We cannot have the community necessary for liberal education when we treat our fellow citizens like biohazards. Therefore, Hillsdale College ought to remove all coronavirus restrictions on campus.
Healthy students should not have to go into quasi-solitary confinement because they side-hugged someone who had mild flu-like symptoms. As of this writing, 43 students are in quarantine at the college, while only 6 have actually tested positive for the virus.
How will this work long-term? Once these negative-testing students are released, will they have to return to quarantine if they come into contact with another positive case? How long, exactly, does the college plan on keeping these quarantine practices in place? When will we declare the pandemic over?
There are 20.2 million college students in America, 1.5 million professors, and millions of other support staff and administrators at institutions of higher learning. The New York Times maintains the most comprehensive database of coronavirus cases and deaths in colleges and universities. It has reported 88,000 positive cases and 60 deaths, the majority of which happened in the spring — even though that was when isolation rules were stricter. In other words, by the best available count, college students and faculty have a less than 1 in 300,000 chance of dying from the coronavirus.
That is not a crisis.
The numbers closer to home tell the same story. Hillsdale County has a population of 45,600. In an average year, 514 of those citizens die. This year, there have been 26 coronavirus-related deaths in the county — 20 of which occurred in one nursing home back in March and April. Since May, there have been a total of only two coronavirus deaths in the county.
A 5% change in the local death rate, driven largely by deaths among the very old and infirm, is not a reason to stop normal life.
Sweden, whose population of 10 million is roughly the same as Michigan’s, never instituted a mask mandate, does not enforce quarantines or contact tracing, and kept most schools open throughout the spring and summer.
Sweden has had 5,870 coronavirus-related deaths. Michigan has had 6,971. If anything, the evidence suggests that perhaps lockdowns, mask-wearing, and contact tracing make the death rate from the illness higher for the broader population.
Taking all this into account, Hillsdale College should remove all remaining coronavirus-related restrictions. There is no need for masks, plexiglass shields, dining restrictions, or the closure of college facilities. Normal life is not a biohazard.
The college administration should simply stop testing students — including athletes. If athletes aren’t currently allowed to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, they shouldn’t be subject to its jurisdictions. Hillsdale’s independence is too valuable to be sacrificed to fearful bureaucracies. Students who feel ill should stay home until they are better. The college is under no obligation to adopt the role of volunteer auxiliary coronavirus police for the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency.
As Dean of Social Sciences Paul Moreno pointed out in a piece published by the Detroit News, both the 1945 Emergency Powers Act and the 1976 Emergency Management Acts are violations of the non-delegation clause in the state’s constitution. Even if the Michigan Supreme Court rules that these acts are legitimate and allow Governor Whitmer to construct or enforce a contact-tracing regime using her executive authority, it does not change the fundamental problem James Madison identified in Federalist 47: The combination of executive, legislative, and judicial power in one set of hands is tyranny. The college should not follow unconstitutional laws or ally itself with the very tyrannical administrative state it condemns.
Instead, the college should use its extensive financial, legal, and political resources to thwart any attempt by the state to interfere with its educational mission. Students cannot learn when they are confined to their rooms. They cannot become more virtuous and excellent human beings when they live in constant fear of speculative dangers.
Student life at the college is already close to normal. Hillsdale is, in comparison to almost every other college in America, a paradise of freedom and common sense. But the numbers are clear — there is no point in maintaining even our cursory coronavirus restrictions. It is time to return to normal life.
Josiah Lippincott is pursuing a master’s degree in the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship.