The President of Hillsdale College in Michigan, Larry Arnn, was giving a talk about, among other things, what he perceived as onerous state diversity standards the college faced in the year 2000 when he got there. Here’s how he described the situation: “They said we violated the standards for diversity because we didn’t have enough dark ones, is I guess what they meant.”
The audio of his presentation is available online, so I went to listen to it, to make sure the quote wasn’t take out of context. For example, did he say in the sentence before that state diversity officials were counting students by the color of their faces, and they were upset there weren’t enough “dark ones,” meaning “dark faces”? No. That’s not what he said.
Listen for yourself:
Later on, after some folks got upset by the use of “dark ones,” Arnn didn’t apologize, but tried to explain:
“The State of Michigan sent a group of people down to my campus, with clipboards … to look at the colors of people’s faces and write down what they saw,” Arnn said. “We don’t keep records of that information. What were they looking for besides dark ones?”
That’s slightly more in line with what I wrote above, except that that is not what he said during the talk. Arnn later apologized, with one of those I’m sorry if you’re upset apologies.
I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, and I’m aware that people sometimes misspeak and say things that come out badly but weren’t intended as such. Hell, I’ll never forget the time I was tasked with building gay support for the Stand for Children, a march for children’s rights that we were organizing when I worked at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) in 1996. Back then, it was a big deal that CDF was interested in having gay groups as name partners on a children’s march (it was 1996, after all), so I was excited to do my part. Anyway, so I’m talking to a woman from PFLAG, a hugely popular group for the families of gay people, and what do I do? I accidentally referred to the group as “PFAG.”
I almost died. I hadn’t yet told the woman I was gay, so I immediately did and apologized profusely. Fortunately she accepted my explanation. (I also can’t help but think of the article about gay Olympic athlete Johnny Weir that I published at 7am today. In the post, in which I’m somewhat critical of Weir, I found myself unwittingly spelling his name “Johnny Weird.” I did it a lot. I even did it when I typed up this paragraph right now. It’s a typo – that old finger-memory problem – but one that someone could legitimately mistake for a cute, and bad, joke.
But of course, that wasn’t really the explanation that Hillsdale College President Arnn gave. He didn’t say that he was speaking extemporaneously and thought he had already referred to “faces,” and thus in the next sentence said “dark ones.” Had he said that, I’d be willing to take it at face value, no pun intended.
Arnn is a trustee of the Heritage Foundation. He’s also on the board of directors of the Claremont Institute and the Center for Individual Rights. All three activist groups are to the far right of Republican politics.