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‘Conservative Citadel’ Comes to Capitol Hill

Courtesy Hillsdale College
Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn speaks at the college’s new Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship on Capitol Hill.

The Michigan college that National Review once touted as a “citadel of American conservatism” is making its mark on Capitol Hill.

Hillsdale College has long had success placing interns in Washington, D.C., and connecting with conservative lawmakers. Now it also has a physical presence in Washington.

Late last year, the private college opened the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship at 227 Massachusetts Ave. NE, a stone’s throw from the Capitol, to hold classes for students in its internship program and host public events and lectures. 

Despite having just 1,300 enrolled students, the college has “an outsized footprint on the Hill,” according to alumnus Bentley Graves, chief of staff for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

“Hillsdale is trying to attract those kind of students who are interested in getting involved in politics, policymaking and government, and educating them, and then giving them the tools they need to really make a difference and move a conservative message,” Graves said. “When you have a school that attracts those kinds of people and has that as their mission, it makes sense that you see it turning out people who look to the Hill as a place they want to be.”

According to Hillsdale spokesman Joe Cella, about 20 alumni work on the Hill in positions ranging from legislative assistant to chief of staff.

They bring with them an education steeped in constitutional principles, limited government and individual liberty — a decidedly conservative take on the typical liberal arts education. 

In keeping with its mission, the college operates completely without federal or state funding. Students take a core curriculum modeled on a classical liberal arts education with a required course on the Constitution, keeping with its mission statement of “maintaining inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture.”

Alumni said it’s great training for working on the Hill.

“Hillsdale really provided the intellectual foundation for policy analysis in my job,” said Clark Peterson, legislative director for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). “It provides a great education about American political history, political philosophy, constitutional law, economics — all these important foundations for working in the legislative branch.”

Founded in 1844 by abolitionists, Hillsdale College has long celebrated its independent streak. The school prides itself on its nondiscrimination charter and its freedom from government funding. The college immediately admitted black students after its founding, and more than 400 students enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. 

“It was a place that from its outset was a fighting school and has continued in that with tremendous devotion to its original mission,” Kirby Center Director David J. Bobb said.

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