Hillsdale’s Distinguished Visiting Fellows Program
Written by Elizabeth Vietor
I can still remember the hush in the room before the speaker began at Fall Convocation my freshman year. Seated on wooden pews, sunlight filtering through the windows of College Baptist Church, I knew I was not the only person excited by the reverent and old-school intellectual mood present. The speaker we awaited was Michael Ward, renowned C.S. Lewis scholar and author of Planet Narnia, a book that approaches the underlying cosmic symbolism for The Chronicles of Narnia.
At Hillsdale, talks like these are not unique. The College’s Distinguished Visiting Fellows program has brought guests as notable as two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough and United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to campus to teach students. Much like my experience hearing Michael Ward’s lecture, during their time here, many of my peers have found a chance to take a class from one of the most respected historians of our time, sit in a seminar given by a United States Supreme Court Justice, have an award-winning journalist look over their column before it goes to print, hear a lecture from a scientist presenting ground-breaking finds, or play a recital piece in front of a world-renowned artist for a masterclass.
I was able to talk to a student and an alumni about their experiences with visiting speakers:
Admissions counselor Lily Carville ’17 attended a lecture on bioethics by Ashley Fernandes, associate director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities and professor at The Ohio State University. This talk took place during a two-day series that was part of a conference held in conjunction with the World Youth Alliance and co-sponsored by Hillsdale’s Philosophy and Religion Department and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Lily said that the talk, titled “Peace without killing: toward an end to assisted suicide and euthanisa,” discussed assisted suicide in light of understanding the human condition. It touched on a beauty that can be found in suffering and the right every human deserves to be reassured that their life never stops mattering. She said that the talk related philosophy and the sciences well in attempting to address the idea that, “just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”
Brayden Helwig, a current junior studying politics at Hillsdale, took a seminar on the Peloponnesian War taught by distinguished visiting professor Victor Davis Hanson. By the end of the class, he could chart the four phases of the war and explain why the Spartans were able to conquer the Athenians. Perhaps more importantly, Brayden told me that he left the class with a newfound love for military strategy and international politics. Now, he plans to attend a graduate program in strategic studies with an emphasis in American grand strategy and U.S.-China relations.
As a professor, Dr. Hanson displays an incredible command of the subject material. He rarely uses notes, yet somehow manages to cite statistics—such as the number of U.S. Marines killed at Okinawa, or the rate of fire of an M1 rifle—off the top of his head. He is an excellent storyteller, easily charting the progression of military campaigns and the effects of new strategy, tactics, and weaponry. According to Brayden, where Dr. Hanson most excels is in applying historical lessons to today’s world. Interwoven into his lectures on military history are discussions of contemporary American strategy and foreign policy. In addition, during nearly every lecture, Dr. Hanson offers timeless lessons pertaining to human nature, the role of fear and power in international relations, and the true nature of war.
These two experiences, along with my own of Michael Ward, represent only a tiny sampling of the range of stimulating lectures and distinguished professors that make their way onto Hillsdale’s campus. Our College has no shortage when it comes to intellectual culture, so I’d encourage you to get out and take advantage of it.
Elizabeth Vietor, ’20, is a Latin major with an affinity for thrift shops, butter, and scrunchies. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, originally, but now that she’s here, doesn’t know how she existed for so long without seeing the leaves change every fall.
Published in May 2020