Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn speaks at the colleges new Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship on Capitol Hill.
The college aims to take its mission promoting limited government and constitutional principles to Capitol Hill with a host of new programs and opportunities for lawmakers and the general public.
The Hill is already turning to the center as a resource, Bobb said, thanks to the newfound fervor for the Constitution. With the reading of the document at the start of the 112th Congress and the new Constitutional Authority Statement required for bills in the House, Bobb said Hillsdale is looking forward to using its D.C. location to engage with Members.
“This is precisely what we exist to do — to foster debate and to make an argument that the Constitution means something,” Bobb said. “There’s a tendency for some Members to say that you have to be an attorney or a judge to weigh in on the Constitution, and we think that is contrary to the understanding the founders had and what we ought to have today.”
Graves, a 2005 graduate who studied political economy and moved to D.C. for a Heritage Foundation internship before joining King’s team, said he credits Hillsdale with developing his political ideology. He noted, however, that the college’s educational experience focuses on the intellectual side of conservatism rather than a political agenda.
“One thing that people always think about when they hear conservative college is Republican factory, but honestly, over my time there I became much more conservative than I was knee-jerk Republican,” Graves said. “And I think a lot of kids come out of Hillsdale that way, with a much greater appreciation for what it means to be a limited government, constitutional conservative and more motivated by that than pure politics.”
Will Dunham, a legislative assistant for Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), described his Hillsdale experience studying English literature as “apolitical.” He said, however, that attending the college offered him a chance to study and discuss the U.S.’s founding in a way that few other Hill staffers have had the opportunity to do.
“You come away from all that with a really good political, theoretical underpinning for the contemporary debates we’re having now,” Dunham said. “I relate what we’re doing now, more than the average staffer, back to those original documents and back to the thoughts and theories that underpin them. It’s more of a frame of mind.”
For Dunham, Hillsdale’s presence on Capitol Hill means that unique frame of mind will travel beyond the “conservative citadel.”
“Hillsdale, in a way, rather than driving the conversation right, provides that academic, thoughtful philosophical grounding that may even be a moderating voice among constitutional conservatives,” Dunham said. “I hope people don’t say, ‘Oh Hillsdale, a right-wing extremist training camp.’ It’s a place where intellectual exploration is important and diversity of viewpoints is important, and that’s something they’re bringing to Washington.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.