I've had two interactions with Hamline University in my life. The first came back in 1974, when several of my high school buddies and I were trying to decide where to go to college. At that age it matters a bit what your friends think, and so we decided to visit several colleges together, even though we weren't likely to attend the same schools. But four of us made trips to different schools, sometimes taking advantage of the offer to spend the night, other times just making a day trip.
At each school, the person assigned to guide us around understood the drill. Only one or two of our group was considering the school, but the opinion of our peers meant something, and they took care of our group.
One of the guys wanted to check out Hamline. He had grown up Methodist, and Hamline was - at least marginally - still considered a Methodist institution in those days. So the four of us took off one day to tour the school.
Some staffer was assigned to meet us, show us around, get us to the cafeteria at lunch time, etc. My friend listened closely, asked some questions and was trying to size up the place. At one point in the course of the day, our tour guide asked me about my plans, and I told him that I was likely going to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He asked another one of us, who mentioned that he was leaning toward the U of M's Morris campus.
At that point he started berating us, saying that we were "wasting his time" and "not being honest" by taking a tour when we were probably going to go to a different school. We were pretty taken aback and left soon afterwards. Needless to say, no one in our group went to Hamline, and the lasting impression I had was that the place was full of arrogant jerks.
I thought little about Hamline for the next 25 years or so, until my oldest son, Travis, announced that he wanted to attend Hamline. I told him the only impression I had of the place was that it was full of arrogant jerks, but if he wanted to attend, it was fine with me. So we set about getting him admitted, arranging financial aid and getting him set up in his dorm room.
And he came home in about 30 days. "Get me out of here," was more or less his plea, and when I asked him why, he said the place was "full of hippies." Everything was about gay rights and save the planet and the professors finding a liberal message in everything. Which pretty much dovetailed with my impression of the place, and so home he came.
(Keep in mind that Travis isn't some fire-breathing Young Republican. His views are considerably to the left of mine, he's a practicing vegan and makes his living as a manager at an organic food co-op in Minneapolis. We're not talking about Ron Paul, Jr. here.)
Which pretty much ended any thinking I did about Hamline until a few weeks ago, when the school again went out of its way to come off like a bunch of arrogant jerks. Former Republican candidate for governor, Tom Emmer, had reached an agreement with the school to do some teaching in the business department. The whole story can be read here, but in a nutshell, a handful of professors whined about hiring someone with conservative views, and the school reneged on the offer.
The opposition was led by a petty little associate professor named Jim Bonilla, who - get this - carries the title of "Consultant on Diversity in Higher Education," according to the school's web site. It's hard to find a better example of what a farce higher education has become: Putting a bigot in charge of "diversity."
The school's behavior is indefensible on so many levels, including the fact that Emmer is a bright, talented, engaging guy (he's an attorney who currently hosts a very entertaining morning radio show) who was more than qualified for the job. And then there's the entire question of what someone's political views have to do with teaching a business course.
The message from Hamline is loud and clear: We hold our liberal viewpoints near and dear to our hearts, and "education" can only be provided by those who share our politically correct views. A university is not for exploring other ideas or expanding minds, its sole purpose is to indoctrinate impressionable young minds in the ways of liberalism. Like the Italians, Irish and "Coloreds" in years past, conservatives need not apply.
I've written enough over the past year (see the archive list on the right) about the declining value of higher education, and this sordid episode helps make the point. The whole question of "value" is particularly acute for small, private schools like Hamline, St. Thomas, Carlton, St. John's and others, who have largely priced themselves out of the market for the middle class. A year at anyone of these schools will cost you close to what an Ivy League school costs, without any of the commensurate benefits. There is far more value to be had at a state college than at any of these schools, and given the competition, you wouldn't think Hamline would be going out of its way to tell the public what a closed-minded, bigoted faculty it has in place.
As for Emmer, he comes out of this looking far more classy than either the Hamline faculty or administration.
Sometimes the first impression is correct, and I'm more willing than ever to stand by the judgment I made in 1974.