As stated before, this is by no means a ref­er­endum on Brett Kavanaugh. If during his time on the Supreme Court he con­tinues to promote the values of the Western and American tra­di­tions and stand up for the same eternal prin­ciples of Hillsdale College, than I would be honored to have him speak at a com­mencement cer­emony, just as Justice Clarence Thomas did three years ago. But those should be the merits on which we invite Justice Kavanaugh, not simply because he can teach our stu­dents to have “audacity,” as Ms. Skurk sug­gests, or because it makes a bold political statement to the country.  

Erik Halvorson is a senior studying eco­nomics and a columnist for the Col­legian.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Obvi­ously the late Justice Anthony Scalia would have been the ideal can­didate for a Hillsdale College Com­mencement speaker, but that option no longer exists. The book is still out on Justice Kavanaugh, to date he has accom­plished nothing as a Supreme Court Justice so an invi­tation at this time seems pre­mature.

    Extending an invi­tation to Justice Gorsuch might be an option, or even the next Gov­ernor of Michigan, whomever that is. Former Gov­ernor Huckabee would be a worthy invitee and sure to deliver a good speech.

  • jonny-o3

    What a well com­posed letter. Hillsdale is much more than a cel­e­bration of a political party, and it’s right to say that Skurk is ignoring the reality that is the holistic Hillsdale in favor of one element.