Column: Feds should leave Hillsdale alone

Kaylee McGhee

The federal government seems determined to leave no sphere untouched, and a provision in the GOP tax plan would extend its influence to higher education — even to schools who want nothing to do with it.

Senate Democrats successfully persuaded four Republicans to shoot down a provision in the tax bill that would protect institutions that decline federal funding from a new endowment tax.

The proposed endowment tax would make private, nonprofit colleges and public universities pay 1.4 percent on their yearly endowment income if the endowment is equal to $250,000 or more per student.

This tax would affect nearly 70 institutions nationwide, including schools that do not accept federal aid, like Hillsdale College. This provision would unfairly force Hillsdale to pay up to $700,000 a year to the federal government.

The 52 senators who voted to strip the bill of this protection should be ashamed of themselves — not only because they voted against it on a false premise, but also because this provision allows the government to sink its teeth into money it has no right to.

Schools that do not take money from the government owe it nothing. The senators who argued against an exception from this tax wrongly asserted it would only benefit Hillsdale College. There are at least six colleges that reject federal aid, and they all do so for the same reason: They prize their independence.

“When the federal government funds — and thus controls — higher education, the result is a profound distortion of financial, cultural, political, and even intellectual realities,” says David Whalen, provost of Hillsdale College. “How could it be otherwise? Independence from federal control means the liberty to pursue genuine learning with unencumbered clarity.”

As a current student at Hillsdale, I value my school’s independence. It is assuring to know my professors are not trying to push a government-led agenda or meet politically driven requirements. The education I am receiving is invaluable, and also distinct. Very few schools have the ability to educate their students free of exterior expectations.

Unfortunately, the endowment tax will keep it that way. It will discourage other educational institutions from adopting policies similar to Hillsdale’s, which is a threat to the very purpose of higher education.

This tax would blur the line between government and education, allowing the government to influence curriculum, admission policies, and educational standards — as it already does with federally funded schools. It opens the door for another potential abuse of power, giving the federal government the means to punish or silence schools that promote an agenda different from their own.

But perhaps the most shocking aspect of the vote to strip the bill of its added protection was the premise Democrats based their objection on. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, claimed it was a “Hillsdale carve-out” and that the only reason Hillsdale declined federal aid was so it could participate in discrimination.

The reason Hillsdale rejects federal funds is so that it can’t be coerced into engaging in discrimination. At its core, Hillsdale’s mission is, and always has been, colorblind. The college does not give weight to specific ethnicities during the admissions process because we believe the color of a student’s skin does not make him more or less deserving.

“Hillsdale was founded to cultivate true learning without regard to race or sex,” Whalen says.

Those eager to extend the reach of government and break schools like Hillsdale to the government’s will must be proud of themselves. Regardless, Hillsdale, and others like her, will continue to defend truth and promote liberty — endowment tax or not.

Kaylee McGhee is a junior at Hillsdale College and a former Detroit News intern.