Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 1999 /15 Kislev, 5760
The truth and Hillsdale
Suicide, scandal and disgrace. Those are three words that most
conservatives would never have dreamed would be sidling up to the name
Hillsdale College. But that is the gloomy reality.
Hillsdale College has been the symbol of robust and defiant conservatism
for nearly 30 years. Everyone in conservativeland admired what George Roche
III was able to achieve with a previously inconsequential little college. As
John J. Miller recounted in National Review, Roche's arrival in 1971
transformed a backwater college nearing bankruptcy into a national symbol
boasting contributions in excess of $324 million.
Hillsdale gave conservatives debating points. When liberals urged that the
only way to prevent institutions of higher learning from engaging in racial
and sexual discrimination was government mandates, conservatives pointed
with pride at Hillsdale, which declined to accept federal subsidies or loans
of any kind, and yet boasted of its non-discriminatory history. Hillsdale
had been accepting women and blacks since before the Civil War.
And when it seemed that most universities in the nation had been utterly
corrupted by political correctness and academic foolishness of one kind or
another -- Hillsdale and a handful of other schools stood out as proud
adherents of the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman tradition. At Hillsdale,
character was prized as much as scholarship.
And so it came as a ghastly shock to learn that Lissa Roche,
daughter-in-law of college president John Roche and editor of the widely
circulated college magazine Imprimis, had shot herself to death after
revealing to her husband that she had been engaged in a 19-year affair with
The confrontation apparently took place in a hospital (the elder Roche was
recuperating from a diabetic incident). At George III's bedside, in the
presence of his second wife, Lissa told her husband George Roche IV
(nicknamed I.V.) about the affair. As reported by John Miller of National
Review, I.V. then turned to his father and demanded, "Is she telling the
truth or is she having a breakdown?" George III said nothing. "I could tell
by looking at him that she was telling the truth," I.V. continued. "I saw
the look in his eyes. He was caught."
In the next several days, events moved swiftly. George Roche III resigned
as president of Hillsdale, and a committee -- including William Bennett and
William F. Buckley -- was hastily assembled to search for a replacement.
Bennett asked college officials if the rumors about an affair between Lissa
Roche and her father-in-law were true and was told that they were.
But within a few days, the story being pushed by Hillsdale and its former
president changed. The same spokesman who sadly assured Bennett that the
rumors were true now told members of the press that Lissa had been a
pathological liar. He further mused that George Roche III might be "a
condemned innocent man."
Clintonian morality, it appears, can infiltrate even where federal dollars
dare not tread. The post-mortem treatment of Lissa Roche (whatever her true
sins may have been) bears all the earmarks of defamation. Lissa is being
treated in death as Monica Lewinsky would have been if she were not such a
dilatory dry cleaner -- seduced and traduced as the saying went.
This was too much for Bennett, who withdrew from the committee and
condemned Hillsdale. If the college truly believes that Roche may be
innocent, he pointed out, how can they possibly let him leave in this
manner? But, as seems obvious, Roche is probably not innocent, despite his
claim before the board of trustees "with God as my witness" that he never
had a sexual relationship with that woman, er, Lissa Roche. Would an
innocent man's first instinct in the face of such a damaging and horrifying
rumor be to resign or to fight? It appears that Roche was unprepared to
fight a living Lissa Roche but more than happy to smear a dead one.
Does this impugn the entire college? That depends upon what comes next. It
must be disorienting to lose the guiding spirit of the college. But those
who remain must either figure out how to live by the principles they
espouse, or give up the enterprise of education. They can start by telling
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©1999, Creators Syndicate