During his three years as president of Regent University, Carlos Campo never walked away from controversy. He spoke out frequently about immigration reform, the lack of civil dialogue between Christians and the LGBT community, and his passion for "color-blind" higher education.
In his first interview since suddenly leaving Pat Robertson's school—its second president to depart mere weeks into the school year—Campo spoke this week with Tim Morgan, senior editor for global journalism. (CT also offers an extensive profile of Campo's rise from valet parker to university president and Latino evangelical leader within 10 years.)
Nobody seemed to see your resignation coming. It was a thunderclap for lots of folks. Did you see it coming?
I did see it coming. But when it occurred, it did come as a surprise. Regent has been an institution with a pretty volatile past in some ways. You know, folks come and go rather rapidly. And there were five previous presidents other than Dr. Robertson to me, and many of them left rather suddenly. So I knew it was likely to happen with me.
But it's not so unusual at a founder-led institution for there to be rapid change like this. And I think that's to be anticipated. I think people that know Regent well, if you were to go on campus and talk to folks, they would say they were not so surprised.
People are searching for clues. They are saying, "It was the 'Mission Congo' film." Or your advocacy for immigration reform. Can you shed any light on that?
Both university and myself have agreed to be pretty quiet. I did state that it was not the result of some sort of moral or fiscal crisis. When we talked about the timing of my leaving, we knew that—because we wouldn't be saying much—that this sort of speculation would occur. But it wasn't that.
Frankly, it wasn't 'Mission Congo.' When I came to Regent, there were folks who said, "If you align yourself with such a lightning rod, it will be academic suicide for you." But when I came, I didn't come for Pat Robertson. At Regent, I saw academics who were really committed to their discipline. I saw a trans-denominational and diverse campus. I fell in love with the students. Above all else, it was the student body that really attracted me to the campus.
Pat and I talked about my immigration stance early on. I could not have been as outspoken as I was if it were not for Dr. Robertson's support of that stance. Now I can't say that all of Regent's constituents felt the same way about that. And as much as I tried to downplay that, it did become one of those important issues. But it really did not play a role in all of this.
It's clear that Dr. Robertson wanted to take a more assertive administrative role. [And] I think most people see that that's clearly what's occurred. Dr. Robertson is a visionary. And there would be times when he would be not that involved, and then there would be times he would be very involved. And that, again, to me is pretty appropriate and typical of founder-led institutions. I understood going in that Dr. Robertson would be as involved as he wanted to be, and, frankly, it's his place.
When you think about the time and money and effort that has been put into Regent University by Pat Robertson, there's no denying it. It's extraordinary. And it's his right at some level to assert whatever appropriate role he feels is right to administrate his university.
A few years ago, if I had asked you was there any daylight between your vision for the school and Pat Robertson's vision, what would you have said?
What our hope was for the school was that the school really could become the embodiment of this institution that really lived out this "every tribe and every tongue" approach to education.
We really did believe Regent had, and perhaps still does, a unique opportunity to represent the fullness of the kingdom of God. I don't think T.D. Jakes being a distinguished professor at Regent would have happened a few years ago. I think that was all part of this intentionality to reach out and say if we can be a color-blind community of Christ and academics leading with excellence, it would really be a rich experience. A lot of folks really caught that vision. We may have missed an opportunity. But perhaps it's something that will carry forward.
Your resignation opens up many personal questions. Is this the ultimate reset button? Where are you at?
There were several offers that came in almost right away. We feel as though it is a good time to step back. We want to stay in kingdom-minded business. God has called us to have an impact on the broader kingdom in America. We don't want to jump into something too soon.
In the last few years, Christian higher education has been in a sweet spot in terms of enrollment. But we're seeing storm clouds—declining enrollments, rising expenses, huge debt levels for students. How do schools address these issues and make the case that a private Christian college is worth the expense?
One feeling is that there will be consolidation within the historically Christian colleges and universities.
What I'd like to see is that the schools would really zero on what makes them distinct, unique, and effective. We're not blessing the kingdom if we're not preparing students effectively for life and work. I'm not sure that we're doing that at the highest levels at all Christian colleges and universities.
It's the right time for those schools to say, you know what, we're not going to try to be all things to all people. We really need to broaden and tell our story better in terms of Christian scholarship.
The scandal of an evangelical mind really is past. But don't tell that to the general public. The thought pattern still is that somehow, there's this blind faith that glazes over any scholarship that's happening in Christian higher education, and of course that's not the case. There are some brilliant Christian scholars working across the globe at the very highest levels.
One of the things I really believe Christian higher ed should begin doing is being much more intentional about saying, "These are the values that matter in America."
We need to be in the forefront of these founding values and making sure that they are passed onto the next generation. That's my overview of what needs to happen in Christian higher ed. My hope is that Christian higher ed will consolidate, refine, and be much better positioned in 10 years than we are today.
What's job No. 1?
One of the things that Christian higher ed has not done well is not just working collaboratively within, but also finding those bridges into the broader community.
Look at the success of The Bible miniseries that was recently produced. It tells me that there's still an appetite in America to address these kinds of issues. So I believe that Christian higher ed has a huge opportunity to intersect journalistically, in media, and other ways.
We do need to go as a group to make our case—because if we make a case corporately, it will help us all individually. And I'm finding more and more CEOs at Christian colleges and universities understanding that we have such a depth of resources.
Do you see a more prominent role for yourself in the Latino community and immigration reform?
Because I am not at the head of Regent University, which did constrain my advocacy, I will be more vocal in the months ahead about this issue. It is an important, critical issue. I think it is obviously much broader than it generally is portrayed. We have to resolve the broad issue of an immigration policy that is clearly broken, particularly for Latinos in America, here in an undocumented state. It will resolve for them their own status and help us.
When you look back on that the 2010 episode with the LGBT community controversy at Regent, do you feel that you did the right thing in bringing LGBT leaders on campus for dialogue to resolve differences?
My belief is that Christ calls all people no matter what their sexual tendencies are. That none should perish. My hope is that we can have that Christ first call toward all people. But also to not deny what we believe what the Bible says regarding sexual purity and what that really means. There is a way for us to navigate this issue and not be seen in the ways that we have been seen.
It was one of the high points of my time at Regent. It humanized the issue. Where is the opposition to immigration reform the greatest? It's in those places there's been no interaction between immigrants and the native population.
The same thing is true with LGBT and Christians. We have been so separate and so vocal and vitriolic in our relationship. It has been anything but positive. We were able to sit down with the leaders of the LGBT community in Southeast Virginia and they saw us as people, people first. That really becomes one of the keys. That model works well. We have not led the way we should as Christians. We have a more powerful narrative.
Since your resignation, you must have more time on your hands. Are you going on a Disney cruise? You've got to do something that's fun, right?
I do love to play golf. My wife gives me a hard time. She says I have adult restless leg syndrome because I don't do leisure as well as I should. I love working, and I really do. I love working around young people who have a sense of purpose—even those that don't. This whole idea of helping kids find their own destiny is pretty exciting to me.
But there's still the itch to get back in the game.
Yes. No question. I will tell you that the outpouring of support, it must sound cliché, but it has been extraordinary, frankly overwhelming. Karen and I have been humbled, and we are so grateful. Both folks within the campus community at Regent and the broader Hampton Roads community.
We have this overarching hope for Regent. We did not leave with a sense of animus toward the institution, and really want it to thrive.