The College That Told Uncle Sam Where To Go
George Roche III, president of Hillsdale College, received a unique letter from Washington some months ago. It was from an official of HEW who congratulated Hillsdale for its exemplary record in ending discrimination on the basis of sex. The letter cited the school's history as a pioneer in equal opportunity. Yes, indeed, the first woman who ever received a bachelor's degree in Michigan had received it at Hillsdale. And yes, the school had remained a leader in affirmative action ever since. With this background neatly established, the official ordered Dr. Roche to submit the college immediately to Federal regulation in order to "end discrimination by reason of sex." Hillsdale College was no longer to be independent of the Federal government.
If that doesn't make much sense to you, then you know how the people at Hillsdale feel. It makes even less sense to them.
They have been running their small, liberal arts college without the benefit of any help from the government precisely because they did not want the secretary of HEW to end up as the dean of academic affairs. They paid a price for their independence, passing up millions of dollars in subsidies. But they thought it was worth it.
Now the Feds have decided that even though Hillsdale doesn't receive any government money in the ordinary sense, it ought to be subject to HEW regulation anyway. The government has simply crafted a new definition of what it means to accept Federal subsidies. They now claim that any college with students who accept Federal money is a "recipient institution" subject to their control. In effect, the Feds are marking the currency, and if any with their "X" shows up in the college's cash drawer, they claim that that is enough to give them control over the college.
Hillsdale's immediate difficulties with Washington involve the implementation of Title 9 of the 1972 Education Act. This act imposes quotas supposedly to eliminate sex discrimination. In drawing up the regulations to implement Title 9, HEW officials staked out for the first time their claim to regulate all schools whose students receive Federal funds. Since Hillsdale has students drawing Federal aid, HEW began inundating the school with instructions for "compliance" with government sex quotas.
Among other things, Hillsdale would have been required to institute an elaborate and expensive computer system to provide the bureaucrats with reams of read-outs on every conceivable aspect of the college's operation. For some colleges, the government has required more than 70,000 separate statistical calculations to achieve "compliance" with a single edict.
Hillsdale officials considered their situation—and decided to resist. Rather than filing the required documents, they issued a document of their own, a "resolution of noncompliance." In effect, they told the Feds to "shove it." But they did it in exactly the way you would expect from small-town Americans. They wheeled out the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights to show that HEW's regulations exceed proper governmental authority and violate inalienable freedoms. Besides which, in the Hillsdale view, they are just plain "immoral." That being the case, the Hillsdale trustees concluded their resolution of noncompliance by vowing to resist the government by "all legal means."
Thus, the contest between Hillsdale College and Big Government. It doesn't look good for Hillsdale. Indeed, it never looks good for anyone opposing Big Government. But this is especially so when the contestant is a small institution with an annual budget of only about $15 million. Being that small, Hillsdale can barely afford the legal fees to fight the Feds in court. The government almost has the power to put the school into bankruptcy simply by dragging it into a big and expensive legal battle.
And if that doesn't finish them off, there are all sorts of other dirty tricks the government can pull. The IRS might crack down upon the college's donors and trustees. Or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could make the college install seat belts on all the professors' chairs. Or the Environmental Protection Agency could make the college add a solid waste converter to the furnace in its heating plant.
Big Government, because it is big, has lots of ways to screw tiny Hillsdale. But the way the college fears most is what the Feds are most likely to try. They may withdraw Hillsdale's accreditation for veterans and other students who qualify for direct Federal assistance. In other words, the government may prohibit any students over whom it has financial control from attending Hillsdale. That would knock out about 10 percent of the current student body and place a severe crimp on future admissions.
The Feds have power on their side, so it is probably only a matter of time until they squash Hillsdale. Meanwhile, the college is not ready to yield, so the controversy is at an impasse. College officials have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, punctuated by an occasional letter to Washington reiterating their position. "Since Hillsdale has achieved…equal opportunity for all while pursuing a policy of complete independence from political funding, the trustees of the college are puzzled by HEW's insistence that our school is now subject to Federal control."
Of course, they really aren't puzzled.
