If you look at the $30,000,000 box office sales for his film 2016: Obama’s America, it would seem that Dinesh D’Souza is very in.
But at King’s College in Manhattan, D’Souza is out. According to a recent story by Warren Cole Smith at WORLD magazine, D’Souza has stepped down as the high-profile president of King’s College. Smith had reported a few days earlier on the tensions among King’s leadership. D’Souza had ruffled some feathers when he appeared with a woman who was not his wife, shared a hotel room with her, and introduced her as his fiancee. D’Souza had separated from his long-time spouse, but had not yet been officially divorced.
More interesting for ILYBYGTH readers than the Gossip Girl-ing involved, the story sheds some revealing light on the nature and institutional structure of King’s College itself. As historian John Fea has remarked, the leadership of King’s College embarked on a remarkable re-branding in the mid-1990s. It shifted from a small, quiet, conservative evangelical Westchester County college to an aggressive culture-war college in the heart of Manhattan. The “new” King’s College narrowed its scope, offering only business and politics/economics majors. The goal of the revised school was to bring conservative evangelical leadership to the heart of New York City.
As journalist Amy Sullivan noted in her piece in The New Republic about the King’s College shake-up, the rivalry between long-time provost Marvin Olasky and D’Souza likely contributed to the scandal.
It seems charismatic conservative evangelical leaders will continue to struggle with such issues. King’s College represents a long tradition of “new” approaches to fundamentalist higher education. Liberty University was founded in 1971 with the same purpose. Even further back, this goal of teaching a new generation of conservative evangelical students to compete for the levers of cultural and political power has roots in the culture-war struggles of the 1920s. As I argued in my 1920s book, college and seminary founders such as those at Dallas Theological Seminary and Bob Jones University explicitly set out to create schools that would train fundamentalist leaders for mainstream politics, religion, and culture.
Back in the 1920s, such schools wrestled with the same tensions that bedevil King’s College today: How can we institutionalize the uncompromising theology that so often thrives only under the leadership of charismatic individuals? How can we remain true to our mission of training students in the specific doctrines of our faith while preparing them to engage with the wider world? How can we retain the loyalty of those who want a firmly conservative evangelical institution, while convincing the world that our graduates have had the kind of broad education they might get at a more pluralistic college?