Commentary Religion

STOKING FIRE: Fundamentalist College Proud of Close Ties to Limbaugh

Eleanor J. Bader

While many advertisers quickly denounced the cigar-chomper’s overt misogyny, Limbaugh’s evangelical base rallied to keep the advertising dollars flowing.

It’s good to have friends. Just ask Rush Limbaugh. As advertisers have scrambled to distance themselves from the ultra-conservative radio host in the aftermath of Limbaugh’s vile attack on law student Sandra Fluke, those that stayed achieved BFF status from the Premiere Radio Network, the company that syndicates the 61-year-old former pill-popper’s daily ramblings.

Among the Limbaugh Loyalists was Hillsdale College, a 168-year-old private Christian school located in Hillsdale, Michigan. Hillsdale’s claim to fame is that it takes neither state nor federal aid. This means that its 1350 undergraduates are ineligible for subsidized loans or Federal Supplemental Opportunity or Pell Grants. According to Hillsdale’s website:

“In 1975 the federal government said that Hillsdale had to sign a form stating that we did not discriminate on the basis of sex. Hillsdale College has never discriminated on any basis, and has never accepted federal taxpayer subsidies of any sort, so the College felt no obligation to comply, fearing that doing so would open the door to additional federal mandates and control.”

And what intrusive mandates they are, insuring that students are protected from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age. The Department of Education’s 2011 annual report states that approximately 6300 post-secondary institutions — including the lion’s share of religiously-affiliated programs, from liberal Georgetown to conservative Liberty, Oral Roberts, and Regent Universities —received federal aid last year, paving the way for more than 17 million students to enroll in school. Only a handful — among them Hillsdale, Pennsylvania’s Grove City College, and Virginia’s Patrick Henry College — refused government assistance.

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Faith@college.com further explains Hillsdale’s profound antipathy for government involvement in higher education.  “Government aid means government control,” the site begins. “Government forces Christian colleges and seminaries to teach what the government wants, admit whom the government wants, and hire whom the government wants.”

The anticipated horror of government’s purportedly heavy hand is vividly rendered and the site stokes fears of “activist judges” pushing well-meaning fundamentalists into hiring — or admitting into the student body — atheists, feminists, or members of the LGBTQ community, should they apply and be otherwise qualified, of course.

The site can barely contain its revulsion over the supposedly ghastly impact of such requirements. Best to sidestep all forms of government intrusion, it concludes.

Indeed, since it is unregulated by government’s all-knowing eyes and ears, Hillsdale, Grove City, and Patrick Henry are not bound by anti-discrimination laws and can basically teach whatever curriculum they choose, reject students who don’t fit a desired profile, and hire teachers and administrators who conform to narrow belief systems. They’re also free to promote a vast array of conservative extra-curriculars. For example, in addition to their classes, Hillsdale students are encouraged to participate in the annual March for Life each January and are urged to join weekend pickets at an Ann Arbor Planned Parenthood. They’re further primed to volunteer at local Crisis Pregnancy Centers, join the county Right to Life chapter, and link hands in a Life Chain along Highway M-99. Lastly, their classroom instruction is supplemented by a subscription to the right-wing Imprimis Magazine —published monthly on campus, with articles touching a host of conservative themes: The liberal assault on freedom of speech, the decline of moral education, and the ways Hollywood poisons the minds of American audiences, to name a few. Lastly, students are invited to rub elbows with right-wing luminaries at the publication’s annual fundraising dinner. Past speakers reflect the journal’s status in conservative circles. Charles Murray, Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan, Margaret Thatcher, Clarence Thomas, and, you guessed it, Rush Limbaugh, have all spoken at the yearly gathering. 

Grove City College is philosophically similar—if less well connected–to Hillsdale and also markets itself to evangelical teens and young adults. Like Hillsdale, its refusal to take government money means that administrators and faculty can push whatever political or social agenda they deem appropriate. Predictably, support for anti-abortion activism is prominent. In fact, the achievements of alumni Nick Freiling and Gret Novillo Glyer are highly touted on the college homepage — and their example is used to recruit like-minded students. As founders of a group called One Sonogram, Freiling and Glyer fundraise to buy sonogram machines for Crisis Pregnancy Centers throughout the country. The goal? “To end abortion by providing as many free sonograms as possible so women can see their child before deciding to abort their baby.”

Patrick Henry, whose curriculum is geared to “preparing Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless Biblical values,” is similarly oriented. What’s more, the three schools focus on instilling ethical absolutes. Classes celebrate free market economics, reject relativism, and lambaste secularism for fostering moral decay and weakness. 

Needless to say these precepts are similar to those put forward by Limbaugh, so it is not surprising that Hillsdale refused to buckle during the Spring brouhaha over birth control, sexuality and who is, and isn’t, a slut. While many advertisers quickly denounced the cigar-chomper’s overt misogyny, Limbaugh’s evangelical base rallied to keep the advertising dollars flowing. Indeed, Hillsdale was joined by national supporters including Chrysler, Nissan, and Fox Broadcasting.  

The Hollywood Reporter estimates that Limbaugh earns $50 million a year and notes that his contract runs through 2016, making his program a safe bet for those who want to promote themselves to conservative Christian listeners. This explains Hillsdale’s decision to stay on the Limbaugh bandwagon. By using the airwaves to advertise their brand of higher education — free from pesky rules against discrimination and bigotry — Hillsdale can reach thousands of college-aged born-again evangelicals, their parents, and friends. From their vantage point, it must look like a match that was heaven sent.          

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