sordid story surrounding George Roche is a vivid reminder of human
depravity, and the harm evil can inflict upon those close to it.
Even if justice is done, as has partly been the case here, it can
take a heavy toll on the innocent as well as on the wrongdoer.
is incomprehensible that a father would have an intimate relationship
with his son’s wife and, when confronted with her public confession
and suicide, depart a few days later on a honeymoon with a new wife,
having just abandoned his wife of 44 years who is suffering from
liver cancer with a $1000 check and the injunction to get out. Not
even Shakespeare would have dared construct such a fictional tragedy.
And, yet, such are the charges against George Roche. Is it not significant
that so many, including his son, believe the charges, despite his
certainly demands the exposure and condemnation of such a despicable
man. But with justice comes a horror upon his family and an embarrassment
to all of us who have ever crossed his path. How many times I have
asked myself how different my life would have been if George and
I had never met that spring of 1971. But we did meet, and I did
introduce him to Hillsdale College, and two years later I left Hillsdale
to escape him.
joined the Hillsdale faculty in the fall of 1965. The following
year my wife Beverly and I built our new home in Hillsdale and within
a few years our two daughters were born. Hillsdale College was a
good school in those days, and it had a good faculty and administration.
The eight years that I taught economics and business courses at
the college were some of the most pleasant of my life. At the time
of George Roche’s arrival the economics department included Dean
Russell, John Sparks and myself. We were a compatible staff of free-market
economists who shared a common libertarian perspective.
then came George Roche. Dean Russell had already made the decision
to leave that fall but, before doing so, observed to me, “It’s
good that I’m leaving, for I doubt if I could remain with George
in charge.” All three of us, Dean Russell, George Roche, and
I had worked at the Foundation for Economic Education previously.
I assumed Dean was just making a personal judgment about his attitude
toward George. Soon his words took on a different meaning. Years
later I asked him if he had known something at the time which he
hadn’t shared with us. He just smiled and responded, “Some
of us are just slow learners!”
Since both George and I shared many common associates and friends
from our days at FEE, and because I had been responsible for presenting
him as a candidate to Hillsdale, I was very pleased with his appointment
as Hillsdale’s new president. I had read his writings on education
and Frederic Bastiat, and I believed we shared a similar libertarian
perspective. In addition to our common backgrounds at FEE, George
had brought with him two individuals with whom I developed a close
friendship. Barry Boyer and Bruce Oyen were people George had met
through his work at FEE. Barry was a young free-market economist
who joined us in the department, and Bruce was involved with media
development. Both were libertarians as well. They were good family
men too, and all of us were looking forward to a promising future
didn’t happen, of course. Within two years we would all be gone,
along with my old friend and colleague, Clarence Carson. And soon
thereafter the other conservatives and libertarians with whom I
had worked would all be gone too. It wasn’t exactly a purge, even
though for some it must have seemed so. It all came from a growing
disillusion among us about George Roche.
winning charm and warm manner were traits, or should I say skills,
such as I’ve never known in any other person. He was an incredibly
engaging individual, the kind of person in whom you willingly put
your trust, and he knew it and he used it. I’ve often reflected
that, if there is a Satan doing his evil handiwork through us, George
is just the kind of guy he would recruit.
course, until these latest scandalous charges against him, I would
not have been willing to so condemn him. The man I saw in the beginning
was a person of duplicity, hypocrisy, and meanness. His corruption
in the form of debauchery and depravity apparently came later. In
the early years what I witnessed was mostly a pattern of lies.
of the first indications that there was a different man behind the
facade was George’s intolerance toward criticism. Some people can
handle negative comments better than others, but George could not
accept any. Like most narcissists, George had an insatiable appetite
for praise but a zero tolerance for the slightest disapproval or
even a differing judgment. Undoubtedly this flaw had much to do
with his wrongful treatment of his wife, June, over the years. June
is a gracious lady of the “old school” who suffered silently
through horrendous and repeated verbal abuse at the top of George’s
lungs. All of us knew of his hidden and extraordinary temper, in
stark contrast to his public image. You learned quickly the futility
of “arguing with George” or even disgreeing with him.
One hundred percent approval and agreement were required.
George arrived at Hillsdale in 1971, the college was participating
in the federal government’s work/study program. This grant program
was originated a few years earlier by an administrator, much to
my chagrin. It was a needless government intrusion into student
employment policies of the college, and to meet federal guidelines,
the college seemed to be engaging in some highly questionable student
employment practices. It was a bad precedent for the College, and
both George and I agreed it should be terminated as soon as possible.
But two years later when I left Hillsdale, the government grants
to the college were still being reported by Congressman Ed Hutchinson
in the local newspaper.
