Making a Life

George Roche
President, Hillsdale College

George RocheGeorge Roche has served as president of Hillsdale College since 1971. Formerly the presidentially appointed chairman of the National Council on Education Research, the director of seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education, a professor of history at the Colorado School of Mines, and a U.S. Marine, he is the author of 13 books, including six Conservative Book Club selections. One well-known title, The Fall of the Ivory Tower: Government Funding, Corruption, and the Bankrupting of American Higher Education, received coverage in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Reader’s Digest. In a 1994 cover story, Insight editors named it “Book of the Year.” In February 1998, Regnery Publishing is releasing his latest title, The Book of Heroes: Great Men and Women in American History.

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.”

The National Association of Scholars recently issued a report, “The Dissolution of General Education 1914-1993,” documenting that a growing number of colleges and universities have eliminated core curriculum requirements and replaced them with a smorgasbord of trendy and politically correct courses. At Hillsdale College, we have always sought to measure our academic requirements against more enduring standards than the latest educational fad. The most important is our mission statement:

Hillsdale College is an independent, nonsectarian institution of higher learning founded in 1844 by men and women “grateful to God for the inestimable blessings” resulting from civil and religious liberty and “believing that the diffusion of learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.” It pursues the stated object of the founders: “to furnish all persons who wish, irrespective of nation, color, or sex, a literary and scientific education” outstanding among American colleges and to combine with this such moral “and social instruction as will best develop the minds and improve the hearts of its pupils.”

The College considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.

By training the young in the liberal arts, Hillsdale College prepares students to become leaders worthy of that legacy. By encouraging the scholarship of its faculty, it contributes to the preservation of that legacy for future generations. By publicly defending that legacy, it enlists the aid of other friends of free civilization and thus secures the conditions of its own survival and independence.

In addition to fulfilling basic requirements in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, all students must complete four specific courses: “Freshman Rhetoric and the Great Books I,” “Freshman Rhetoric and the Great Books II,” “The Western Heritage to 1600,” and “The American Heritage.” Critics claim that this kind of education is as impractical as it is old fashioned. But here is what our students have to say:

“I have been exposed more than in any other time in my life to the ideas of great thinkers, and I have found that many of the views I hold about the world are a direct result of the views those people held…Suddenly I realized I was not alone…This is an experience that everyone should go through.”

“Hillsdale has taught me to appreciate the interconnectedness of all knowledge and to understand how this affects my life in the most unexpected ways.”

“I have already seen the ways my thoughts and ideas have changed…I don’t find this change very pleasant, and at times I want my ignorant youthful bliss back again, but I also know that in the long run the knowledge (and hopefully wisdom) I am gaining at Hillsdale will leave me with a stronger, truer faith, a stronger, truer character.”

At Hillsdale we focus on the individual, on his talent, on a core curriculum, and on the liberal arts as they are traditionally understood. This proves to be very practical indeed. Imagine you are looking to hire a recent college graduate. Would you be more interested in (a) a “specialist” who received only narrow, technical training in one field, or (b) someone who had mastered basic academic skills, acquired broad knowledge, and developed critical thinking skills? If you picked (b), you came to the same conclusion as the overwhelming majority of real-life employers who know that liberal arts graduates are more adaptable and versatile; most can turn to any trade or profession and learn it faster. But what is most important is that a classical liberal arts education helps people make the most of their whole lives, not just their careers. To keep this truth uppermost in our students’ minds, our admissions department has adopted the motto: “Hillsdale College: Providing a Traditional Education for Making a Life as Well as a Living.”