School is in session at Hillsdale College’s Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C., where students in its first class hope to deepen their knowledge of government on nights and weekends as they work at full-time jobs during the day.
Vice President of Washington Operations and Dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government Matthew Spalding said he is pleased with how the inaugural semester and classes have started.
“I think they have gone extremely well. We have a good first round of students,” Spalding said.
This semester includes 15 students. The program plans to admit new students every spring and fall. Spalding said there has already been a lot of interest and he anticipates growth.
“It’s off to a great start,” he said. “There is a very clear and open field here in D.C. There are lots of master’s degrees around town but this one is very different.”
Different from yet complementary to the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship on Hillsdale’s campus in Michigan, the Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government has core classes that focus on three areas: political thought and culture, American politics, and statecraft.
These required courses, along with other electives — such as “Deliberation and Legislation” with Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R‑AR) and “Contemporary Liberalism and its Policies” with Associate Professor of Politics Kevin Slack — make up a 36-credit-hour program.
Offering classes in the evenings and on Saturdays throughout the spring, fall, and summer semesters, Hillsdale estimates that it should take two-and-a-half to three years to complete the program, depending on the rigor of each individual’s schedule.
This semester, the graduate school is offering five classes: “The Art of Government” with Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, “American Founding and the Constitution” taught by Spalding, “Modern Political Thought and Culture” with Director of Academic Programs and Worsham Teaching Fellow Matthew Mehan, “Contemporary Liberalism and Its Policies” with Slack, and “Deliberation and Legislation” with Cotton.
While Spalding and Mehan’s classes are part of the core and meet weekly, the program allows for one-credit classes, like those offered by Arnn, Cotton, and Slack this semester.
These one-credit courses are generally scheduled to meet on a couple of separate weekends. Setting up elective, one-credit courses this way allows for special guests like senators, judges, or other public officials to teach courses, as well as encourage professors from Hillsdale’s Michigan campus to come and teach in D.C.
The program is designed for working professionals, such as government staffers and lawmakers, journalists and media professionals, lawyers, think-tank analysts, and domestic and foreign- policy experts.
Steve Schaefer is a student at the graduate school and also a lawyer at the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he works on conscience and religious freedom issues.
Though Schaefer is already a lawyer, he wanted to attend Hillsdale’s graduate school because of its mission and dedication to the American founding.
“I wanted to go to a college that I could trust to do what it says it will do —provide me the opportunity to learn from knowledgeable professors and classmates who are dedicated to the ideas of the American founding, and who want to learn-in-order-to-lead,” Schaefer said in an email. “As an attorney, and former high school U.S. government teacher, Hillsdale provides the education that I always wanted, and quite frankly, everyone should receive to be an informed American citizen.”
Schaefer is taking all four classes offered this semester. He said he’s enjoying his coursework and finding it challenging.
“The most challenging aspect of the courses is to reject the prevailing modern narratives surrounding history and historical figures, and to learn about historical figures and their decisions from examining what they actually thought in the context of the times that they lived,” he said.
Schaefer is also learning to balance his rigorous schedule of four courses and a full-time job. “It’s all about the maxim that my high school teachers told me and I ignored — ‘use your time wisely,’” Schaefer said. “Reading during commutes is a good idea. I have a history of being a glutton for punishment, and went to law school at night, while teaching full-time. I am really good at doing things this way.”
But even though the studies may be demanding, many of the students are enjoying them so far. Schaefer has also enjoyed the environment and focus of the program.
“I have a passion for learning about the ideas and people who influenced the creation of America, and it is clear that the professors and students are devoted to the same endeavor — reviving the virtues essential for self-government and happiness in America,” he said.
As the graduate students in D.C. start their studies and continue in their jobs, they are looking to the future and what they will be able to do with the education Hillsdale’s providing them.
Schaefer wants to use his education for leading and educating those around him.
“I want to use my education to lead, and to educate others,” Schaefer said. “Everyone is a teacher — in word and deed.”