George and Me

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The

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.

It

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

denial?

Justice

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.

I

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.

And

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

at Hillsdale.

It

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.

His

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.

Of

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.

One

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.

When

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.

There

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.

It

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

have evaporated.

It

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.

It

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.

A

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.

The

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.

And

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.

But

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.

Over

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.

In

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.

The

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!

How

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

Roche.

There

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.

The

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.

It

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.

The

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.

There

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.

December

3, 1999

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.

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