Now none of this would matter so much but for the manner in which
George handled it. He began a publicity crusade, both in written
advertisements and public speaking, declaring that the college had
never accepted “one cent of government funds in its entire
history.” He knew, and he knew we knew, that this was a lie.
Professor Boyer finally challenged him on it, and to this day he
still believes it was the cause of his eventual termination. George
continued to profess the lie until today it is enshrined as part
of Hillsdale College’s heritage. It was a false claim which George
knowingly conveyed to all who would listen. To me it was an early
demonstration of how his rhetoric conflicted with factual reality.
How many private supporters over the years have relied on that falsehood
can never be known, or even whether it mattered to them. But it
mattered to me.
was another big lie, still in use today: that Ludwig von Mises had
selected Hillsdale to receive his library. In fact, Mises had never
heard of the school. The books were purchased from his widow, and
two donors-a wealthy businessman and a famous conservative foundation-were
told that each had paid the entire cost. More lies.
was during his second year and my last year at Hillsdale that things
really started to come apart. In the spring of 1972 George had hired
Clarence Carson as chair of the history department, commencing that
summer. Clarence and I had previously taught at Grove City College,
and we were close friends. When George told me that he had hired
Clarence, after the fact, I was somewhat confused that he hadn’t
discussed it with me earlier. I naively assumed at the time he just
wanted to surprise me with the good news,…and it did. I couldn’t
have been more pleased that Clarence was coming to Hillsdale. Had
I known what was lying ahead for all of us, my enthusiasm would
was that fall that Lew Rockwell also came to Hillsdale. The gathering
of Lew, Barry Boyer, Clarence Carson, John Sparks, and Jim King
made for some great times that fall, even though they were to be
short lived for most of us, and ultimately, for all of us. It all
came apart while I was on a Florida holiday with my family during
Christmas. Upon my return from the break I learned that Clarence
Carson had been terminated and Barry Boyer would not have his contract
renewed in the spring. I was furious and immediately requested a
meeting with George Roche to seek some explanation from him over
what was happening. The meeting was, of course, an exercise in futility.
was a session which I’ll never forget. The moment I walked into
his office he announced that the “subject of Carson” was
not open to discussion. I opened it anyway and George informed me,
“If you don’t like it here, you should leave too.” I responded,
“I have tenure and don’t have to leave, so why don’t you leave?”
Of course, I knew at that moment I couldn’t remain at Hillsdale,
and at the end of the year I accepted a position at FEE, a move
that did not “sit well” with George. Our relationship
over the years thereafter remained civil, but guarded. I had come
to the sad conclusion that George was a man without integrity.
year or so after my departure from Hillsdale I learned something
that, to this day, still infuriates me. During George’s first months
as president he announced he was going to buy a Porsche 911 Targa.
June, told me, “I just can’t object to this indulgence because
he has worked so hard and this is something he has always wanted
to do.” I agreed with her and encouraged George to buy the
car. Barry Boyer even went with him when he picked it up and, like
myself, was pleased that George was buying something he really wanted.
During the fiscal year 1971-72 the administration had all of us
on an austerity budget to keep the operating deficit to a minimum.
Faculty were requested not to incur any expenses unless absolutely
necessary. It was a “belt-tightening” time at Hillsdale.
So imagine my shock when it was discovered that the expensive sportscar
had been purchased at college expense, at George’s request! The
incredible indifference to the college’s budget problem, not to
mention his duplicity with me and others, confirmed for me his lack
of integrity. We had learned what a master he was at conveying false
impressions, and thus leading people to wrong conclusions. I never
forgave him for that falsehood. It served also as an early example
of his willingness to abuse his power.
years passed, and though George was on FEE’s board, my contact with
him was limited. As he became more involved with college affairs,
he had less and less to do with FEE. After my return to FEE in 1973,
I began to hear some revealing stories about George and, of course,
I shared my own experiences as well. Perhaps the most curious of
these was told to me by my old friend, Ben Rogge. Ben was a professor
of economics at Wabash College, a FEE trustee, and a regular lecturer
in FEE seminar programs. He was a man of great wit and an outstanding
speaker and thinker. Were he alive today I know Ben would be relating
one of his favorite quips, that “A thoroughly dishonest man
can last longer in the pulpit or as a college president than he
ever could as a used car salesman!” When George came to FEE
as director of seminars in the late sixties, he asked Ben if he
could use his lectures at FEE weekend seminars. Ben graciously agreed,
but used to joke afterward, “I didn’t mind him giving my lectures,
but he even stole my jokes!” Those who had heard Ben’s lectures
previously were astounded by how George could be so brazen as to
repeat the lectures word for word before audiences acquainted with
Ben Rogge. George never seemed to be bothered about using the work
of others, whether approved or not.
so in 1979 when Ed Opitz, who had been the resident theologian at
FEE for the previous twenty years, walked into my office and asked
me to read in the latest issue of Imprimis, an essay written by
George Roche, I suspected something was amiss. After reading it,
Ed handed me some old typewritten pages of a sermon he had delivered
in l969. He said, “Now read my sermon.” The plagiarism
was appalling. Entire paragraphs of Ed’s sermon were scattered throughout
the Imprimis essay by George Roche. My first reaction was to ask
Ed, “Did he have your approval to use your writings?”
