HILLSDALE, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Hillsdale College has been labeled a “warning school” and excluded from a list that ranks freedom of speech on college campuses, despite placing first in several categories.
“A college’s purpose is not merely to sponsor speech,” Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said in a statement. “A college’s purpose, through speaking and thinking — the two go together — is to teach students to think and speak better in search of knowledge.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and College Pulse evaluated more than 200 colleges and universities across the country, using student survey responses and examining specific “campus indicators.”
Hillsdale ranked first in six categories, including comfort expressing ideas, openness to new ideas, and administrative support for free speech, but the survey placed “warning” labels on the categories of speech climate and speech code. The methodology states this is done “when [a college’s] policies clearly and consistently state that it prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech.”
“Hillsdale holds itself out as an institution that values civil and religious liberty,” said Laura Beltz, Director of Policy Reform at FIRE. “However, its written policies don’t actually include a clear commitment to student free speech rights. Instead, they emphasize maintaining an environment in line with Hillsdale’s particular civil, moral standards.”
FIRE cited excerpts from Hillsdale’s Regulations for Proper Student Conduct, updated last year, as grounds for the “warning” label. This included a prohibition against “behavior that … violates the bounds of common decency and civility or the high moral standards entailed in the College Mission; interferes with the open dialogue fostered by the partnership between the College and its students; disrupts the climate of academic reflection and discourse proper to serious study; or that attempts to undermine or disrupt the academic, religious, or moral commitments entailed in the Mission of the College or the policies pursuant to those commitments.”
FIRE also cited prohibitions against “promoting pornographic or otherwise dehumanizing films or media” and “improper, offensive, abusive, disparaging, threatening, lewd, indecent, pornographic, or obscene conduct, communication, or material on an online social network.”
The organization pointed out that the College reserves the right to refuse to lend itself or its approbation to organizations or activities that violate what it considers to be morally responsible sexuality.
“At FIRE, we think the bounds of debate on campus should be near limitless,” Beltz said. “And if an institution thinks otherwise, we’re here to warn students.”
Highlights from the free speech survey given to students found that 14% of students have self-censored on campus at least once or twice a month, while 33% are worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done.
The survey notes that Hillsdale College has no incidences of sanctioning student groups or faculty members and has never disinvited a speaker.
“We have a practice here at Hillsdale College, and it has been followed as long as memory serves,” said Arnn. “You may assert and defend any argument you conceive, as long as you do so in a way that is civil, academic, and conducive to thought and deliberation.”
Other colleges assigned the “warning” label included Liberty, Pepperdine, Brigham Young, Baylor, and St. Louis Universities.
Michigan Technological University ranked first overall for the best environment for freedom of speech, with 43% of students saying they have self-censored on campus at least once or twice per month and 55% of students worrying about damaging their reputation due to a misunderstanding. The University of Michigan ranked slightly above average, while Michigan State, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan Universities were ranked below average.