Students voice concerns about trustee Diane Hendricks
Diane Hendricks: America’s richest self-made woman — according to Forbes in June — Vice Chair of the Trump Victory Committee and one of Trump’s economic advisers, as of mid-August. She is also a member of Beloit’s Board of Trustees.
Forbes estimates that her net worth is 3.8 billion dollars as of Sept. 25, which she gathered after co-founding a roofing company named ABC Supply with her late husband in 1982. Today, ABC Supply is the nation’s biggest wholesale distributor of roofing and siding materials with over 400 locations around the country. In 2001 the couple also formed Hendricks Holding Co., a conglomerate also based in Beloit that includes several enterprises in various fields including transportation, insurance, real estate, restaurants, and film.
Hendricks has a long history of supporting GOP campaigns and GOP candidates such as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. In 2012 Hendricks gave $500,000 to his recall campaign. According to Politico, Hendricks also gave $1 million to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, a group formed by the billionaire Koch brothers. She also donated $5 million to a super PAC that supported the governor’s failed presidential campaign back in 2015.
Now, it appears she has joined in the movement to ‘Make America Great Again’. Back in May, the RNC Chairman Reince Priebus named her vice chair for Trump Victory Committee. A committee that raises funds for Trump’s presidential campaign, the RNC, and 11 state GOP committees.
She has also been appointed to Trump’s economic advisory board. When Trump first announced his 13 member team in early August he was criticized for not including any women. Shortly after Trump added nine new members–eight of whom were women, including Hendricks.
In early June, before Hendricks joined the economic advisory board, Jeff Simpson ‘88 sent a letter to Beloit College president Scott Bierman regarding growing concern that a Beloit trustee was closely tied to the Trump Campaign. Simpson wrote, “I am deeply disturbed that Trustee Diane Hendricks, is also vice chair of the Donald Trump Victory Committee.” Simpson made it clear that he was voicing these concerns now rather than when she had backed Walker and other GOP movements because, “I understand what makes America, and Beloit College great is a variety of opinions and viewpoints all brought together” but believes that “Trump…has shown to stand for the exact opposite of what Beloit College stands for.” He goes on to ask Bierman if “having one of [the] Trustee’s [sic] working very hard to elect and one of the faces of the Trump campaign [sic], the message we want to send…prospective students, current enrollees and alumni” and that he believes that Hendricks position on both boards simultaneously “is not only a conflict of interest, but also will do lasting damage to the excellent reputation Beloit College has earned and deserves.”
President Bierman did not agree. In an email response Bierman stated, “I do not agree that the college should be severing relationships with members of the community who support [Donald Trump]…If I understand your argument, it is that being on a board that supports Beloit College and on a board that supports Mr. Trump constitutes a conflict of principles. In my decades of citizenship, it is likely that nearly every single presidential candidate has said things or done things that can be interpreted as being at odds with key college principles. I think making decisions about what college relationships pass a principles test based on politically charged interpretations is dangerous.” He also called Simpson’s argument that the college’s reputation would be damaged, “thin at best”. Bierman concluded saying, “…In the time that Diane Hendricks has served on Beloit’s Board of Trustees she has embraced and supported the college’s mission in every way. There is no exception. It is with great pride that I call Diane a member of the Beloit College family.”
Yet, Tati Rodriguez ‘19 is still concerned. “I am not a fan of the thought that someone on the board of trustees for the college is so closely affiliated with Trump”, she said but did recognize that, “Beloit College can’t claim to be all inclusive if we are going to ostracize someone because of their political beliefs.” Nonetheless, she makes it clear that she has “heard students talking about it [Hendricks’ positions with both Beloit’s board and Trump’s]. And some do seem to be very upset about it. Unfortunately, there seems to be a campus wide understanding of the complacency of the administration towards issues like this, so nobody I have spoken to believes anything can be done because of this and the fact that Hendricks is very wealthy and therefore can do as she pleases.”
If Beloit is constantly talking about celebrating diversity and making the community more inclusive is having someone so connected to Donald Trump on the college’s board inherently hypocritical or contradictory? After all, Trump has made a platform by taking controversial stances on several issues, such as banning refugees and Muslims from entering the country, building a wall to keep Mexicans out under the pretense that the Mexicans coming to the United States are rapists, drug-dealers, and criminals and has dominated the news cycle with various contentious outbursts and comments.
It is clear that Bierman does not seem to think so, and other students agree that while Trump’s campaign may not always align with some of Beloit’s ideals, barring community members from participating on the board isn’t a step the college should take. For Andrew Kouré ‘19, “As long as her political decisions remain separate from her philanthropy for the college it’s fine.” For him, it’s important to keep in mind that “one can be in support of Trump…while still supporting an academic environment that allows students to critically evaluate politicians and decide for themselves.”
Jane Hanebuth ‘19 thinks similarly, “Try and find a person on the board that doesn’t have an opinion on politics” she said. “The college isn’t a political institution and I think it’s insensitive to the diversity of opinions here to say ‘we as a college don’t like Trump so we don’t like Diane Hendricks’”
With the election ramping up, conversation about this issue is likely to spring up again. Many students agree that regardless of your opinion, it’s a valuable discussion to have. Rodriguez hopes that there will be “more discourse about this since so many students are uncomfortable.”
Sources: Forbes, CNN, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, NY Times