' Marianne M. Jennings

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Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 1999/ 20 Kislev, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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When conservatives behave badly

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE ONLY DIFFERENCE between the scandal at Hillsdale College, the nation's premier conservative college, and an episode of Jerry Springer was the grammar and tattoos.

The word bizarre was coined for the soap opera drama that has unfolded at the country's only institution of higher learning to refuse federal funds, even student loan funds and Pell grants.

George Roche III, president of Hillsdale since 1971 and a fund raiser who topped $325 million during his tenure by tapping conservative wealth, resigned shortly after his daughter-in-law, Lissa Roche, committed suicide on the campus following her revelation to Roche's son, George IV, that she had had an affair since 1980 with George III who had divorced his wife of 44 years in April 1999 then surprised everyone with an October 1999 second marriage which quickly dissipated into a separation followed a few weeks later by a reconciliation which precipitated Lissa's confession in what had to be some kind of awkward moment of confrontation among the four aforementioned players.

Got all of that? George IV says Lissa had a 19-year affair with his father and the remarriage, albeit iffy, set off a depression ending with Lissa's suicide.

Roche, 65, initially placed on leave by the trustees, resigned with a retirement package and the explanation that he was just too old for the job.

Hillsdale officials, citing privacy and legal advice, refuse to say anything further, although Ron Trowbridge, Hillsdale's vice president, gave a Weekly Standard reporter an earful about George IV such as "he's on pills," "not focused," and "likes to build fires outside." As opposed to the normal activity of torching the ottoman? It's better when you opt to remain silent, to remain silent. The events and perception are damning enough without reflections on the innocent being wacky.

By way of disclosure, I have been a speaker at Hillsdale's Shavano Institute which has featured the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Colin Powell. Last January I spoke at the opening of their new Dow School of Journalism. I worked closely with Lissa Roche, editor of Hillsdale's Imprimis, on the reprints of my speeches. If you want to experience how a college education sounds, spend two hours in a car with a Hillsdale student for the trip from the Detroit airport to the campus 100 miles west. Not once will you hear, "So, I'm like," or "And I was all," but expect a 20-year-old who has read Shakespeare, can quote Aristotle and understands the flaws in Keynesian economics. In an era when college credit and general studies requirements are awarded to the likes of courses on pizza, Hillsdale with its rigor and focus on Western civilization has emerged as the number one liberal arts college in the Mid-West.

However, that George Roche has built a fine institution from a near bankrupt one does not excuse his conduct nor that of the institution and trustees in handling the scandal. Even if Lissa Roche was delusional, the story Mr. Roche stands by, it was incumbent upon him to handle his family matters before the breaking point. The perception, if left unaddressed, will be devastating for Hillsdale's future and confusing for the current study body. The trustees, faculty and Mr. Trowbridge are behaving much like Clinton administration minions who carried water for their boss despite circumstances that pointed to hanky panky and then some.

During the nearly 7 years of the Clinton administration I have been relentless with the same advice through all the scandals, on average one every 1.5 months: Nothing quells a frenzy better than an admission. The same advice applies to conservatives and their Hillsdale. William Bennett wisely resigned from the Hillsdale presidential search committee for it is a bitter pill to swallow to see William Buckley, a member of that same committee, say that he believes George Roche because he has given his word as a Christian man.

And Mr. Clinton trekked to church each Sunday while the blue dress waited silently. Mr. Buckley reduced to a "I believe George Roche" bumper sticker and the Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, and Donna Shalala cheerleaders-against-logic-club is demoralizing. Conservatives and Hillsdale need just one good denunciation of George Roche, although the resignation of Mr. Roche certainly puts him a notch above the Clinton crowd.

The standards are the same for conservatives, liberals and Jerry Springer guests. Adultery is wrong. The Roche drama illustrates its depth of pain and destructive force. Condemnation of the conduct of George Roche and Bill Clinton is not judgmental. Failure to condemn moves the line of tolerance, confuses Hillsdale students trained in the sophistry of moral relativism and smacks of hypocrisy. Ron Trowbridge, Buckley and the trustees have reduced themselves to Maxine Waters and Barney Frank sycophants, willing to ignore the obvious, unwilling to acknowledge the damaging and immune from the lessons of human frailty. Their fine students see the tragedy along the lines of Othello and could learn from it.

Too bad Hillsdale has resorted to the lame "private life" excuse that is the legacy of the Clinton administration.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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©1999, Marianne M. Jennings