November 12, 2010

Regarding Nick Tabor on Hillsdale's Marketing

I wrote this immediately after the responses to Nick's opinion piece were published in The Collegian. Some things were hashed out on Facebook after that, but I still agree with my opinion. Enjoy:

Nick Tabor's letter, as I read it, was principally about the image Hillsdale College projects when fundraising. He expressed disappointment that a college which delivers a fine liberal arts education cultivates an image associated so strongly with conservative punditry.

If this is not the case, the letter Nick received was an abrogation, and we alumni who wish to see our alma mater associated first with academic excellence have nothing to fear. Sadly, I fear that Nick has good handle on Hillsdale’s image.

As a Hillsdale alum now pursuing a graduate degree, I would prefer not to feel a need to urge, when meeting those for whom "Hillsdale College" means anything at all, that one really can get an excellent education there, that intellectual life there should not be assimilated to any know-nothing strain of the wacky right, that many different points of view can, at times, receive fair hearings in Hillsdale classes.

The objection is not even, as Mr. Hasted seems to suppose, that Hillsdale has some political involvement. Only the worst kind of partisanship would lead alumni to object strongly if the College were standardly associated, as it ought to be, with outstanding academics and a first-rate faculty which, on balance, leans hard to the right.

Mr. Hasted does manage to squeeze just enough confusion from Nick's piece to appear as though he addresses it squarely. Perhaps Nick, when objecting to "facilities over faculty," meant to suggest that the two interests are at odds, not merely that one is unduly placed over the other in fundraising letters. If Hasted is right, and this is what Nick meant to say, Nick should have said "facilities instead of faculty." On the other hand, we may opt not to assume that Nick writes sloppily, and read him as making the more insightful point, a point Mr. Hasted avoided in favor of his preferred exaggeration.

Insofar as Nick's piece was a complaint about a projected image of misplaced priorities, it did not function to insult the school, as Mrs. Fink claims it did. No one who thinks Hillsdale College fits its caricature would bother to urge the school to push its image in a different direction.

Moreover, when Nick wrote about Amherst and Williams, clearly he highlighted that mentioning their names, even to those generally unmindful of trends in higher education, evokes images of academic excellence first, and political punditry second if at all. He was not calling for Hillsdale to use either of them as a point by point model of what it should become.

There are other ways than this one might read Nick's piece. Perhaps he wasn't worried primarily about the aura around his degree, about how relatives respond to the name of his alma mater. Perhaps instead he wrote a cleverly disguised proposal to reshape Hillsdale budgets and curricula, as his detractors suggest. These readings have little to recommend themselves, and seem not to fit what he wrote, but those who must believe that Nick made no good points may have at them.

All told, neither of his detractors read Nick's piece carefully enough to hear the insight behind his concern. My thanks to Nick for not only voicing what many alumni think, but also for thinking carefully enough that his opinion should remain so distinguishable from these straw men.


Blogger JHitts said...

Did you ever send this in?

November 12, 2010 at 4:39 AM 
Blogger goat said...

I did not send this in anywhere

November 13, 2010 at 3:44 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

You should have sent it to the Collegian.

November 13, 2010 at 4:26 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't read Nick's original piece and I'm not an alumnus of the college, but I have a feeling I agree with him based on the comments here. It's one thing for Hillsdale College to find itself aligned with the "hard right" pundits because of its position on the Constitution, government intrusion, etc., but quite another for the College to aggressively cultivate marketing relationships with these media personalities.

November 13, 2010 at 1:19 PM 
Blogger M. Perkins said...

Agreed with Mr., Ms., or Mrs. Anonymous.

Hillsdale would be accused by varied parties of being a fascist training camp anyway. That doesn't bother me. There's nothing they could do about that without drastically altering virtually everything the college does and is.

It's the outright willingness to imply that Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh represent the state of thought at the college that infuriates me.

November 13, 2010 at 9:15 PM 
Blogger Naomi said...

Right on, Oatess! Why did you not send this in?!

November 16, 2010 at 11:52 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Link to Nick's original piece? I missed it. Thx, Aimee

November 26, 2010 at 7:24 PM 

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