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Covid cases remained under control throughout the school year. Courtesy | Cal Abbo

Hillsdale College stayed open for the full 2020 – 2021 school year, despite hurdles posed by gov­ernment responses to COVID-19, some­thing that was only pos­sible because “we’re stubborn,” according to college Pres­ident Larry Arnn.

“This is our business and we couldn’t see a good reason not to do it,” Arnn said. 

While Michigan Gov­ernor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Ser­vices required col­leges to move classes online for two weeks last November, Hillsdale stu­dents remained on campus for the entire school year.

Reflecting on the year as a whole, Arnn said the greatest chal­lenge to Hillsdale con­tinuing in its mission was “the gov­ernor and her regulations.”

“There was way too much quar­an­tining of healthy young people, and we were con­stantly threatened that they would close the college,” Arnn said. “Finally, they did order some col­leges to close. But I had decided that if they did order us to close that we wouldn’t close. And see what they did.”

The ever-changing, and often con­tra­dictory, guide­lines and rules reg­u­lating life after COVID-19 meant it was some­times impos­sible to know what was actually legal, according to Arnn. 

“The reg­u­la­tions are con­tra­dictory to them­selves,” Arnn said. “So there isn’t a strictly legal way to proceed. So we nav­i­gated between them. We had as much college as we thought we could.”

Hillsdale College has seen 276 pos­itive COVID-19 cases in the entire aca­demic year, 216 of which were in the fall semester. At the peak of the viral spread in mid-November, the college had a total of 76 pos­itive cases on campus. The Uni­versity of Michigan saw 4,810 cases at its peak, while Michigan State Uni­versity saw 3,301, according to the New York Times. 

As of April 19, four stu­dents are cur­rently in 10-day iso­lation after having tested pos­itive for COVID-19. Two stu­dents are in quar­antine due to contact with an indi­vidual who has tested pos­itive for COVID-19. More than 422 indi­vidual stu­dents have been tested throughout the spring 2021 semester, 60 of whom have tested pos­itive. Of the 60 pos­itive cases, 56 have recovered. The college has not reported a single case of COVID-19 being trans­mitted in a classroom in the past nine months, according to Arnn.

Hillsdale College did submit to a partial shutdown in November, when the MDHHS ordered all col­leges to switch to virtual teaching methods. For the last two weeks of the semester, pro­fessors taught remotely. Yet Arnn recounted how stu­dents con­tinued to live in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, and use the public facil­ities, as the health department’s order did not specify that they couldn’t. 

“You have to do what you think is right,” Arnn said. “Any important thing you do, there will be more than one opinion about the good of it. So we nav­i­gated between the con­viction that this was not dan­gerous to young people — less dan­gerous than the regular flu, by the way — and the reg­u­la­tions. And we tried to find a legal way to proceed.”

Arnn said the college decided against suing the gov­ernor or the health department because the fall term would have ended by the time the college could file a lawsuit. 

Throughout the year, he said the college’s position has been a bit dif­ferent from other uni­ver­sities. Rather than taking its cues from what others were doing or what gov­ernment bodies rec­om­mended, Arnn said the college made deci­sions based on the risk the virus pre­sented and what the law actually required.

“Do we not have a duty to form a view about this thing, and proceed according to it, to the extent that the law allows? Aren’t we sup­posed to do that?” he said. 

Hillsdale’s 169th com­mencement cer­emony will take place on May 8, as planned. Arnn said he doesn’t know how other col­leges will handle grad­u­ation, but expects Hillsdale isn’t unique in this. 

“I imagine everyone will do it,” he said.