Speaking Of Higher Education

With all the media focus on a handful of “elite” universities, perhaps it’s time (or overdue) to take a look at some of the hundreds of small colleges and universities that dot the country and are most definitely not “woke.” A number of them are religious, and several–like Hillsdale–are proudly “conservative.” (I put quotes around conservative because true conservatives have very little in common with the political movement that has appropriated that label.)

I’ve been aware of Hillsdale for a number of years. I’ve had graduate students who matriculated there, and several years ago I wrote a book about a libertarian organization headquartered in Indiana that–according to its Executive Director– was scammed by Hillsdale and its then-President. I still get –and routinely discard–their slick newsletter.

The New York Times recently did a “deep dive” into Hillsdale’s more recent political shenanigans.

A few days before Thanksgiving 2020, a half-dozen or so people gathered at the home of a Michigan lawyer named Robert E. Norton II.

Norton is the general counsel of Hillsdale College, a small, conservative Christian school in the southern part of the state. One of his guests was Ian Northon, a Hillsdale alumnus and private lawyer who did work for the college. Also in attendance were a couple of state lawmakers, Beth Griffin and Julie Alexander, who represented conservative districts north of Detroit.

Northon would later describe the meeting to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. “Somebody at Hillsdale reached out to me, said they are going to have this little meeting,” he testified. “I went to it. There were a handful of reps there, and then Giuliani called in.” That, of course, was Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor turned personal lawyer to President Donald J. Trump.

Hillsdale was already well connected to the Right. Northon had worked for the Amistad Project, an “election-integrity watchdog” that the Times reported “emerged as a primary partner in the Trump campaign’s election-fraud litigation.” He’d been a vice president of the Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-based Rightwing philanthropy that has funded groups pushing voter-fraud conspiracy theories.

And most prominent was Hillsdale’s president, Larry P. Arnn. Over two decades, Arnn had fashioned the college as an avatar of resistance to progressivism, all the while amassing relationships with many of the influencers and financiers who were transforming conservative politics in America. By the time Trump swept into the White House in 2017, Arnn had made Hillsdale an academic darling and supplier of philosophical gravitas to the new right.

So prominent was Arnn that he was mentioned as a possible education secretary before losing out to Betsy DeVos, part of a wealthy Michigan family of major conservative donors and Hillsdale patrons. (Her brother, the private-security contractor Erik Prince, is an alumnus.) Hillsdale graduates became aides in the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill and clerks at the Supreme Court. (“We have hired many staff from Hillsdale,” says Marc Short, who served as chief of staff to Trump’s vice president and Arnn’s longtime friend, Mike Pence.) In the Covid years, the backlash against school closures, mask mandates and diversity programs made education perhaps the most important culture-wars battleground. Hillsdale was at the center, and nowhere more than in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis frequently invoked Hillsdale as he sought to cleanse the state’s schools of liberal influence. “How many places other than Hillsdale are actually standing for truth?” he said at a 2022 Hillsdale-sponsored event in Naples, Fla.

The Times article explored the way in which this small Michigan college got mixed up in the plot to subvert American democracy, and it certainly makes for fascinating reading. But Hillsdale is hardly the only small religious institution providing an academic environment actively indoctrinating students against progressive political beliefs.

There are some 900 Christian-affiliated colleges in the United States, and while not all of them emulate Hillsdale, those that  pride themselves on turning out “conservative” students collectively educate thousands of young Americans–far, far more than matriculate from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, et al.

I suppose pointing this out is a form of “what-aboutism.” I certainly do not intend it as an argument that all is well in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League; there is plenty of hypocrisy masquerading as inclusiveness on those campuses, and the fact that their graduates are over-represented in government and academia makes them proper targets for evaluation and–when warranted– criticism.  

I just think that criticism should be–in the immortal words of Faux News– “fair and balanced.” For every Harvard graduate, there are probably twenty from schools like Hillsdale, Oral Roberts and Liberty– and their graduates are the ones passing anti-gay and anti-women measures in state legislatures around the country.


  1. The takeover of educational institutions has been a top priority of the Koch coalition since the 70s. Every year at their annual conclaves they pledge billions of dollars to that task, so they get scarier every year.

  2. Stupid questions, such as the one I just saw on “Morning Joe”, ” If convicted, does Trump still deserve to become president?” are NOT coming from conservatives. They are coming from the liberals on the left, higher educated, elected officials, in-fighting Democrats, mute and idle Republicans, the media and are confusing the public as to what the Constitution of the United States of America actually stands for and who it is meant to protect. It is currently protecting Trump, a known criminal, liar and rapist, keeping him above all Rule of Law and being upheld by his and Mitch McConnell’s federal judges and the Supreme Court who refuse to provide a list of ethics to rule the courts by.

    I am a high school dropout with a GED and I know the answer to that question and am receiving countless E-mails, polls and surveys, ALL ending with requests for donations from my Social Security checks to support them to ask such stupid questions. This does not make them appear to be doing the jobs they were elected to do and we are paying them high salaries to do. I live in FEAR due to their inaction and silence to state that he should never have been allowed to campaign for the presidency the first time.

    “…true conservatives have very little in common with the political movement that has appropriated that label.” True conservatives are dead and stinking; they just haven’t been buried yet but will be on November 5, 2024.

  3. Indiana has Grace College in Winona Lake – a very small Christian college in NE IN that employed Amanda Banks, Rep Jim Banks’ wife, in the recent past and, as far as I know, still provides her office space to conduct her work for the Family Policy Alliance.

