Character Counts

John Coonradt
Dean of Men, Hillsdale College

John CoonradtJohn Coonradt is the Dean of Men at Hillsdale College.

Just when they were knee-deep in student exams and all the other paperwork that comes at the end of the semester, we decided to give some of our faculty and staff an exam of their own. We asked each to write a brief essay on Hillsdale College’s mission and how it relates to his or her academic area. Readers interested in a more extended discussion of the curriculum may order a copy of Provost and Associate Professor of Law Robert Blackstock’s February 1995 Imprimis issue “Hillsdale College and the Western Tradition: Exploring the Roots of Freedom.”

It isn’t easy these days for students to be decent and responsible, or to even agree upon what those words mean in our troubled modern world. Pop culture, peer pressure, and increasingly lax educational standards make ladylike and gentlemanly behavior unattractive at best. What is “good” and what is “cool” are often seen as opposites. To make matters worse, liberal “feel-good” parenting dogmas have made many traditional and time-proven parenting and teaching practices passe, if not criminal.

Grunge and “in-your-face” attitudes are all the rage. We are constantly bombarded with the degenerate and arrogant behavior and attitudes that are so popular today. We get it from Hollywood, television, advertising, and big-time sports. The ubiquitous message is that arrogance, aggression, and avarice pave the easy road to success and personal gratification.

That is why Hillsdale College’s example is so different and so important. Here, student conduct is measured and governed by tried and true concepts of respect, civility, collegiality, and personal accountability. We refuse to follow recent fads attempting to reinvent behavioral standards in the name of trendy, politically correct, and politically charged theories and buzzwords. We continue to embrace the basic standards of social conduct and decorum that have served us well through the years. We embrace the moral standards that preceded the liberal cultural revolution that still champions big government and “it-takes-a-village” nostrums. We reinforce the idea that students are not only responsible for what they do, but also for what they fail to do.

What makes Hillsdale College students truly remarkable is the fact that the vast majority understand and appreciate these high expectations. There is ample latitude and opportunity for enjoying popular culture at Hillsdale, but student conduct has a more reasonable personality than that which can be found on many campuses. Most students come here with a well-developed understanding and appreciation for responsible behavior, and they quickly set the tone on the campus. While they—or anyone, for that matter—can act out of character and make foolish mistakes, Hillsdale students are generally mature and willing to be held accountable for their actions.

I am a big sports fan, and I often see the most powerful example of this maturity and accountability on the playing field. Our athletes not only display keen competitiveness but exemplary sportsmanship. Hillsdale teams are famous, or in some cases infamous, for being tough and disciplined opponents. But there is no fighting, taunting or immature “victory” celebrations during or after competition. We are truly blessed by students with exceptional character and ability. They make Hillsdale not only a great place to be but a beacon of hope for the future.