Hillsdale Journal

Hillsdale College campus


“I’m going to Michigan,” I tell someone, the day before I leave. “Where?” she asks. “Hillsdale College,” I say. “It’s sort of the conservative Harvard.”

Hillsdale is indeed a conservative school — a college with a conservative faculty and a conservative student body (as I understand it). If I had my way, there would be a mixture pretty much everywhere. A diversity. But if there are going to be 8 million left-wing schools — let there be one Hillsdale, or three.

You know what I mean?

I grew up in Michigan, and I have never seen the state more frozen — colder, icier, or more snow-laden. Siberia at its wintriest could not be more a winterscape.

I never knew there was a Moscow, Michigan — before driving past it. Moscow, Idaho, yes. The name is not pronounced as we pronounce the Russian capital. In Idaho, you say “Moscoh.”

Someone there taught me a slogan, when I visited years ago: “There’s no ‘cow’ in ‘Moscow.’” Well, there should be, in my opinion.

On the radio, I pick up a station from Kalamazoo — one of my hometowns, actually. Do you know the Glenn Miller hit, “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo”? Once you know it, you have it under your skin.

On the Hillsdale campus, I see a sign, a plaque: “Pursue Truth, Defend Liberty.” Holy smokes — I’m not in Kansas anymore. (Actually, I am in Kansas, in a way.)

The building I stay in is the Dow Center. These are the Dows of Dow Chemical, surely — the company in Midland, Michigan. When I was growing up, in left-wing Ann Arbor, “Dow” was a dirty word. These were the people responsible for the Vietnam War. They were napalming innocent children, or something.

Dow is a wonderful company, and the Dow family is wonderfully philanthropic. They have built a lot, in Michigan. What stupid things I learned long ago . . .

Hillsdale used to be a very good college. Now it has become more like world-beating. It has become elite, exclusive, affluent — sort of a conservative ivy. Far from a regional school, it has students from all over.

The first kid I meet — he is to interview me for the newspaper — is from Long Island.

I have dinner with the George Washington Fellows — bright, polite, fun, serious-minded, inquisitive. These are the kind of people I would have liked to go to college with myself.

Apparently, there aren’t many liberals on campus. Someone tells me that the head of the College Democrats voted for Romney. (Now, there’s my kind of Democrat.)

So, what are the big issues? What are the debates? The conservatives fight the libertarians. (It’s probably the other way around, if my own experience is any guide.) Then there are the theological disputes: The Protestants fight the Catholics. (Great, just what any campus needs: religious wars.) Then there are “natural rights versus duties.”

When pretty much everyone around is conservative, it’s the differences that get magnified. I think of my own world: National Review Online spends much of its time abominating Mitch McConnell and John Boehner — and Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and anyone else who has the gall to hold a position of governmental responsibility.

We fellows — if I may consider myself honorary — talk about changing the world. Making a difference, and all that stuff. I say, “Well, one can start with one’s own family: one’s children or spouse or siblings or parents. And then maybe work on a neighbor or two. That could be enough, for one lifetime.”

Later on, a young woman says, “I’m glad you said that. My ambition is to be a wife and mother. I figure I can make a contribution to the health of the Republic that way.”

What a beautiful and right desire. (The only problem with this desire, however — if problem there is — is that one needs a partner. In the family business, it takes two to tango, or should.)

I have breakfast with Dave Gaebler, a math prof. He is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is ridiculously well educated: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, music, engineering, blah blah blah — the math Ph.D. seems mere icing on the cake. He started out homeschooled, by the way (if I am remembering correctly). Kind of figures.

He says the following about math: “I’m lucky to be good at what I’m interested in, and to be able to make a living at it.” Yes, that’s three-for-three: You’re interested in something; you’re good at it; and you can make a living at it. That is kind of a trifecta of life.

He further makes a point about learning math, and why some are so frustrated in it: You can ill afford to miss any step, along the way. If you miss or don’t get something, the next class or lesson will stymie you. It’s different in other fields. If you miss American history, well, you can do French history or something the next semester, and it’s more or less a clean slate. There are no clean slates in math (or fewer of them).

He also says this, about teaching: Once you grasp something in math, it seems obvious. So, as a teacher, you have to remember what it was like when the matter wasn’t obvious — and lead the student to “Aha!”

Out and about, I see signs for Kroger’s and Peebles. You know you’re home, or in your home state, when the store signs seem so very familiar (even in this age of homogenization, or nationalization, or globalization).

(I have often had occasion to quote an old ad slogan, in various contexts: “A million Kroger shoppers can’t be wrong.”)

On this campus, there are statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and other standard greats (or should-be standard greats). There are also statues of Churchill, Reagan, and Thatcher. There came a time, explains a student guide, when the Thatcher statue had to be turned. She thought it would be rude to have her back to Reagan, who had been newly installed. Someone put up a sign that said, “The lady’s not for turning” (a classic Thatcher line).


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