Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee has announced his intention to bring Hillsdale College in to add to the state's charter school program. If you've been watching the religious right, you already know this name. But if you hadn't previously noticed Hillsdale, here's your explainer.
Hillsdale's history starts in 1844, initially as Michigan Central College. In 1853, they moved to Hillsdale, Michigan and reopened under the new name in 1855. The school was founded by Free Will Baptists. It admitted Black students as soon as it opened and it was the second college in the US to let women earn a four-year degree.
Its first century was marked by growth. The school was no longer affiliated with a specific church, but still declared a strong Christian bent. By the mid-twentieth century, the school had begun to resist federal regulations, including affirmative action, and in 1962 adopted its own Declaration of Independence from the feds, refusing to take any federal money.
On 1971, George Roche III became president of the college. He raised lots of money and brought in plenty of conservative speakers, including Ronald Reagan. Under Roche, the college cut itself entirely loose from federal influence. They stopped reporting student body breakdown by demographics and determined to follow their own non-discrimination policy. After they fought that in court, they stopped allowing students to accept federal student loans, providing private assistance instead.
Roche resigned in 1999 after a truly horrific and heartbreaking episode--he had been conducting a 19-year affair with his daughter-in-law, who killed herself in despair when he remarried.
This was a terrific blow to the college's reputation and fundraising. The college hired as a replacement, Larry Arnn, who still has the job.
Arnn's conservative credentials are impeccable. He's one of the founders of the Claremont Institute, a conservative thinky tank (mission-- "to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life") founded by students of Harry Jaffa (Jaffa was the Goldwater speechwriter who penned the "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice..." line); Hillsdale has a library in named after him. The Institute was quiet for years, but has emerged as a big time Trump booster funded by folks like the DeVos tribe and the Bradleys, and pumping out ideas for selling the Big Lie and the Insurrection. Arnn is also a trustee at the Heritage Foundation, which at one point offered him its presidency.
Arnn has been a Trump supporter, and the college has fallen right into MAGAland as well. Or as Politico Magazine put it in 2018Trump University never died. It’s located in the middle of bucolic southern Michigan, halfway between Lansing and Fort Wayne, 100 miles and a world away from Detroit.
In the words of its modern mission statement, the College “considers itself a trustee of our Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.”