Of course, he did not. My second reaction was that George’s presidency
was over. The plagiarism was so serious and extensive that its disclosure
would surely topple any college president.
there was a problem. George was still a trustee of FEE and, more
importantly, he and Ed had been long-time friends. The Reverend
Edmund Opitz is one of the most decent men I’ve ever known and a
total gentleman. (Not only that but he performed the wedding ceremony
for Beverly and me in FEE’s library on his own 15th wedding anniversary
in 1961!) He was, and is, a man who would never harm a friend, even
if wronged by that friend. His response when I expressed outrage
over George’s plagiarism was to quote that old adage, “It’s
the highest form of flattery.” He contacted George, quietly,
and George responded, quietly! The matter never went public even
though it traveled the “gossip mill” for years thereafter.
He got away with it.
There was another episode at FEE involving George which created
a great deal of consternation. One day we received a letter from
one our contributors reprimanding us for sharing our donor list
with Hillsdale. He was certain we were guilty, since the same mailing
address error appeared on both of his envelopes. It confirmed something
we had long suspected. As a member of FEE’s board, George received
our confidential monthly donor report. From the beginning at FEE
we had supplied this information to trustees so they could know
who was supporting our work and, if they wished to do so, could
contact the donor with a further expression of gratitude. Upon discovering
that George was using our confidential donor list for fund raising
activities at Hillsdale, we were forced to change our policy of
sharing this information with the trustees. Thereafter, we supplied
only a “summary” of monthly donor information, deleting
the addresses of our contributors. George’s improper use of our
confidential donor list violated his stewardship duty as a FEE trustee.
It was another instance of his brazen disregard of ethical standards.
the years rumors kept surfacing and people kept passing through
Hillsdale, disillusioned and bitter over their encounters with George.
The only time I ever intervened again at Hillsdale was in 1990,
when Jim King resigned after twenty-five years at the college. Jim
has always believed that the suicide of our close friend Bert Fink,
who had taught art at the college, was partially due to Bert’s despondency
over the way George was running the college. It was a bad era in
Jim’s life. Jim and I arrived at Hillsdale together in 1965, and
perhaps because we both grew up in the Pittsburgh area, we immediately
developed a close friendship which continues to this day. Jim had
become sort of a “Hillsdale icon” during his tenure at
the college, and it was inconceivable to me that he was leaving
of his own accord. I wrote to George, urging him to do everything
possible to prevent Jim’s departure, but he was welcoming the event.
George viewed Jim (who was widely admired by trustees, faculty,
students, and alumni) as some kind of personal threat, and thus
was pleased to see him leave. Jim’s departure was a tragic loss
for the college which could have been prevented, but there could
be only one big man on campus.
1992 I retired from FEE and thought I had heard the last of George
Roche. I still suffer a personal regret over having introduced George
to Hillsdale in 1971, and now more so when I see the culmination
of my error with this sordid affair being reported nationwide. It
has caused me to reflect on the years and realize how that casual
meeting in 1971 has so dramatically impacted on the lives of so
many of us. In the beginning I saw a man of great talent and promise.
But as time passed I became disgusted by his hypocrisy. However,
not until this latest scandal did I realize how thoroughly corrupt
and evil the man had become.
question, of course, is how will his 28 years at Hillsdale play
out? Does it merely end with the destruction of one fallen man?
Does the $340 million in private support raised during his tenure
somehow balance the scales? Does the college not bear any of the
burden or responsibility for the years of the Roche presidency?
Has it just been nothing more than a good story with a bad ending?
It seems to me that these, and many other questions, must be confronted
before the college can “move on.”
The initial response of the college seemed promising. After some
early vacillation, the college announced the dismissal and replacement
of the president. The question of what will follow has yet to be
answered. A board of trustees that has evolved over a long period
of time under the tenure of a dominant leader is much like a defendant-selected
jury. George understood how to use power within a not-for-profit
organization,…he established a large number of board members and
weeded out his critics over time. Such a strategy assures virtual
control to a man seeking power. He was an expert on power,…he
once wrote a booklet by that title!
else can you explain the disproportionate compensation package-$550,000
a year-that George had acquired during his tenure? I have no doubt
that even a preliminary investigation of his financial arrangements
with the college will yield some shocking disclosures. Power corrupts,
and is used for the benefit of he who wields the power. His greedy
indulgence in buying a Porsche at college expense in the first year
of his presidency is probably mild to what has transpired since.