    Google her name to find out more about how deeply she is involved in pushing ultra right wing religious dogma into education throughout the nation and into Congress.

  4. Thank you Peggy! The sound that no one wants to hear…the boots of the Right Ecosystem – this time the higher ed wing….

  5. A new hire at a family member’s school was presented to the staff and parents as a “wonderful” addition to the staff, a graduate of Liberty. I shudder to think what kind of “education” that person is imparting to the students. Not a word of objection from anyone in the community. Apparently, being “woke” is a greater threat than being a purveyor of misinformation, distortion, omission or outright lies about history and culture. I suspect religion sneaks into the lesson plans as well.

  6. I have no problem with anyone’s Faith or faith (let’s face it we all assume what we have been exposed to is correct). However, it must be kept separate from government.

    It seems that Islam traditionally and Christianity now refuse to comply with our rules for government, specified in the Constitution.

  7. I do find it quietly funny that when graduates of places like Hillsdale end up in court, they (even the lawyers) never select a lawyer who graduated from a similar institution.

    Seems like that should say something about their quality.

  8. The Koch coalition is in this church-state brawl for the long haul with their funding of political admixture of church and state, i.e., the indoctrination of children to the wonders of unregulated capitalism under the shadow of the cross, which our Founders explicitly held otherwise as a forbidden mixture of church and state, as in, it’s a perfect right of every American via the First Amendment to choose to be religious, but that Amendment does not give the right of politicians to conspire with such as Koch, Hillsdale and others to make such choice universal since to do so would itself be a violation of the First Amendment rights of those who choose either not to be religious or to cast their lot with non-Christian views.

    The real danger posed by Hillsdale, Grace and others is that if they are successful in mixing church and state there will inevitably be a conflict between the two down the road and that if religion wins out will give us a modern version of the old Holy Roman Empire, where their emperors were appointed by the pope, whose criteria for such appointment(s) were questionable. Charlemagne, for instance, was one of their appointments, and could neither read nor write.

    As we have seen by last night’s Iowa returns, we are still at the mercy of ignorance in high places not by deign of a first time Jesuit pope but by Koch financed and Hillsdale cover of an authoritarian takeover of our teetering democracy and the end of our Enlightenment experiment of Madison and Jefferson, which takeover from within must be resisted at all costs.

  9. Good comments, as always, provoked by a solid column (although, I hope, there will be a sequel that mentions the majority of “other higher education institutions,” such as the land grant public universities, the small privates—Wesleyan, Hampshire, Case Western, etc.—that are usually left out of the picture.

    Second point: look to the roots of the conservative attack on higher education and the institutions, including major ‘think tanks’ funded by Koch and others, that remain on the scene carrying out the instructions laid out decades ago. My take on it:


  10. The weak-minded and their cults probably gave hunter-gatherer tribes evolutionary advantages: purpose, tribal unity, obedience to the leader, and really good reasons to die for the tribe (72 virgins, amirite?).

    Ironically, we are witnessing evolution in progress. What we do not know, however, is whom will be found to be better adapted to this environment. Perhaps more advanced brains are too costly in this world and the human race needs a million years of superstition and ignorance before a step forward is possible.

    Have faith in Brother Darwin. Just be aware that you have indeed been born into interesting times.


  11. Government seemed to be less problematic before higher education became a requirement for political positions and religion in government was not a political problem. The 1st Amendment prohibits government from establishing religion but does not prohibit religion from establishing government policies and becoming laws of the land.

    John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign brought to the public the hew and cry “America will never have a Catholic president.” I didn’t understand their fear at that time but we are now seeing it in action in the once Republican party. Today the Catholics are the current “conservatives” in our federal court system and the Supreme Court and are led by those spawned by the evil faction who want to impeach our Catholic president who leaves his religious beliefs at the front door of the White House. Higher education doesn’t appear to have brought higher knowledge or improvement to governing this nation or keeping religion out of government; we have lost more human and civil rights due to the higher educated evangelical conservatives than were not available prior to the passage if Civil Rights. But; we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet; wait till Trump completes his destruction of America as we and the world have known it.

  12. Jane Mayer’s expose’ “Dark Money” laid out the systemic and well-funded Koch plan to infiltrate and take over local governments and educational institutions. The aim of their plan is to build up their libertine controlled economy supported by a controlled majority. Their mercenaries in government are aware of the aim and are willing to lie to citizens to promote their agenda.
    I went to Catholic school back in the day our parent’s paid tuition and it wasn’t as hocus pocus as you might think. We went to Mass every morning in a beautiful church where Latin was spoken (they must know what they’re talking about?) and right after headed to the school said the pledge of allegiance and got down to work. I was told we had same books/curriculum as the nearby public school. Mistreatment of native Americans and slavery were exposed as the scourge that they were/are. Many of us also learned the give and take of everyday life in large families and what sacrifice is. Sometimes it was too much.
    Today the mix of pseudo-Christianity into politics is causing a dangerous current that is demanding that citizens just going along with the herd.
    With a lot of news focused on right wing primaries now it’s overwhelming, scary and merits caution.
    I still think there are a lot of folks who don’t buy it all, that it’s a matter of progressive evolution.
    I agree Biden, Pelosi etc. are good examples of government officials strengthened personally by their faith but not expecting other to believe or live the same.
    The center of the religion I know is Love and the center of US government is Democracy. These seem compatible and if protected can guide citizens to a transcendent enlightenment (happiness). I hate to see, and experience organized lies, interference and obstruction to that goal and support exposure and resistance to the injustice.

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