Hillsdale College just completed a beautiful chapel, Galloway Residence basks in swanky renovations, and the campus has a residential building so fresh it still goes by the name “New Dorm.”
The next item on the agenda shouldn’t be another building. Instead, Hillsdale College should improve exposure to intellectual diversity and make a sincere commitment to bring in top minds from across the political and philosophic spectrums to debate and express their views.
Leftist or progressive guest lecturers at Hillsdale are rarities. If the college wants to advocate for liberty and truth, it must provide students with the best counter-arguments in politics, science, economics, and philosophy so they can meet divergent opinions head-on. Understanding the finest advocates of “the other side” will strengthen students’ critical abilities and help them to better influence the nation.
Students at Hillsdale College are not mindless conservative drones. They don’t think in lockstep on every issue. Viewpoints outside of conservative orthodoxy, however, are a conspicuous minority. In the top 385 colleges surveyed in the 2019 Princeton Review, Hillsdale’s students were the second most conservative and fourth most religious.
Aristotle writes that agreement on questions of the highest things is one of the requirements for true, lasting friendships. Yet there’s a danger in only reading conservative media or getting all your news from FOX News. And no, being subjected to CNN at an airport gate twice a year doesn’t count. Students cocooned in an environment where they rarely hear strong cases for the other side will form ideological blind spots.
Conservatives from Utah or liberals from California are far more likely to be surrounded by people who think just like them. As they’re rarely asked to provide a vigorous justification of their views, they can be, in a word, soft. Alternatively, as a conservative who went to an ultra-leftist arts school in Toronto, my beliefs were tempered, hardened, and honed by a hostile environment where I was forced to play defense. In most classes, it was 30 versus one, but the experience helped me learn how to better articulate my beliefs. It also exposed me to a variety of arguments from those across the political aisle.
Some may say that Hillsdale’s students don’t need to hear leftist or secular opinions because the culture is already filled with them. The forums and debates that could be orchestrated by the college, however, could present both sides in a fuller, more accurate light. One possible format would be to hold debates with teams of two opposing members on each side. In a world where complex issues are reduced to 30-second soundbites, Hillsdale students would welcome prolonged and thorough discussion.
The funds to bring in top-notch minds shouldn’t come from student groups, which could spend their entire annual budgets securing someone like Richard Dawkins, Paul Krugman, or Bernie Sanders — if they could afford them at all. The tab for this new initiative should be the responsibility of the college itself. Yet this effort doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive. Excellent content can come from affordable speakers.
Those confident in their beliefs shouldn’t be afraid to subject them to the most rigorous scrutiny. Some students may find “the other side” has some valid points. It happens. Refining or revisiting “settled” opinions isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of humility and a necessary step to growth.
Hillsdale should become the clear champion of free speech on America’s campuses and demonstrate that the college welcomes open and honest debate. In our current divided, tribal moment, we need to talk to each other more than ever. There’s no better place to get the conversation started than at Hillsdale.
Joshua Lawson is a candidate for a Master’s degree in politics from the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. His work has appeared in the Washington Examiner and The Federalist.