This is a guest post from a senior enrolled at Hillsdale College, Michigan.
Hillsdale College is refusing to fight Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s recent edict prohibiting all in-person education, and has just agreed to go completely online. But don’t be fooled. Many in the college who could refuse to obey this unconstitutional edict see it as an opportunity to finish what they started long ago at the beginning of the Covid outbreak: completely converting Hillsdale over to online instruction. How do I know this? I am a senior student at Hillsdale College. It is, I believe, the best college in the country today. At least it used to be.
When most other colleges chose to continue online education in the fall, President Larry Arnn promised that Hillsdale College would hold in-person classes to continue its commitment to the liberal arts: “We have been doing it for 175 years. We are going to keep doing it. And of course in the 175 years there have been many obstacles. The Civil War … and the Great Depression.”
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All students know that with Covid-19 restrictions, education has become a boring, uninspiring, dismal experience. Realizing this, Arnn even apologized to graduating seniors in June for shutting down last spring semester. His defiant stance led to a record number of transfer applicants for the spring semester. Students would rather attend anywhere than take Zoom classes.
What the Civil War and Great Depression could not do has been accomplished by some low-level bureaucrats in the administration. In many ways Hillsdale College is like our nation, where unaccountable careerists make all of the important decisions, and congenitally weak leadership officials going all the way to the top cave into these demands despite fundraising handsomely on an image of a brave conservative institution standing up to big government.
When I was registering for classes, I knew that some professors were only teaching online courses, while others taught in-person classes. I signed up for one Zoom class and the rest in-person. At the beginning, I experienced Hillsdale College at its best: brilliant professors, lively discussions in class and during office hours. Hillsdale students have traditionally taken great joy in being set apart, studying a core curriculum in the great Western texts. But what started out as a great semester became a nightmare for hundreds of students when the Health and Wellness Center decided to begin testing, contract-tracing, and quarantining students. Neither my friends nor I knew the college would do this when we arrived on campus. And now we feel like we have been defrauded.
The director of the Wellness Center has a degree in counseling but is no medical expert. He is also a Covid-19 hysteric, and he began to implement a rigid contact-tracing policy. The college administration complied, and the deans eagerly enforced it. Students were accused, anonymously, of having come into contact with someone who might have Covid-19, and without any chance to see who had made the claim or to dispute it, they were told that they must either quarantine for two weeks or go home. Students who tested positive were forced to give more names when their lists were “too short.”
I heard of one student who reported 50 names. Another was contact traced and quarantined, even though he was sitting more than ten feet away, wearing a mask, in class. What had been a trickle of missing students became a flood — I would guess 400 out of a total 1,400 students. The college consistently underreported the true number of students in quarantine. One of my friends’ classes went from almost 30 students down to 5 students in one week. Students are confined off-campus, some in nice and others in not-so-nice rooms, where they sleep, eat, and watch Zoom classes.
The quarantine rules, as well as the professors’ policy about online classes, are inconsistent and confused. Students concerned about Covid are given options and have all their needs met. Those wanting in-person classes are left out to dry. The deans, when contact-traced, refused to quarantine. One, after sending us a video on Friday telling us to wear masks and social distance, showed up at the gym on Monday morning without a mask.
Some students in quarantine did not receive lunch for three straight days. Others had several days’ worth of food dropped off at once. Some have no heat in their rooms. They were told by the Wellness Center director that it was illegal for them to go outside, and so they were allowed 10 minutes of outside time under a canopy. They were instructed not to socialize, not even in passing in the kitchen. This is happening to healthy students showing no symptoms at all! I personally know several students who had just left quarantine only to be contact traced AGAIN for two weeks! They missed a full month of class, which is impossible to make up, and their parents are paying $40,000 a year for it. The situation is leading many students to mental breakdowns.
One of my friends just stopped attending classes in fear that he would be contact-traced. Several others have gone home a week and half early for Thanksgiving for that reason. When another, out of anxiety and misplaced trust, reached out to the college, he was advised to wear a mask, wash his hands, and practice social distancing. After the governor’s recent edict, Arnn sent out an email promising that things would go on as usual, save the in-person classes. Then, we were met with one-person seating in the cafeteria; again, one person at each large table! And how many students have been hospitalized for Covid-19 so far? None! Covid is simply not a threat to my age group. In the words of one of my friends who tested positive, “the most underwhelming sickness I’ve ever had.”
For students forced to take online classes, the experience and quality of education has plummeted. During Zoom classes, I find myself on my phone checking Instagram the whole time. In psychology, only a single professor is teaching in person — and that professor is not listed to teach in the spring. In one dystopian example, students are required to show up to a classroom, wearing masks and social distancing, only to watch a professor Zoom in on a screen in front of them! Another professor, when he does not feel like Zooming a class, sends them a link to a lecture by a professor from another college!
The “sciences” are even worse. One of my friends in biochem has ALL of her classes (necessary for her major) online this semester. I have many friends who are already planning to take physics or chemistry at community colleges over the summer because of the sheer boredom and unimpressive quality of their online science classes. One professor in the Classics department Zooms in from the other side of the state to save himself the commute. With the exception of one professor, the entire Spanish Department is online. The German Department decided to go online before the governor’s new edict. Students thinking of transferring should not fool themselves. The same professors teaching online will Zoom next semester as well. And given that a vaccine will not be available by then, it will mean more contact tracing: Another semester down the drain.
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The college could have prevented this by refusing to test students or contact-trace them to begin with. No one is enforcing the Covid-19 restrictions. In Hillsdale city and county, all of the officials, including the mayor, the health department, and the sheriff’s department, have agreed not to enforce the governor’s edicts. There is no direct confrontation with the governor, but just a humdrum “meh.” After all, who would want to work in tiny Hillsdale as a sheriff’s deputy or health inspector, when hated or even harassed by everyone?
When the governor threatened to take action before the college held commencement, the college defied her, and there were no repercussions. What changed? Where did that courage go? While no official is threatening the college from the outside, within there is a group (call it the Resistance) of professors, administrators, and liberal students that have been intent on closing the college because of Covid-19.
This is a time when Hillsdale College should be courageously challenging the Covid-19 restrictions. Instead, it has consistently complied with them, to the point of shutting down its classes, and it is deceiving its students about it. What can students who love Hillsdale College do? First, we must tell the harsh truth. Hillsdale has decided to be just like every other dying liberal arts college and go online. Second, we should threaten to not return unless the college promises there will be no quarantining of students without symptoms in the spring.
It is not just my parents paying for my education at Hillsdale. My parents demanded that I work and save during the summers to attend this place. That’s my money being taken. Stop the Steal! Families ought to consider suing the college for breach of contract or a refund of tuition. We were promised education, not box lunches in quarantine. Finally, if we return, then we should refuse to cooperate with narc administrators trying to get us to contact-trace our friends. And if we extend this refusal to cooperate with tyranny to our whole country, then maybe that will open back up as well.
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