The Need for Further Self-Governance at Hillsdale by Luke Adams

Modern civil government has two essential parts. The first part is the collection and disbursement of state funds to support the government and any additional causes the public deems worthy. The second part is the enforcement of laws and regulations. Hillsdale College seeks to instill the virtue of self-government in the student body, but it does not implement a full understanding of this idea. We have a Student Federation that allocates an impressive sum of student activity fees, yet all disciplinary action is handled solely by the administration. This situation can be improved, and it would serve the campus better were students to more fully self-govern.

One of the main reasons prospectives choose Hillsdale College is our like-minded community.While there is certainly intellectual diversity on campus, Hillsdale’s spectrum is far narrower than that of other colleges. Due to both of these factors, reaching consensus on an acceptable code of conduct, though minor exceptions will almost certainly arise, should not be impossibly difficult.
In addition to a shared understanding of proper conduct, the students here are rather concerned about campus: club participation is high, and the elections for Student Federation (at least this year) were hotly contested, and dorm loyalty is strong. Rare is he who merely attends classes and has no allegiances to a single group at the college. The students possess a broad understanding that we are all here to make our education as good as it can be, and with this understanding comes a deeply felt social responsibility. Who, for example, has seen litter on the grounds for any length of time? Most Hillsdale students take pride in their school and their community—pride that fosters respect.
Why, then, does the administration inhibit self-government? Surely, out of all of the colleges in the country, we students would be among the most fit to fulfill the second part of government. Our Honor Code, which every student is required to sign, states: “Through education the student rises to self-government.” Notably, it does not state what kind of self-government; the quality of self-government in general is expected of each and every student. Perhaps the argument could be made that self-government in this context is really only meant to be applied at the individual level. Maybe so, but if this is the standard to which we are all held, would we not be even more capable of handling campus-wide disciplinary action on our own?
Then again, perhaps I am simply making mountains out of molehills (or philosophers out of philosophy majors), and the actual effect of any expanded responsibilities on the part of the students would be miniscule. After all, students aren’t going to gain any police powers, so this discussion is not of incredible import. Nevertheless, one cannot help but question whether a recent incident involving a certain head RA would not have been better received or more justly resolved, perhaps—had students meted out justice, not the administration. Put plainly, the students would respond positively to incentives such as being held responsible to one another for missteps.
Admittedly, it does seem odd to allow the demographic stereotypically known for its unrestrained excess to judge itself. Yet on this point Hillsdale is different. Each student is required to sign an honor code. Students are not handed a packet of rules that they are not to break, although the administration has certainly made clear those instances that are less than obvious. The administration gives the student body the overarching principle and expects it apply it to its own circumstances. There is little arbitrariness about what the Honor Code means, so it would not be difficult to decide whether the accused’s conduct fell within its bounds.
Therefore, the creation of either a committee of the Student Federation or a free-standing judicial council to enforce the honor code is the obvious choice of action. Instead of having the dean of men or women decide behind closed doors how to handle each situation, bring transparency and a little more respect for the students to the process. Self-governance is a longstanding principle of Hillsdale College: it is one of the central ideas that drives each and every aspect of our education here. It is the way our college deals with the federal government. The Honor Code is one of the differentiating features of the college. Students already spend the massive student fees budget; why not extend this authority to the next logical step?
The leadership of the college makes much of the quality of the student body of here. We are told from Freshman Convocation on that we are a cut above. If the administration really believes what they tell us, if they really want to improve education at Hillsdale College, then it only makes sense to change the disciplinary structure. Clearly, as evidenced by the existence of the Student Federation, the administration trusts the students. Further, this action would not require total autonomy from the administration — advice and oversight from the deans would be welcomed. It is foolish to reject the insight of those with more experience, but it would be still more foolish to fail to bring the Honor Code culmination. F

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