I’m sure a familiar shudder ran through the bones of the student body upon receiving the most recent email from Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn: flashbacks to a panicked spring break, to choppy Zoom lectures from your bedroom at home, to isolation, over-snacking, and bad Wi-Fi. These are not the worst of evils, we are constantly reminded. We can still deliberate, commune, laugh, and pursue Truth together — over our separate screens?
While the continued activity of the college is an undeniable blessing, even going online, many of my fellow students and I are skeptical about the effectiveness of an online Hillsdale education. If years of the core curriculum and Arnn’s lectures have taught us anything, it’s to value that sacred pursuit of knowledge that we undertake together. Our Hillsdale education does not consist of the accumulation of facts or the securing of a degree. It is the communion of our able minds for the sake of something greater. We know this intuitively.
The college boasts of its few regulations on the student body; instead of agreeing to a list of rules, students sign the Honor Code. The school considers it the duty of each individual to uphold that Code. The short manifesto culminates in the most essential point of Hillsdale’s philosophy: “Through education the student rises to self-government.” I’m not here to tell you not to steal backpacks. I’m begging you to remember that your efforts here should result in civic and intellectual freedom, in the capacity to exercise your natural liberties.
Through extensive study of the tradition, we’ve learned that the rule of law is necessary. But its abuse cannot be tolerated, even for the sake of temporary societal harmony. The dictates of conscience may never be forfeited under compulsion. The health mandate that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Nov. 15 asks us to do just that: to deny the entire state of Michigan life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By submitting even temporarily to Michigan’s outrageous new restrictions, we hand the government these liberties on a silver platter.
Repetition legitimizes, and our track record grows more concerning by the hour. We’ve compromised on our way of life already with face masks, mass isolation, contact tracing, and the cancellation of school events. As we repeatedly comply with these state orders, we normalize this government’s powers to control even private pursuits within the home, the church, and the community. This most recent mandate forbids our very means of true education. Though this particular order lasts only a few weeks, it is only the tip of the iceberg. We know from the past months that the state government will do whatever it can to abdridge our right to assemble. The line has already been crossed. The time and the freedoms we lose now can never be rehabilitated if we don’t push back.
We know the school must mount a convincing legal defense. Even so, the past months should have served that very purpose. We have already complied with endless governmental restrictions, but we should by no means comply with the revocation of our constitutional right to assemble. Our time to say no is now. If we don’t, we invalidate the very education we claim to pursue.
As Mark Van Doren says in his book “Liberal Education,” “The gravest danger to education now is its own readiness to risk its dignity in a rush to keep up with events, to serve mankind in a low way which will sacrifice respect.”
Averi Bott is a senior studying English and Spanish.