A conspiracy-peddling college is coming to Placer County. That should scare us all

·4 min read
SEAN PROCTOR/New York Times

Placer County’s Board of Supervisors are thrilled that Hillsdale College, a small, ultra-conservative Christian university, plans to build a campus on farmland west of Roseville. The problem is that Hillsdale is an extremist institution, perpetuating alternative facts and harmful conspiracy theories.

Placer County’s agreement with Hillsdale signals a deeper conflict in our county – that of local elected officials not only entertaining fringe beliefs but creating a space where young people can be radicalized against democracy. Instead of promoting knowledge and understanding in the best traditions of higher education, Hillsdale’s plans for Placer threatens more political and cultural conflict in our already polarized community.

Take Hillsdale’s mission statement, for example: “The College values the merit of each unique individual, rather than succumbing to the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called ‘social justice and ‘multicultural diversity.’”

What’s wrong with social justice and multicultural diversity? And why would Hillsdale so openly flout ideas meant to create a just nation except to profit off of division between people? This statement is a gratuitous dog whistle indicating a profit motive for being an anti-liberal arts college.

Hillsdale does exactly what it claims to combat: Indoctrination via teachings of a fringe, conspiracy-laden, alternative facts ecosystem susceptible to young people.

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Hillsdale became a private institution, rejecting all federal dollars, after refusing to provide data on the racial composition of its student body to the government in the 1970s. It’s no surprise that Hillsdale has published racist doctrines to deny the history of Black Americans. Last fall, the school published a “1776 Curriculum” for K-12 students.

“Critical race theory and its various manifestations is (sic) diametrically opposed to the principles of equality on which America was founded,” reads one section of the 1776 Curriculum. “By so rejecting America’s founding principles, critical race theory and its adherents reject the principles of equality and human dignity that have led to the most free, prosperous, and secure country in the history of civilization.”

For Hillsdale, it seems they view the practice of accurately teaching America’s complex history to students as a threat to white supremacy.

Examples of Hillsdale’s curriculum includes: “The January 6 Insurrection Hoax”; “Is Ensuring Election Integrity Anti-Democratic?”; “A Sensible and Compassionate Anti-COVID Strategy”; “Does Diversity Really Unite Us? Citizenship and Immigration”; “The Negative Impact of the #MeToo Movement”; and “Gender Ideology Run Amok.”

No, these headlines are not hyperbolic clickbait. In his piece on Jan. 6, Roger Kimball, editor of the right-wing journal The New Criterion, makes the shockingly bold – and patently false – claim that what occurred at the U.S. Capitol was “much more hoax than insurrection.”

“A perfect storm of forces conspired to make 2020 the first oligarchic installation of a president,” Kimball writes. “It would not have happened, I think, absent the panic over the Chinese virus. But that panic, folded in a lover’s embrace by the Democratic establishment, was not only a splendid pretext to clamp down on civil liberties; it also provided an inarguable excuse to alter the rules for elections in several key states.”

Placer County supervisors knew what they were getting for by brokering a deal with Hillsdale. The Michigan-based college maintains ties to former President Donald Trump, and Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn reportedly lost out to Betsy DeVos (who has donated to Hillsdale) as Trump’s education secretary. During Trump’s term, Arnn chaired a commission on American history meant to counteract “left-wing indoctrination in our schools.” Although President Joe Biden has since abolished the commission, panel members have continued to meet at Hillsdale’s Washington campus.

There’s a reasonable argument for welcoming conservative, Christian liberal arts colleges to the greater Sacramento area as a means of offering a different kind of educational perspective to prospective college students. But this perspective is already well represented in Placer County.

Barely 30 minutes away from Hillsdale’s planned construction site in West Roseville is William Jessup University, a small, private, Christian liberal arts college.

Placer County doesn’t need Hillsdale. But Hillsdale’s arrival solves a 14-year dilemma: Placer officials have been trying to bring a college campus to the 600-acre parcel in West Roseville since 2008. Numerous prior projects with other colleges all eventually fell through. And now we’re stuck with Hillsdale.

The question Placer residents should be asking is: Why did Hillsdale choose Placer? Does the college see our county as a staging ground for fanning the flames of partisan division?

Adding Hillsdale to Placer County merely represents another example of local elected officials promoting personal political beliefs that are not shared by many of their constituents – beliefs that flout the ideals of separating church from state.

Hillsdale is a breeding ground for the type of ideology that caused the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. The college teaches a dangerous brand of right-wing political extremism that seeks to arm future generations with a distorted view of history and reality.

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