The Highest Things

Carol Ann Barker
Dean of Women, Hillsdale College

Carol Ann BarkerCarolAnn Barker is the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Women for Hillsdale College.

The following is adapted from Mr. Snow's speech at a Hillsdale College seminar on October 15, 2001, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Some who don’t know Hillsdale College and its philosophy ask, “Why, if you don’t believe in government control, do you believe in rules that limit?” Our answer is that we incorporate certain policies and guidelines because “every right is married to a duty, every freedom owns a corresponding responsibility, and there cannot be a genuine freedom unless there exists also genuine order in the moral realm and the social realm.” That philosophy has been the bedrock of our institution and the guiding light of our Student Affairs division at Hillsdale College.

Traditional principles have fallen out of favor and in many instances have completely disappeared in practice. Many colleges and universities now want to avoid any stand for absolutes. They reject outright the three basic tenets of Student Affairs at Hillsdale College:

    • a college should have a genuine family-like atmosphere with caring, older adults; one of the most important lessons we can teach students is that actions have consequences, and one must develop the character to accept responsibility for both; and only the life lived according to the teachings of a Supreme Being is the life worth living. Most colleges have also rejected the old concept of

in loco parentis

    • , “in the parents’ place.”

Housemothers, housefathers, and other older adult supervisors have been stripped of authority or, more often than not, eliminated. A major newspaper reports that it is now possible for a typical college student to go about his daily campus routine without encountering a single adult beyond the age of 24 except for an occasional professor in a classroom (and even then he is more likely to come into contact with young teaching assistants).

In the 1960s and 1970s, students demanded, “Make school relevant—give us the real world!” Yet how realistic is an environment with no rules and regulations and no older adults? Of course, it is natural for students to push for unrestricted freedoms, but do they expect them to be granted fully? Rule-free dorms can be personal nightmares: bodily assault; rampant theft; strangers roaming the halls; unwilling witness to sexual acts; no quiet time for study or sleep; drunken students.

In the hundreds of pages of student affairs literature that come across my desk each year, I read legal advice such as, “Our beginning point is a recognition that the modern American college is not an insurer of its students. Whatever may have been its responsibility in an earlier era, the authoritarian role of today’s college administration has been notably diluted in recent decades.” Or: “A college desiring to promote alcohol safety should be careful that its actions do not expose the institution to liability for failure to prevent an individual drinking incident.” Translated: If we take no responsibility for guiding our students and create no sanctions for unacceptable behavior, we are actually safer under some laws. But, in the next breath, that same literature warns that the courts hold us ultimately responsible for students’ well-being.

So do we drop our “family philosophy” and take our chances with the court system? Or do we continue to go against the tide because of our long-held principles? Do we write obscure and ambiguous rules to escape the legal snares? Or are we forthright in our expectations? Hillsdale’s drug rule is: “Use, possession, or distribution of any amount of a controlled substance (drugs), except as permitted by law, will result in suspension for the semester. A second violation of this code section may result in expulsion.” The rule is direct and unambiguous. Hillsdale College attempts to travel the high road—the moral road—in aiding students in the transition from youth to adulthood. We do not take the place of family, we emulate it. We act as caring, loving faculty and administrators while insisting that our students be morally, academically, and socially responsible.

Evidence of this responsibility and leadership can be seen in the Women’s Council’s work at the Salvation Army food pantry, in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority’s weekly volunteering at a local senior citizen’s center, in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Sunday School teaching, and in the Delta Tau Delta fraternity’s elementary school playground supervising. Hillsdale students volunteered nearly 17,000 hours of community service for the 1998-99 school year alone.

We also continue to believe in and actively defend the second tenet of Student Affairs: Actions, just like ideas, have consequences. We teach our students to realize the enormous rewards of civil, courteous interactions: clean, quiet, residences that are a haven as well as a home away from home; a graffiti-free, litter-free, and safe campus; a student body that has the freedom to pursue academic excellence and campus activities within a consistent framework of rights and responsibilities.

Certainly, some students complain about our rules and charge us with being “out of sync” with the times. Others present good ideas for change. It is our duty in Student Affairs to listen, to respond, to say “yes” and to say “no” when appropriate, to stand on principle, even when it may be unpopular. Directing by example and thoughtfulness should always be our goal.

The third tenet of Student Affairs at Hillsdale College is that the spiritual dimension of life is essential to the welfare of our students and requires due respect, care, and nurturing. It is interesting to note how this dimension is regarded in two recent books explaining the preferred stance of most other institutions. In New Futures for Student Affairs, only one-and-a-half pages are devoted to naming three psychologists who have done extensive work on the spiritual dimension needed in a college student’s life. In checking that same book’s subject index, I found no indexing for “spirituality,” “religion,” or “God” with a capital “G.” There were, however, 66 citations for “Students and AIDS.” In a 660-page tome called Student Services: A Handbook for the Profession, the spiritual element is negligible. The Supreme Being is ignored as a major part of an individual’s life.

Hillsdale is not a church-affiliated college. We do not represent any denomination, but we are an institution that has never forgotten its Judeo-Christian roots. Those roots are fed by thousands of years of faith. We begin each faculty and student federation meeting and each official campus ceremony with prayer. We offer majors in religion and philosophy and Christian studies. We allow student religious organizations to meet on campus. Our students and faculty represent many faiths, including Hebrew, Muslim, and Christian; we not only respect their religious freedom but we encourage it to flourish.

The great British social observer and writer G. K. Chesterton once said, “The tremendous examination of existence will not be based on whether we have been to college, but on whether we seriously, yet in good humor, confronted in our lives the highest things.” With humility, I say to you, we at Hillsdale College consider the sons and daughters who have been entrusted to us for a short while as most worthy of the highest things.