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Against this rage how shall beauty hold a plea,

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

Sonnet 65, William Shake­speare

That the arts are forced to defend them­selves during annual budget talks in Wash­ington, D.C. is nothing new. That the arts are forced to defend them­selves at Hillsdale College is shameful.

Every four to six years, the insti­tu­tional memory of Hillsdale College’s Student Fed­er­ation draws a blank. An ambi­tious rep­re­sen­tative, vice pres­ident, or even pres­ident sees an oppor­tunity to dis­tin­guish himself or herself from the other thou­sands of appli­cants seeking post-graduate oppor­tu­nities: I reduced wasteful spending at Hillsdale College.

And what could be more wasteful than a flower? We see them at funerals and we see them at wed­dings, but really, does a funeral or a wedding cease to exist if flowers are absent? We don’t really need them, not in any essential way at least.

What else can we live without? Quite a lot, if you think about it.

We can live without honor. We can live without beauty. The Student Fed­er­ation budget vote last week showed that we can also live without justice or courage: No one ceased to exist after the 11 – 2 vote, nor did an abstention put an end to the budget approval process. Our biology con­tin­u­ously asserts itself: We live and breathe and have our being, albeit pas­sively. Our lungs work invol­un­tarily, our cells operate invol­un­tarily, our hearts beat invol­un­tarily. Just like any animal, we won’t die if we live without honor or beauty or justice or courage.

We won’t truly live, however, without culture.

What we need for sur­vival as an animal is not what we need for sur­vival as a human person. We have always needed the arts. The arts elevate us above our biology, above merely existing, above seeing this liberal-arts college as a training ground for how to become a spe­cialized cog within a spe­cialized machine that we call “making a living.”

The irony is not that I have to defend the liberal arts from within a liberal-arts college. The real irony is that the Tower Light and the Student Fed­er­ation are involved equally in the business of voca­tional training, yet no one has ever threatened the budget of the Student Fed­er­ation.

The Tower Light gives its editors, edi­torial board members, poets, writers, pho­tog­ra­phers, artists, and graphic designers the exact same expe­rience that the Student Fed­er­ation gives to its elected officers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Future admin­is­trators, pol­i­cy­makers, and leg­is­lators all get the oppor­tunity to see what it’s like to propose, to debate, to com­promise, and to pro­mulgate.

For both groups of stu­dents, then, for the Tower Light and for the Student Fed­er­ation, it’s voca­tional training. Both groups gain real world expe­rience in applying their Hillsdale edu­cation to a real-world sit­u­ation. Granted, this par­ticular real world expe­rience takes place deep within a bubble, but the expe­ri­ences here will help Student Fed­er­ation members face those future times with con­fi­dence. Why take away that exact same oppor­tunity from those who labor on the Tower Light? They will write, they will edit, they will design, they will manage, and they will publish.

Officers and Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Student Fed­er­ation, you have pledged in front of the entire College that you will devote your­selves to “the active cul­ti­vation of intel­lectual and moral excel­lence.” Stomping on a flower doesn’t solve the problem it rep­re­sents, it reveals only the uncul­tured rage of the stomper.

But, if a flower is allowed to be what it is, its plea can be as strong as culture itself.

The flower that is the Tower Light has already been grown for you; your pledged task of cul­ti­vation here is merely to provide some water. The Tower Light will provide beauty if you provide justice. Together, both can provide honor to the foun­dation that gives each their purpose: Hillsdale College.

Dutton Kearney is an asso­ciate pro­fessor of English at Hillsdale College.