Few men espouse the philosophy of free enterprise as consistently and articulately as Dr. George Charles Roche III, the president of Michigan's Hillsdale College. Although only 43, his record as an administrator willing to challenge the federal government is an impressive one. To help alleviate in new areas the impositions of big government, Roche has recently taken a leave of absence from Hillsdale—in an effort to become the next United States Senator from Michigan.
The roots of Roche's commitment to individualism can be traced to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado of which he is a native. "Our family was not poor," he recalls, "but we had to work hard for a living. There was a strong preference for self-determination and responsibility—the values implicit in an earlier, pioneer America."
Roche's subsequent education and work experience reinforced these familial preferences, and allowed him to develop a political, economic, and philosophical rationale that was both free-thinking and devoted to free market principles. He received his A.B. from Denver's Regis College and then served two years as a Marine Corps officer. His M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, both in history, were awarded by the University of Colorado, where he also taught for one year. After teaching history and philosophy at the Colorado School of Mines, Roche was appointed director of seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education, a position he held for five years until becoming the 11th president of Hillsdale College in 1971.
Hillsdale College, a small (1100 students), coeducational, private school in southern Michigan has gained national attention due to the efforts of Roche and an unlikely partner—the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare [see "The College that Told Uncle Sam Where to Go," REASON, August, 1977]. HEW claims that Hillsdale is a recipient institution of federal aid because 205 students, as individuals, accept veterans' benefits and government loans to pay for their tuition. According to Washington, that means the college must conform with all of HEW's affirmative action programs and other requirements imposed on educational institutions that accept government funds.
For all of its 133 years, Hillsdale College's campus has been open to blacks and females and has never taken a penny of federal aid, a tradition it does not intend to disrupt. As president, Roche rallied conservative forces and launched a three-year $29 million fund raising drive, $14.7 million of which is earmarked for scholarships. "We have already raised $12 million for the endowment fund," reports Roche, "and we have effectively beaten HEW into a corner. Our stand against HEW is unique and by this stand we have dramatized the case for the private sector."
Now that the fights have been fought and Hillsdale is in good shape financially and academically, Roche has decided to run for the United States Senate seat held by veteran Republican Robert Griffin. "My political interest is comparatively new," states Roche, "and I would much rather remain in the private sector; but if someone does not do something soon, there won't be any chances left to mount an opposition. It is in order to protect and preserve the private sector that I seek an office in the public sector." Roche prefers the private sector where an individual can speak his own mind, but the political sector receives much more attention and one of his objectives is to attain high visibility for the anti-big government cause. Although he does not minimize the obstacles in his way, he sees a significant chance of winning the Republican nomination—and perhaps victory in November. "If it is done in a major industrial state like Michigan," he says, "the whole country will watch. The reconstitution of the fibers of our country is possible because it's our country too—and we can take it back."
To date, there have been impressive signs of support for Roche's candidacy. He has received statewide recognition from Republicans in the form of contributions and Party-sponsored social gatherings. Response from state Republican headquarters has been favorable. Financially, Roche leads all other declared candidates, and his campaign staff reports that he has just hit the $200,000 mark. Roche also has been well received by the media in Michigan with coverage throughout the state on radio, TV, and newspapers.
The principle behind Roche's approach to life is a strong commitment to privacy and individual integrity. He sees a crucial importance to instilling a moral sense in individuals. If the world does not understand this, it's sad but, emphasizes Roche, "It doesn't change anything, we still have the responsibility to do what is right."
Vigorous campaigns for Hillsdale College and the United States Senate have necessarily limited time with his family, the pastime Roche values most. But the support of his family, and that of the college community, has encouraged him to do battle with considerable success against a formidable foe.
Dr. Roche lists the HEW stand, the strengthened academic and financial position of Hillsdale College, and five books on political philosophy, education, and affirmative action as the accomplishments he views with the most pride. Defenders of civil and economic liberties can rest assured that Roche will not rest on his laurels; whatever the outcome of the Michigan Senate contest, Dr. George Charles Roche III will continue in his private and public capacities to champion freedom.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: George C. Roche III".