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How Hillsdale Beats Harvard - WSJ.com
June 2, 2009
This week the 1,600 or so members of Harvard's Class of 2009 will leave campus with a coveted Ivy degree. Of this number, seven will leave with something else: the gold bars of a second lieutenant.
At a time when institutions from our banks and auto makers to our churches and public schools seem to have trouble honoring their most basic promises, these young officers enter a life where words have meaning, meaning has consequences, and those consequences can include a flag-draped coffin. Tomorrow on Harvard Yard, Gen. David Petraeus will address these young men and women -- four Army, three Marines -- at their commissioning ceremony. On a campus where the military is officially unwelcome, that ceremony offers an interesting perspective on what the modern academy teaches us about living by our principles.
The operative principle defining Harvard's relationship to the military is the university's non-discrimination policy. Specifically, Harvard's prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation conflicts with the military's prohibition on gays serving openly. So the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) remains banned from Harvard's campus. Military recruiters are grudgingly permitted only because the Solomon Amendment requires the university either to grant them access or to give up its government funding -- about 15% of its operating budget, according to the latest annual financial report.
Harvard, of course, is not the only campus that has faced such a conflict. Like Harvard, Hillsdale College does not like the strings attached to federal dollars. Like Harvard, Hillsdale does not permit ROTC on campus. Unlike Harvard, however, when it came to choosing between money and principle, Hillsdale chose principle. I was struck by the contrast between the two schools this past fall, when I spent a week at the tiny Michigan college teaching a course on journalism and delivering a lecture.
Back in the 1970s the Department of Health, Education and Welfare demanded that Hillsdale begin counting its students by race and sex as a condition of federal loans some of its students were receiving. For a college whose charter was the first to declare itself open to all students "irrespective of nation, color, or sex," this was insulting. Hillsdale, after all, was the school whose undefeated football team refused to play in the 1956 Tangerine Bowl when game officials said Hillsdale's black players would not be allowed to join their white teammates on the field. Still, the feds persisted and in 1984 won on a related case before the Supreme Court.
By that time, however, Hillsdale had already made a decision it thought crucial for its continued independence: The college would not accept any federal dollars, including financial aid for its students.
How different this is from Harvard. On its Web page, Harvard Law School cites the university's nondiscrimination policy and then goes on to describe how it lives up to that principle:
"The Harvard Law School makes one exception to this policy. Under threat of loss of funding to the University resulting from the Solomon Amendment, the Law School has suspended the application of its nondiscrimination policy to military recruiters."
You don't have to be a lawyer to get the point: Even though we are one of the world's wealthiest universities, we'd rather make an exception to our principles than give up the money. So we'll do what the Solomon Amendment requires and hold our noses.
The different reaction to federal funding also translates into different reactions to the uniform. Hillsdale's decision means it's free to tell the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines to go fly a kite. But that hasn't happened. To the contrary, during my visit I found two Marine recruiters happily sitting at a table in the new student union. And they were upbeat about both the number (four for 2009 alone) and quality of Marine officers they were getting.
"Hillsdale is the only college where every interaction I've had with school personnel has been positive and encouraging," says Capt. Elliott R. Peterson, one of those Marine recruiters. "Professors, deans and even the school president have gone out of their way to ensure I am being accommodated. And yet, Hillsdale is the only school in my area that does not have to allow me on campus."
Merely by attending tomorrow's commissioning ceremony, Harvard President Drew Faust will continue a tradition started a few years ago. That's progress from the days when Harvard presidents simply ignored the whole thing. Yet the ceremony highlights a disquieting contrast: between those young Harvard officers who will take an oath requiring adherence to principle even at the cost of their lives -- and leaders, such as those at their university, whose actions make clear their principles have a price.
If Harvard believes that our Armed Forces are inconsistent with its values, surely the honest thing to do is to stand on principle and accept the funding consequences. The folks at Hillsdale would be glad to show the way.
About William McGurn
William McGurn is a Vice President at News Corporation who writes speeches for CEO Rupert Murdoch. Previously he served as Chief Speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Mr. McGurn has served as chief editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal in New York. He spent more than a decade overseas -- in Brussels for The Wall Street Journal/Europe and in Hong Kong with both the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. And in the mid-1990s, he was Washington Bureau Chief for National Review.
Bill is author of a book on Hong Kong ("Perfidious Albion") and a monograph on terrorism ("Terrorist or Freedom Fighter"). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, holds a BA in philosophy from Notre Dame and an MS in Communications from Boston University.
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