The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
One man's folly is often another man's wife...  ...Helen Rowland, Reflections of a Bachelor Girl, 1903.
Commentary of the Day - November 16, 1999:  And the Newt Gingrich Medal for Good Conduct Goes to...:
...George Roche III, recently fired president of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.  For nearly the past three decades Mr. Roche has made tiny Hillsdale College the darling of the American conservative movement by championing morality, Judeo-Christian principles, and right-wing philosophy.  During much of that time Hillsdale forsook all claims to federal financial aid both for itself and for its students.  Roche, himself, brought in more than $324 million in private contributions.  To a large extent Mr. Roche was Hillsdale College.  According to reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education and National Review Online, he ruled the place with an iron hand.

The reason for Mr. Roche's downfall lies in a messy conflict between his publicly stated positions on morality and his personal behavior.  Although no public acknowledgment has been given, it was widely rumored on the campus that President Roche had conducted a 19-year-long illicit affair with his daughter-in-law Lissa Jackson Roche.  Ms. Roche was a college employee who had major responsibility for the publication of its well known journal of conservative thought, Imprimis.  Lissa Roche was married to President Roche's son George Roche IV (on campus Roche IV is known simply as I-V), who is a history professor on the campus.

Apparently not content with his 19-year dalliance with his daughter-in-law, President Roche decided to divorce his wife of 44 years so that he could marry one Mary Hagan.  According to a story by John J. Miller in National Review Online, the impending union between Hagan and President Roche caused Lissa Roche severe distress - to the point where she left I-V for a day or two before the wedding.  The relationship between President Roche and his new wife seems to have gotten off to a rocky start.  On October 15, 1999 he informed Lissa and I-V that he was going to dump Hagan.  Lissa was ecstatic at this news.

The next day President Roche, a lifelong diabetic, suffered an insulin reaction.  At the hospital I-V learned that his father had reconciled with his new wife.  When informed of this, Lissa is reported to have said "Oh, shit, oh, no."

On the 17th of October Lissa was in a highly emotional state, and had threatened suicide in a phone call to President Roche who was still in the hospital.  She insisted on going to the hospital with I-V.  While in President Roche's hospital room, with I-V and the new Mrs. Roche present; Lissa confessed to the affair.  According to the National Review Online story, I-V is quoted as saying President Roche "didn't say a word..." at that time, although later he denied Lissa's claim while at the same time refusing I-V's request to leave Hillsdale so that he and Lissa could start over.  Later the same day Lissa took her husband's 38 caliber revolver with her to the Hillsdale College arboretum and committed suicide.

Needless to say, these events shook the Hillsdale College campus to its very core.  Following meetings between the college board of trustees and a very upset I-V, President Roche was forced into retirement on November 10th.

Naturally, the Irascible Professor finds the goings on at Hillsdale College more than a bit strange.  It's hard to imagine that neither Lissa's husband, nor anyone on the college board of trustees had a clue that President Roche and his son's wife were carrying on an affair for 19 years.  Generally, the IP feels that private relationships between consenting adults should remain private.  However, if one plays that game there should be a few rules.  First, it is extremely bad form to have such a relationship with a subordinate employee.  Colleges and universities less independent than Hillsdale have rules against this sort of hanky-panky.  Second, it is even worse form to be playing around with your son's wife, particularly if your son is also your subordinate.  The family that plays together doesn't necessarily stay together.  One doesn't need to be a $188,000 a year college president to figure that one out.

If there is any good to come from this most sordid of affairs, it is that the students at dear old Hillsdale probably have learned a lesson that they will not soon forget.  Undoubtedly, it's going to take some time for the campus to recover its equilibrium.  Those Judeo-Christian principles are a bit battered right at the moment.  However, the IP is relieved to know that the five person committee has been chosen to find a new president for Hillsdale, and it includes such luminaries as former Secretary of Education William Bennett and William F. Buckley, editor-at-large of National Review.

The IP is sure that both Bennett and Buckley will do a fine job in helping to select the next president of Hillsdale College.  Perhaps they can even find an intelligent conservative scholar who can keep his or her hands off the hired help.  Both Bennett and Buckley have impeccable conservative credentials - no liberal thought has ever crossed their minds, so they should know the right people to ask.  When he appears on "Meet the Press" in his role as national scold, Bennett usually looks like he is sitting on the worst case of hemorrhoids in the history of mankind, while Buckley always seems to have a supercilious grin on his mug.  Nevertheless, the IP is confident that they will get the job done.

The IP does have a suggestion for the committee.  He has heard that a bright lad by the name of Dan Quayle has been looking for a job since his campaign for the Republican nomination for the Presidency fell apart.  Hillsdale College doesn't have quite the same cache as the White House, but at least Dan would be president of something.  That's sure to make Marilyn very proud.  On second thought, maybe Marilyn Quayle ought to be the first choice.  At least she can spell.


The Irascible Professor invites your comments.
©1999 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.