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Stephen and Amy Van Andel are one of the largest donors to Hillsdale College, one of the most reactionary, far right colleges in the US

September 18, 2022

Members of the Van Andel family have been contributing money to the far right Hillsdale College for decades. While writing for an independent newspaper in the 1990s, I wrote about this dynamic in an article, Giving til it hurts others: Another look and Rich DeVos & Jay Van Andel’s benevolence. In his book, The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, author Russ Bellant also documents the longstanding contributions from the Van Andel family to Hillsdale College.

In looking at the most recent 990 documents for the Stephen & Amy Van Andel Foundation that are available from GuideStar, here is how much the couple donated to the ultra-conservative Hillsdale College:

  • $1,200,000 2018
  • $3,000,000 2019
  • $4,200,000 2020

This means that in just a three year period, from 2018n – 2020, the Stephen & Amy Van Andel College has contributed $8,400,000 to promote the far right perspectives taught at Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College has a long history of practicing and promoting far right values. The former President of Hillsdale College, George Roche, was also on the advisory board of the US affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League, according to Scott and Jon Lee Andersen’s book, Inside the League: The Shocking Expose of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads Have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League.

Hillsdale College has hosted forums over the years with speakers such as Manuel Ayau, a member of Guatemala’s Amigos del Pais, a group linked to the death squads in Guatemala. Hillsdale also houses the late John Bircher Clarence Manion’s tape collection, with lectures from former Nicaraguan Dictator Anastasio Somoza Hillsdale’s magazine, Imprimis, which provides a forum for anti-minority views. 

In another book by Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection: How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism, the author writes: 

“Longtime Hiilsdale President Roche is opposed in general to social engineering plans, among which he includes affirmative action and public education. Roche has attacked the Civil Rights Restoration Act as frightening federal intervention. He calls affirmative action “the putrid backwash of all the tired social engineering schemes and complains that its advocates are so hypersensitive that a school’s unwillingness to set up advanced bongo drum programs is called racist.” 

Bellant goes on to say: 

“The selection of contributors for Hillsdale’s monthly magazine, Imprimis, also relfects the school’s far right political views. In one issue, Gerda Bikales, a founder and former executive director of the English Only organization, US English, condemned the advocates of cultural diversity and bilingual education. She attacked the skilled language planners and other militant advocates who promote bilingual education, as well as those who aggressively pursue diversity and cultural pluralism.”

However, don’t just take the word of Bellant, even a recent article in the New York Times made it clear that the politics of Hillsdale College are reactionary and far right.

Because Hillsdale College does not accept federal money, they do not have to follow federal policy, like Title IX.  As a result, the college does not follow Title IX guidelines on sex discrimination and the handling of sexual assault cases and it has refused to engage in the otherwise required reporting on student race and ethnicity, let alone develop an affirmative action plan. Not surprisingly, the school’s “race blind” admissions policy results in an overwhelmingly white student body.

In 2013, Dr. Arnn was castigated by Michigan legislators when, during testimony against the Common Core, he made a remark about officials who questioned Hillsdale’s racial record. Years before, he said scornfully, Michigan officials had come to the campus with clipboards, trying to count faces and prove, he said, that the college “didn’t have enough dark ones.” He later issued a barbed apology: “No offense was intended by the use of that term except to the offending bureaucrats.”

The New York Times article goes on to say:

It is no coincidence that Justice Clarence Thomas, an advocate of strict “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, delivered the commencement address last spring, likening Hillsdale to a “shining city on a hill” for its devotion to “liberty as an antecedent of government, not a benefit from government.”

On a recent episode of Doug DeVos’ podcast Believe, GRIID provided some analysis on the comments from the current Hillsdale College President, Dr. Larry Arnn, which are here below.

The President of Hillsdale College engages in what most scholars refer to as American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the idea that the US as a country is unique and special and should be seen as a model for the rest of the world. This sentiment is reflected in the conversation between Dr. Arnn and Doug DeVos, since neither of them mention anything about the US genocidal policies directed at the First Nation’s people that lived here way before the Europeans invaded these lands. 

The Hillsdale President does acknowledge slavery, but just in passing. Interestingly enough, Dr. Arnn then spends a great deal of time talking negatively about the 1619 Project, stating: 

You know, the New York Times has done that fright­ful 1619 Project. And they claim that the move­ment of the found­ing of Amer­i­ca from the colonies for­ward was in the direc­tion of per­pet­u­at­ing slav­ery. 

The President of Hillsdale College then cites Gordon Wood as the leading US Historian, so as to contradict the claims made by the 1619 Project. This theme is not really explored by DeVos or his guest, since both are not interested in a serious exploration of the more honest history that the 1619 Project explores, particularly as it related to the centuries long practice of systemic racism in the US and how it has impacted the Black community in particular. 

While DeVos and his guest make backhanded comments about Critical Race Theory, they fail to mention that Hillsdale College has developed their own curriculum to counter the 1619 Project. The Hillsdale project is called The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum, which is a very sanitized and whitewashed version of US history.

Hillsdale College is also smack dab in the middle of the Charter School debate in the US, providing curriculum resources and a cadre of ideological apologists for far right values. In fact, a recent investigation by NewsChannel5 in Tennessee, “discovered new evidence that reveals the true Hillsdale connection, including more hidden-camera video from the reception hosted by Hillsdale president Larry Arnn for Lee.

That’s the same video where Arnn famously declared that public school teachers come from “the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.”

Following the release of that controversial video, three Tennessee school boards voted down applications from the Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Education to open charter schools in their districts.

All of this is to show that, like so many other wealthy families from West Michigan, the Van Andel family has a long history of funding far right causes and institutions, like Hillsdale College. This example demonstrates once again, that philanthropic contributions are not simply charitable gifts, the foundations of wealthy families are designed to channel massive funds to promote their ideological interests. 

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