Roche Addenda

by Jonathan Ellis

Jonathan Ellis’s famous Salon article on Hillsdale College, Sex, Lies, and Suicidehad two sections cut from it to meet the required length. Mr. Ellis agreed that readers might be interested in these sections, which he wrote in the form of a memo:

You all know that after the 1984 Grove City decision Hillsdale stopped admitting students receiving most forms of government aid. I say “most” because Hillsdale continued to participate in the Stafford Loan program. Stafford Loans are made by the private sector and insured by the government. In some cases the government pays the interest on a loan while the student remains in college.

George Roche’s attitude to Staffords was characteristically hypocritical. In chapter 1 of The Fall of the Ivory Tower, ominously titled “Colleges in Crisis,” Roche lists a number of government programs that are the ruin of higher education. He includes the Stafford program. Here is a quote:

“Of course, the federal government is the real guarantor [of Stafford Loans]. It not only makes good on defaulted loans but reimburses the administrative costs involved in making and collecting on loans. While the student is in school, the federal government also pays the interest on the loan. When repayment begins, it is at less than the market rate, so Uncle Sam continues to pay a portion.”

In fewer than 100 pages of writing, however, George’s heart softens for the Stafford program. Here’s a quote explaining why Hillsdale continued to participate in the program post-Grove City:

“The college would still accept students with Stafford Loans and PLUS loans, which were not affected by Grove City. (Although these are nominally called ‘federal loans,’ the government only acts as the guarantor of an agreement between banks and students or their parents. No taxpayer money goes to the college, and Hillsdale students’ default rate on these loans is near zero.)”

The first thing we should note here is that Insight Magazine trumpeted Ivory Tower as its “Book of the Year.” Ridiculous. I suppose the fool responsible for that decision never read the book, which in many respects was simply a shoddy version of Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education.

Secondly, note Roche’s assertion that Hillsdale’s default rate “is near zero.” This is a typical Rochean, or if you prefer Clintonian, deception. In 1995, the year after Ivory Tower’s publication, Department of Education statistics show that Hillsdale’s default rate was 6.9 percent. The national average for all four-year private colleges that year was also 6.9 percent.

Many of you have read Robert Anderson’s excellent essay “George and Me.” Anderson claims that Roche and Hillsdale lied about how it got control of Ludwig von Mises’s library. According to Hillsdale folklore, the great Austrian economist left his library to his old buddy George Roche. A college press release tells it this way:

Ludwig von Mises died in 1973. In 1971, he bequeathed his library to Hillsdale College. In a letter to his long-time friend George Roche, president of Hillsdale College, he wrote: “Hillsdale, more than any other educational institution, most strongly represents the free market ideas to which I have given my life.”

This, apparently, is bullshit. Anderson claims that a donor and a conservative foundation both gave Hillsdale enough money to buy the library on the sly. Amazingly, the donor and the foundation were each told that they were the sole donors of the library, a clear case of fraud.

I spoke to several people who knew about the Mises library and they all agreed that Hillsdale’s account is fictional. Before the college realized who it was dealing with (Jon from Salon, not the nefarious Jonathan Ellis) I pressed their PR people to send a copy of the letter in which Mises supposedly left his library to his “long-time friend.” Such a letter would be historically significant. Copies would have been made, and the original put under glass and displayed. A couple days after I made my request to see a copy of the letter, Hillsdale’s PR flack told me that they couldn’t find the original.

February 4, 2000

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