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August 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 22

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A New College Doctrine Needed


by Christopher Deming



It happens in university classrooms throughout the nation every day. Teachers will be tackling a subject near and dear to their hearts. It might be developing the third world. It might be the role of arts in society. It could be the questionable results of Obamacare. Inevitably, the point will be made, “If only the government would…,” and the favorite state-supplied solution will find its happy place in the limelight. Less noticeable will be the student who asks under his or her breath, “What if they had left it to the free market…?” If this student speaks up just enough, he or she will be met with the exasperated sighs and eye-rolling of peers and faculty alike. You see, “free” and “market” together are dirty words in college classrooms. If you’re paying for college and this is the atmosphere you walk into, it is no wonder institutions of higher learning are receiving so much attention now. Many students are stymied once they get onto campus.


I’ve seen this interaction time and time again. For two years, I spent my time on the road, trying specifically to find these quietly defiant students throughout Michigan. None but the surliest of libertarians will find themselves putting this language in bold print on event flyers. Sometimes these words slip their way into presidential speeches (though they’re usually condemned, followed promptly by an explanation of the regulations designed to save them). What can be solved by free markets, it’s said, is limited in comparison to the vast knowledge and experience of our elected officials. It is this type of thinking that makes its way so regularly onto college campuses with no rebuttal and causes frustration for students who think that there must be a better way.


Imagine a place where free markets are taught and debated enthusiastically, in a manner of mutual respect, not TV punditry. An organization whose mission is “to develop the future leaders of a global free enterprise society.” An organization where students read a book titled When We Are Free, which includes a foreword by Milton Friedman, and articles by Friedrich Hayek (of The Road to Serfdom fame) and Leonard Read, who wrote “I, Pencil.” This organization has a Forum for Citizenship and Enterprise, and it even has a publication with a derogatory title like In Defense of Capitalism.


It is an organization that gives you the specialized skills and tools that let you thrive in the cooperative environment of the markets. It teaches you the importance of relationships, and it fortifies the integrity needed to work with both customers and colleagues. It encourages you to understand that the only way we can actively tighten the reins of government is to openly and happily involve ourselves with our community, solving our problems through civil society and philanthropy rather than through regulation and decree.


Northwood University has been a stalwart of the free market movement since its founding in 1959. My time on the road has shown me that there are glimmers of hope on college campuses throughout the state and nation. Notable are our Michigan colleagues at Hillsdale College. But this school, my school, has comprehensively and consistently embraced the philosophy of individual responsibility, ambition, and civil society on which so much of our prosperity relies. In a time when the value and content of college educations are being so heavily scrutinized, please remember that somewhere out there, students are learning the path to restoring the American dream.


Christopher Deming is Director of Organizational Partnerships and Alumni Relations at Northwood University. He is the former Director of Campus Leadership for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. A version of this article first appeared in the Detroit News.


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