The question is whether the trustees are willing to look. I’m afraid
it’s much like the futility of expecting an accountant to audit
his own books. They will find only what they want to find, and the
rest will be buried. Now that George has left with a reported $2
million more in a retirement package, it is the trustees and administrators
of the college who remain behind to answer these questions. The
college cannot escape with impunity from the 28 year reign of George
has been a lot made of the $340 million of private gifts received
by the College during George Roche’s tenure. But that begs the next
question: How has it been expended? Less than half the total, $160
million, is reported to have been accumulated in the endowment fund
(which would have grown enormously over the past few years). While
a few new buildings and additions have been constructed in the past
28 years, certainly not all of the remaining $180 million was expended
on capital construction. Was the balance used to cover operational
deficits resulting from a short fall of student revenues? And, if
so, to what extent were these deficits generated due to excessive
expenditures in non-student activities, especially by George’s private
fiefdom, the Shavano Institute? The college will be facing such
questions in the near future, and it is imperative that such inquiries
not be greeted with more silence.
college, if it is to achieve any credibility, must open its windows
and let the stale air out! Questions of proportionality and excess
must be examined. Costs are just as important as revenues, sometimes
even more so. For example, Imprimis maintains a mailing list of
almost one million. That’s nearly a thousand copies for each student
enrolled at the college! The annual cost of this publication, and
the overhead in honoraria and management of it, has to be a major
item in the college budget. It would be interesting to compare this
cost against student tuition revenue. Like George Roche’s half-million-plus
compensation, the cost and magnitude of Imprimis is obviously out
of proportion for a college the size of Hillsdale.
It’s not my intent to belittle academic quality at Hillsdale, for
it is indeed a fine college with an excellent faculty. However,
claims of high academic standards can be misleading. Back in the
late eighties a Hillsdale official commented to me, “Hillsdale
students have an average SAT score in the nine hundreds and, yet,
almost eighty percent of them are on the dean’s list. What does
this say for our academic standards?” Such a candid critic
was soon discovered and ousted by George! But his question does
remind that the upper limit of academic standards are ultimately
determined by the students. Obviously, students with SAT scores
of 1600 can handle a more rigorous curriculum than students scoring
950. Only brighter students can make higher standards possible.
Any teacher who sets academic standards higher than the capability
of his students will soon have an empty classroom. The great teacher
is one who sets demanding standards which are realistic and achievable
for his students. This has been, and I assume still is, the uniqueness
of Hillsdale College, where a personal and close contact exists
between faculty and student. Hillsdale has always understood that
a demanding culture of academic achievement is the first requirement
for a quality institution of higher learning.
is precisely for this reason that colleges have differing admission
standards and guidelines. The sad flaw at Hillsdale has been the
massive public relations effort to create a conservative image which
does not, and never has, corresponded to the structure of its faculty.
I used to like observing that if college catalogs were subject to
false advertising laws, all college administrators would be in jail.
But we know that at Hillsdale the culprit has been far more than
admission-department rhetoric over the years. Of course, Hillsdale
has had, and has today, many fine conservative faculty members.
But the notion that the faculty as a whole has been conservative
is absurd. We live in an age of extreme statism, and Hillsdale was
not isolated from that reality. Statist politics dominate intellectual
thought today, to such an extent that conservative ideas are rarely
even heard in most college classrooms. The uniqueness of Hillsdale
is that the conservative voice is being heard at all; but it was
always a minority voice.
final shame of George Roche, I fear, may be his destruction of Hillsdale’s
reputation as a fine liberal arts college founded upon the traditional
values of Western civilization. It is an all too human tendency
when reacting against an evil man to discard the good with the bad.
It is for this reason that the college must act openly and frankly
as it cleanses itself not only of the onerous images of George Roche
as incestuous adulterer, but also of George Roche as an abuser of
trust, a user who saw the deep pockets of conservatives and looted
them for his personal aggrandizement.
is much bad to overcome, but there is more good to be told about
the institution and its traditions. The task for Hillsdale College
now is to tell it all honestly.
Professor Anderson, a student of Ludwig von Mises and Hans F.
Sennholz, taught economics at Grove City College and Hillsdale College.
He was also a long-time senior staff member of the Foundation for
Economic Education, retiring in 1992.