Hillsdale President George Roche, along with many other educators, sees the move against Hillsdale as just another step in a continuous process by which the Feds have been taking over higher education.
If you have not been closely following these developments, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Why is Federal regulation of colleges such a dreaded prospect? To understand, visit your local Post Office. There, posted somewhere on the wall, is a copy of Executive Order 11478, as amended by Executive Order 11590, as further amended by Public Law 92-261, as further amended by Public Law 93-259. You do not need to read it all to understand. It is enough to note that this is the eleven thousandth in a series of edicts, three times amended.
This proliferation of rules gives modern dimension to the attitude articulated by French Premier George Clemenceau in a famous wisecrack after the First World War. Commenting on Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, which were to have assured permanent peace in Europe, Clemenceau quipped, "That man Wilson has fourteen points when God Almighty had only ten."
Today, college presidents are not counting the number of points in the regulations they must follow. They would be almost beyond enumeration. The relevant measure would now be the volume or weight of "myriad, pedantic and sometimes contradictory requirements imposed by government regulations."
If that description of what government is doing for higher education seems tinged with anti-Washington sentiment, it is all the more remarkable because it is quoted from a joint statement issued by the presidents of the four major universities in the nation's capital: American, Catholic, George Washington, and Georgetown. These four worthies have found that being HEW's close neighbors has not helped them live any more comfortably with its regulatory excesses. To the contrary, being only a cab ride away from HEW has given them an intimate glimpse of the government in action. And they are alarmed. They see an attempt to impose "conformity" upon higher education to an extent that threatens to destroy the liberal arts tradition. As they put it, without "a vigorous exercise of independence the American system of higher education as we have known it for centuries will certainly collapse."
From Ottumwa Heights College to Harvard, our institutions of higher learning are being transformed into veritable post offices with ivy. Some don't even have the ivy. But whatever their appearances, they are taking on the character of government installations as their academic diversity is regulated away. Soon, most will be little better than different outposts of one Big Government University.
LIBERALISM AT HILLSDALE
This is what Hillsdale College is attempting to resist. For one thing, the Hillsdale people don't like bigness in any form. They could have become a bigger college, but the trustees said "No." They decided long ago that 1,000 students was plenty. And the trustees also had a very distinct idea of what they wanted the students to be taught. Their idea does not correspond with notions popular in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in Washington.
President Roche vows that he will not adopt the type of education favored by the government, an education that he says is fit only for "turning out technically proficient automatons ideally suited to running the system without questioning its values." Roche says that Hillsdale is not attempting to fit its graduates into "jobs" but to develop their individual independence and give them a deeper and richer understanding of philosophic values. What Hillsdale is defending is the old-fashioned liberal arts education.
That may be why the college is widely perceived to be "conservative," a characterization that college officials hesitate to accept. A more accurate description would be "anachronistic." Hillsdale does seem to belong to America as it was 50 years ago. Not only does the school offer an old-fashioned liberal education, where the president actually teaches, it also gives an education in old-fashioned liberalism. President Roche and his trustees have worked to see that Hillsdale's history, political science, and economics departments emphasize the importance of free markets and voluntarism in human society. They don't think that the advent of interventionist economics and the growth of political power have really changed anything. As far as they are concerned, the "eternal verities" are still the "eternal verities," and students need to learn them.
In short, if you would like to have gone to college 50 years ago, it is not too late—you could still go to Hillsdale. Hillsdale offers an old-time academic philosophy. Which is not to say that campus life is dull. As one former official described it, the campus seems to have kept abreast of the trends toward greater student freedom as well as any in the Midwest. "Hillsdale," as he put it, "is not a Bob Jones University without Protestantism." Students are left free to indulge in the life styles and amusements they choose.
What will happen to the school after the Feds get through with it is anyone's guess. Government control, as our distinguished Congressfolk have demonstrated, is not necessarily incompatible with contemporary "extra-curricular" activities. But it may be incompatible with the college's serious purpose of remaining an outpost for preserving the values of a pluralistic, free society. In particular, the government has often been less than accommodating toward the sort of academicians who have tended to collect at Hillsdale—those who doubt the value of what government is doing.
