Hillsdale College, the small Christian conservative-based institution established in 1844, which went through a major sex scandal in the late 1990s, and became a go-to institute for COVID disinformation, is currently being seen by Christian Nationalists as a model of educational excellence; a model worth emulating.
As Emma Green recently reported in The New Yorker. “At a recent public briefing, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, decried the imposition of critical race theory and mandatory diversity-and-inclusion training at the state’s schools. He pledged to counter ‘ideological conformity’ and ‘administrative bloat.’ On the other hand, when DeSantis and other Republican politicians try to articulate what they’re for—what exactly they want education to look like—one name comes up repeatedly: Hillsdale College.”
Green noted that “In January, DeSantis’s chief of staff told National Review that the governor hoped to transform New College of Florida, a public liberal-arts school, into a ‘Hillsdale of the South.’ One of the people involved in implementing the reforms is a dean and vice-president at Hillsdale.”
According to the Detroit Metro Times, “Hillsdale’s new “1776 curriculum” based on Trump’s “1776 Report” from a committee run by Arnn. Trump formed it to counter the “1619 Project” by the New York Times, which presents American history from an African-American point of view and is now taught in some schools.”
Located in Hillsdale, Michigan, the College, a factory for conservative thought and so-called Christian values, was rocked by a sex scandal in the late 1990s. That was when George C. Roche III, then president of Hillsdale, was accused by his son of having an affair with his wife. Roche III, called a “conservative celebrity” and ''a hero to the movement,'' by The Weekly Standard, was forced to resign in disgrace.
Some twenty-plus years later, Hillsdale was embroiled in a controversy of a different sort: COVID denial. Hillsdale appeared to specialize in peddling disinformation about the pandemic and its variants. To pursue these aims, the institute established the Washington, D.C.-based Academy for Science and Freedom. According to the Hillsdale website, the Academy aims “To educate the American people about the free exchange of scientific ideas and the proper relationship between freedom and science in the pursuit of truth.”
The three men appointed to spearhead the operation, Scott W. Atlas, M.D., of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, also known as Trump’s COVID guy, Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, Ph.D., of the Brownstone Institute, “are connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures,” according to Walker Bragman and Alex Kotch, writing for The Center For Media and Democracy, in partnership with The Daily Poster.
According to Bragman and Kotch, “The trio also has ties to the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely-rebuked yet influential missive that encouraged governments to adopt a ‘herd immunity’ policy letting Covid-19 spread largely unchecked.”
The Great Barrington Declaration, authored Bhattacharya, former Harvard Medical School professor Martin Kulldorff, and Oxford University professor Sunetra Gupta, was released on October 4, 2020. According to Bragman and Kotch, “the declaration recommended governments allow younger, healthier people to become infected with Covid-19 while reserving ‘focused protection’ for the vulnerable, in order to reach herd immunity. Suggestions included having nursing homes limit staff rotations and businesses rely on workers with “acquired immunity.”
While the document claimed academic legitimacy and contained the signatures of 2700 “Medical and Public Health Scientists,” Bragman and Kotch pointed out that it “arose out of the world of right-wing dark money and corporate interests, and many of its signatories aren’t verified.”
The two reporters noted that “The new academy appears to be the latest effort to provide intellectual cover to a nearly two-year campaign by right-wing and big business interests to force a return to normalcy to boost corporate profits amid a pandemic that is now surging once again thanks to Omicron.”
“What we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic was a silencing of scientific inquiry in favor of policies absolutely hostile to freedom,” said Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn in a Hillsdale Press Release. “Liberty is the common good that defines a free society. Policy and science should seek to preserve it whenever possible.” Arnn chaired Donald Trump’s highly flawed 1776 Commission, which sought to craft American history curriculums around America’s strengths.
“The pandemic exposed grave problems with the essential functioning of science, research and debate,” explained Atlas. “Instead of open and free discourse to seek the scientific truths underlying urgently needed solutions, we have seen silencing, censoring, and intimidation of those whose interpretations differed from the desired narrative. This dangerous trend interferes with our ability to address future crises and threatens the very principles of freedom and order essential to democracy.” Atlas added, “Our work in the Academy for Science and Freedom will expose these problems and explore solutions fundamental to the scientific process, principles that all free societies depend on.”
“Science depends on the freedom of scientists to challenge established dogma with arguments and data,” said Bhattacharya. “It cannot function when a small cartel of government scientists, who control a lion’s share of financial support for scientific activity even by private actors, can dictate scientific conclusions at odds with the facts as has happened during the pandemic. The work of the Academy for Science and Freedom will be to reform the funding and function of science so that scientists can be free to do science again and thereby contribute to the flourishing of a free society.”
“All three co-authors are also now affiliated with the Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit founded by former American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) editorial director Jeffrey Tucker in May 2021 to prevent “the recurrence of lockdowns.” Bhattacharya serves as the organization’s senior scholar, Kulldorff is a senior scientific director, and Gupta is an author.
Bragman and Kotch note that while “The Great Barrington Declaration and its natural immunity strategy were widely derided by scientists around the world.” The authors of the report were invited to Donald Trump’s White House despite the fact that their “strategy was condemned by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and its HIV Medicine Association while World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it ‘unethical.’ Thousands of medical professionals called on governments to disregard strategies that rely on natural infection.”
As the Detroit Free Press’ David Jesse reported last year, ”the newest battle in Christian higher education, one that isn't centered on theological issues such as creationism or who is God, but rather on whether Donald Trump won the last election or whether Black people are still targeted by systematic racism in America. It's about politics brought to campus, witnessed by students who arrive as self-styled culture warriors, armed with smartphones and social media.”
As the Detroit Metro News’ Joe Lapointe noted, “Hillsdale’s view of American history … treats the Constitution not as a mere governing document written by wealthy politicians centuries ago but as Holy Writ left by saints of olden days to be interpreted only by the high priests of the Federalist Society, the soothsayers of the Heritage Foundation, and the wealthy donors who fund Hillsdale’s endowment of more than $900 million to keep it free from federal funding.”
Meanwhile, a fawning Governor DeSantis is salivating over the prospect that Hillsdale College materials will spread across the state’s public colleges and universities. Hillsdale recently hosted “An Evening with Gov. Ron DeSantis.”