When a Long-Lost Treasure is Found…

dad painting

In the continued attempts to organize the mountains of papers around the house, I stumbled on a memorable document. Perhaps I have become the informal archivist of the family history. I found a copy of Dad’s 1971 Inauguration Address when he became the 11th President of Hillsdale College. I hope there are readers out there who might enjoy reading about our unique little school and the man who played an influential role in her success.

A New Era Begins, by Dr. George Charles Roche III

Chancellor Phillips, Distinguished Trustees, Faculty, and Administration of Hillsdale College, honored guests, alumni, parents, and finally, last but far from least, graduating seniors of 1971:

Every commencement speaker is entitled to at least one story. Let me tell you mine. Once a doctor, an architect and a politician were having an argument. Each claimed to represent the world’s oldest profession. The doctor insisted that in the Garden of Eden, Eve had come into the world as a result of a rib resection. Obviously, the operation must have been performed by a doctor. Thus the doctor represented the world’s oldest profession. The architect spoke up and insisted that before the Garden of Eden, there had been chaos. Since it was the architect’s business to bring order out of chaos, it stood to reason that an architect must have been on hand to produce the Garden of Eden. Then the politician spoke up. He looked up triumphantly at his two colleagues, and said, “Ah yes, but who do you think made the chaos?”

The politicians have indeed been producing chaos, especially in higher education. One of the most pressing problems of modern America is the politicized campus… politicized through government money and controls, not only in the state colleges and universities, but also in the so-called “private schools,” many of which are heavily dependent upon federal and state funds. The campuses have also been politicalized in another way. A pernicious idea has hold of most American campuses, the idea that all problems and all human concerns are somehow best solved in the public sector, best answered by collective solutions. The politicalized campus thus leaves little room for traditional education, oriented to the development of individual potential.

The chaos thus produced has had a disastrous effect in higher education. Today we are treated to the spectacle of enormous campuses in which students are reduced to little more than a mass of raw material to be molded in a series of gigantic survey courses in which almost all contact between teacher and student has disappeared. In such an environment, the individual personality of the student is dismissed, to be replaced by an enormous institutional structure which treats the students like so many IBM cards.

Meanwhile, the politicalized campus has also had its effect on many professors. Today on many campuses, we are treated to the spectacle of professors who are no longer interested in teaching, professors totally politicalized, devoted not to education but to rabble rousing at mass meetings, to leading riots in support of their pet ideologies.

The chaos produced by such politicalization faces us on campuses all over the nation. The result has often been a total loss of respect for individual life and property, and a total collapse of traditional educational standards.

As politicalization has destroyed education, the politicians have continued to tell us what a good job they have been doing for us lately. One such political figure was holding forth at a political meeting chaired by the late Governor Pinchot of Pennsylvania. As those of us who have attended such meetings already know–the format is always the same. A boresome and lengthy reception is held in a large and overheated room, then a heavy second-rate meal is served in an even more overheated dining room, then the thermostat is turned up another seven to ten degrees, and the political speaker begins to tell you what he had been doing for you lately.

At the meeting chaired by Governor Pinchot, the speaker was even worse than usual. The crowd began to fragment into a series of buzz groups, as the people conversed among themselves to avoid the pain of listening to the speaker. Finally, Pinchot, out of courtesy to the speaker, felt he had to rap for order. He brought down his gavel with a smash, but it struck the edge of the lectern and flipped out of the governor’s hand. Flying end over end, it struck a large, bald, fat man sitting in the front row, hitting him right in the middle of the forehead.

The fat man had already had a hard day: the stuffy reception, the heavy meal, the hot room, the boring speech. And now he had been hit in the head with a mallet! He sunk lower and lower in his seat. The room was silent, with complete attention riveted on the fat man. The speaker used the silence to begin his remarks again, and the fat man murmured, for all to hear, “Hit me again governor, I can still hear him!”

