SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — William Morrisey, a former professor of politics at Hillsdale College and current Planning Commissioner for the City of Hillsdale, Michigan, is shaping up to be $200,000 richer thanks to the State of South Dakota.

The now 71-year-old Morrisey will be paid up to $200,000 for acting as a “consultant” for the Department of Education in the area of creating South Dakota’s new social studies content standards.

According to his contract with the state, Morrisey will be paid:

  • $10,000 to facilitate the selection of commission members
  • $40,000 to submit a draft of standards
  • $25,000 to facilitate in-person meetings
  • $25,000 to facilitate Zoom meetings
  • $25,000 to submit standards to the Board of Education Standards
  • $25,000 to facilitate public hearings
  • $50,000 to approve the final standards.

These payments are to be made upon satisfactory completion of services, and the amount is not to exceed $200,000.

To date, Morrisey has received $50,000 of the budgeted $200,000, receiving $10,000 on May 6, 2022, and $40,000 on May 18, 2022. These payments correspond to the amounts allocated for Morrisey’s selection of commission members, and submission of a standards draft.

Hillsdale College is a private conservative Christian college in the town of Hillsdale, Michigan. The college was most recently in the public eye in June, 2022, when current Hillsdale College President and Heritage Foundation board member Larry Arnn was caught on tape in a hidden camera video obtained by a Tennessee news station.

In the video of a closed-door reception for Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Arnn is seen on stage saying “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country,” and that “education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.”

Arnn was invited by Lee to set up a private charter school system in Tennessee.

Arnn also served on the 1776 commission, established by former President Donald Trump, which created the 1776 report.

Upon its release by the Trump administration on MLK Day, the 1776 report was derided by historians for misrepresentations of American history. Notably, the commission which compiled the report was led by no accredited historians.

Critics of the state’s revisions of the social studies content standards have accused the state of attempting to use the new commission to import a 1776 commission-based curriculum into South Dakota schools.

In May 2021, Noem became the first public office candidate to sign a “1776 pledge to save our schools.”

Asked in May 2022 about whether the state was attempting to implement a 1776 report-based set of content standards, Gov. Kristi Noem’s then communications director Ian Fury responded via email, saying; “Governor Noem believes our children should learn America’s true history, both the good and the bad, and that a stronger emphasis should be placed on civics education that instills a sense of pride in our country. That is why she was the first candidate in the country to sign the 1776 Pledge.“

In addition to serving as President of Hillsdale College, Arnn is also a professor of politics, which he taught alongside Morrisey.

Morrisey does not have an academic history in social studies, despite the fact that he’s being paid $200,000 by the Department of Education to author social studies standards for South Dakota public schools. He also appears to have very little experience with public schools as a whole.

Prior to joining the faculty of Hillsdale in 2000, Morrisey earned his Bachelor of Arts at Kenyon College, a private college in Ohio, where he double majored in English and political science. After this, he received a Master of Arts degree, and Ph. D. in Liberal Studies from The New School, another private institution, this time in New York.

Back in May, 2022, Fury was asked why Morrisey, who appeared to have no ties to South Dakota, was selected to serve as the facilitator for the project.

Mr. Morrisey’s selection as facilitator ensures the process is led by a well-credentialed educator in the field. The DOE has not in the past required facilitators to be from South Dakota, and it did not do so here, either. Ultimately, the Board of Education Standards will hold public hearings and will make the final decision on the new standards. The people of South Dakota will have several opportunities to provide input on that final draft through the public hearing process.

Ian Fury

While Morrisey seems to have no ties to South Dakota, he does have ties to some in the state, including Fury. As mentioned, Morrisey lives in Hillsdale, Michigan and was employed at Hillsdale University, where he taught politics. He is currently a Professor Emeritus and the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College.

Fury, who now serves on Gov. Kristi Noem’s campaign, is a graduate of Hillsdale College, from which he received a BA in Political Economy in 2015, the same year in which Morrisey retired from the school, though Fury tells KELOLAND News that he never took a class with Morrisey at Hillsdale.

Fury and Morrisey are not the only ties to Hillsdale within this process. A commission member, Dylan Kessler, graduated from Hillsdale in 2010, where he studied English, literature and political science. As with Fury, Kessler’s time in the Political Science program at Hillsdale coincided with Morrisey’s time teaching there, though it is unclear whether Kessler was directly taught by Morrisey.

Kessler is currently the Director of Operations at Primrose Retirement Communities in Aberdeen. Prior to his employment with Primrose, he worked for Sen. John Thune.

As facilitator, a portion of Morrisey’s job was to help select commission members, a job that he shared with Governor Noem and other individuals including Education Secretary Mary Stadick Smith and State Historian Ben Jones. Other members involved in the selection were not named.

The commission hand-picked by Morrisey, Noem and others is not the first to tackle the issue of social studies content standards revision.

In the summer of 2021, a large commission comprised of mostly current and former South Dakota educators submitted a draft of content standards to the DOE, only to find that the Department then removed multiple references to Native American culture and history from the standards.

Following public and educator backlash, Noem announced in September 2021 that the DOE would put a hold on the process of revising standards. Just 10 days later, she reversed her decision, instead announcing that a new commission would be formed, restarting the entire process.

The new commission, set by Noem, Morrisey and others is comprised of 15 members, a drastic reduction from the previous group, which was made up of 44 members who split into groups to work on standards in specific areas.

The new commission sparked concern again among educators and members of the previous commission. In the original workgroup, 70% of participants were educators certified by the S.D. DOE. In the new group, that number dropped to just 20%.

Out of the 15 members, which include Noem’s Chief of Staff, 11 have never been certified as educators by the DOE.

A public comment period is currently open for those who wish to give their opinion on the new proposed standards. Public hearings, facilitated by Morrisey, will also be held in September and November, 2022.

KELOLAND News has requested access to public comments made regarding the newly proposed standards. The Department of Education has not responded to the request.