Whenever someone criticizes colleges for lax standards and moral relativism, someone invariably steps forward to say: Forget the debauched Ivy League! Send your children to Hillsdale, a God-fearing, traditionalist school in Hillsdale, Michigan. (The conservative elite, who often retail this line, themselves send their children to the standard "elite" schools, but that's a tale for another day.) Hillsdale goes so far as to eschew federal aid in order to maintain its independence from regulation.
This month, however, saw a rather grisly turn of events at this academic city on a hill. It began when the student newspaper, The Collegian, took a few admittedly snarky shots at the Hillsdale baseball team ("We like baseball, but not this kind"), citing the team's defeat in nine of their last ten games. The editors suggested that with such a record the least the team could do would be to drop their big-men-on-campus swagger. "Lose the stride boys [sic]," the editors concluded.
Shortly afterwards, the editors thought better of their tone and posted an apology on the weekly paper's Web site: "[W]e never should have attacked the character of the baseball team or the coaching staff. We understand you do your best to represent the college well."
But that wasn't the end of the matter. A few days later, a Collegian editor awoke to find his front porch strewn with -- animal carcasses. According to the Collegian, these included "one and a half [!] deer, several large rodents and a black goat with alleged [!] gunshot wounds to the head and sternum."
Beneath the goat, the perpetrators placed a copy of a Collegian sports section with an article critical of the baseball team. A Hillsdale student reported seeing young men carrying the carcasses, late at night, using shovels, from a group house known locally as "the baseball house."
Not the most difficult case to crack, it would seem. The local police, however, have so far let the incident slide, according to the Collegian.
Campus opinion seems divided as to whether this was a harmless prank -- by a team that, as the Collegian put it, does its best "to represent the college well" -- or just disgusting.
UPDATE: I originally wrote that the apology to the team followed the carcass delivery. In fact, it preceded the incident.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.