These scholars, among them, Dr. Roche himself, have argued for the lost virtues of American life: self-reliance, initiative, hard work, and, most of all, independence. To them, government is not primarily an instrument of social good but simply "brute force with a badge." They see the process by which the Feds are attacking them as so much more evidence buttressing their suppositions. After all, they are being threatened for failing to meet the "affirmative action" quotas that the government itself admits they may have reached on their own.
President Roche has strong words for the government's actions. The insistence upon mandatory quotas "is far from anew idea. It is not the wave of the future; it is the putrid backwash of all the tired social engineering schemes of centuries."
It could be just another case of those "damned pointy-heads" grasping for power. But it isn't. The very intellectuals who George Wallace thought animate government regulatory actions are themselves being strangled in red tape.
Suddenly, one of the old concepts still taught at Hillsdale College, that of power run amok, is taking on a new respectability. The endless complaints from farmers and businessmen that regulation is stultifying are beginning to be echoed by educators now that they are experiencing the same degree of control. As Harvard President Derek Bok has said, "When educators grumble about excessive regulation or criticize the costs of complying with Federal law, their complaints must seem familiar to every businessman who has experienced the travails of government intervention."
Higher education, no less than the other aspects of life, is being weakened by inflation and the tax policies of the government. And, of course, the educators are almost powerless to do anything about it. The most they can do is what tiny Hillsdale has done—refuse the government money and tell the bureaucrats to stick the regulations in their ear.
Thus the lines are drawn. HEW is plodding ahead because, as spokesperson Gwen Gregory says, "We're enforcing the law." Hillsdale is resisting—not because the "law" bans discrimination, which the college is against anyway—but simply because the folks there don't like righteous bullying. "It's not that we don't agree with the guidelines," points out Lamar Fowler, Hillsdale treasurer. "We comply with most already. It's that we don't like to be told what to do."
The outcome of the battle may determine the degree of independence that higher education will retain in the future. And as George Roche sees it, the battle signifies even more. His small, anachronistic college is holding out against the march of bigness—giantism, he calls it—that is depersonalizing and demoralizing society. When he is not teaching, he fights it in other ways—by being personable. He sits unpretentiously in his small office, answering his own phone, counseling those who will listen with the lessons of his old-fashioned humanism. The big problem with the modern world, he says, is that we yield too easily. We think that power means everything and justice nothing. Perhaps, he muses, Hillsdale's example will help us all to end "our acquiescence in a system which makes so little of individuals."
Whatever else can be said of George Roche III, the man is an educator.
Jim Davidson founded the National Taxpayers Union in 1969 and serves as its director. He has contributed widely to national publications and will soon be taking up doctoral studies in political philosophy at Oxford.
Helping Hillsdale's Battle
Last fall Hillsdale College launched the Hillsdale Freedom Fund, an attempt to raise $29 million to support scholarships ($14.7 million), faculty chairs, the Center for Constructive Alternatives, the Learning Resources Center, and ongoing operating expenses. The fund was initiated "in order to preserve the independence and autonomy of Hillsdale College in the face of what it views as increasing government intervention in the private sector." As of April 30, $7.5 million had been raised.
In Washington, meanwhile, Sen. Jesse Helms has introduced the Academic Freedom Act of 1977 to protect colleges from oppressive Federal regulation. If enacted the bill would:
-restrict Federal regulations to those programs and activities of a college which directly receive Federal assistance, rather than to the college as a whole;
-restrict the power of an agency to terminate assistance to a program which does not comply with Federal rules to that program alone;
-define scholarships, loans and other assistance provided directly to students as not constituting aid to the college itself;
-require that Federal agencies file an education impact statement on each new rule affecting universities which would assess the cost of compliance with the new rule;
-create an exception from many Federal regulations for colleges in which Federal assistance constitutes five percent or less of its current annual funds budget;
-enlarge existing legal prohibitions against Federal control over curriculum, administration and personnel to cover recent bureaucratic rulings.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The College That Told Uncle Sam Where To Go".