It is always fun to criticize the politician and his failures, but American colleges and universities should remember that the chaos produced by the politicalized campus came about because government was invited to the campus by the schools themselves. Seduction demands a willing victim. Those who have accepted government financing and control have produced their own problems, generating their own educational chaos.

You graduating seniors and I are both to be congratulated–Hillsdale has not suffered from the chaos produced by political involvement.

At Hillsdale College, a teacher can teach, a student can learn, a President who believes in a traditional liberal arts curriculum can pursue education values which emphasize the individual. You see, there was a time when the liberal arts meant the “liberating arts,” that is, those educational standards which help the individual to free himself from ignorance and limitation, to become more truly and fully himself, to find himself as a complete human begin, ready to take his place in the world.

Our young people, yours and mine, are a precious commodity. Hillsdale has been a place where young men and women have received personal attention, in a friendly atmosphere directed toward the individual. Hillsdale has always had, and will continue to have, the time to spend with its young men and women. This is why we are here.

This is what Hillsdale means to me. This is what Hillsdale represents to the Class of 1971.

Both the new graduates and the new President of Hillsdale College are lucky to be associated with such a school.

Traditionally, commencement addresses take far too long and say far too little. But today I have something quite short and very much to the point to say to you.

It is a fine thing to be associated with a good college–whether as students, alumni, faculty, administration, trustees, or president. I am very proud of my new association. But pride in past performance is not enough. These are perilous times for higher education. Declining standards and declining revenues face America’s colleges on every hand.

Yet the picture is far from dark at Hillsdale. The leadership and wisdom of Chancellor Phillips has given us a standard of excellence upon which we can build. The same fine board of trustees whose dedication and support have meant so much to the school is still on hand to help in maintaining that standard of excellence–to help in keeping Hillsdale the fine school it is, while building the even finer school it can become.

If we are to carry on the tasks so nobly advanced by Chancellor Phillips and all those trustees, faculty, staff, friends, and supporters who have worked with him in the past, it is absolutely necessary that we keep clearly in mind the goal of educating the responsible individual. If the education we offer here is to be worthy of the name, it must produce graduates capable of making their own decisions. Freedom-oriented education demands freedom-oriented schools. Hillsdale must remain independent of any political ties. We have paid our way in the past, and we must do so in the future.

Independence from any sort of political financing is thus an absolute prerequisite for a proper educational institution. But it is only a first step. Independence by itself is not enough. It must be accompanied by an aggressive pursuit of academic excellence, an emphasis upon fine classroom teaching, an emphasis upon an academic environment in which genuine development of the individual student can take place.

A college committed to complete independence, committed to academic excellence, committed to maintenance and further development of the finest liberal arts curriculum, can hold its head up in any company. I charge you, the Members of the Hillsdale College Class of 1971, with the responsibility to demonstrate to this country the capacities possessed by self-responsible, self-disciplined individuals–capacities you have developed in the Hillsdale educational atmosphere which properly values the individual student.

I charge all the rest of us, students, alumni, friends, faculty, trustees, and administration of Hillsdale College, with the responsibility to defend and strengthen the College’s commitment to academic excellence, complete independence, and a program strongly oriented toward producing the sort of self-reliant, self-responsible, truly educated young individuals who are graduating from Hillsdale today.

There is work enough here for all of us–and God willing, we can do no less.

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3 thoughts on “When a Long-Lost Treasure is Found…

  1. Shana says:

    Thanks for sharing. This is a great message that’s still relevant 42 years later! I know that the politicalization that he talks about is one of the biggest things that I didn’t like about my experience as a student at MSU and ultimately caused me to transfer.

    I hadn’t realized he was only 34 when he became the President of Hillsdale College. Wow!

    • maggiemurphy says:

      Thanks Shana! I double checked my math; he was actually 36. We used to joke that he started as the youngest college president and left the oldest 😉

  2. Kip says:

    Thank you for posting this. GCR was exceptional; a great good man. He had an immeasurable impact on my life (since, among other things, it was he who made the financing of my college education possible), even though I did not fully appreciate that during my college years. His memory lives on, as does his legacy.

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