The King's College (TKC) raised eyebrows in Christian higher education circles when it selected Dinesh D'Souza as its president in 2010. The author and pundit had little administrative experience, but TKC saw his potential to raise the school's profile (and funds).
Two years later, D'Souza—now best known for two books and a film criticizing the presidency of Barack Obama—resigned. This followed reports of his appearance with a new fiancée while still legally married to his wife of 20 years.
The day of the resignation, one TKC student asked interim president Andy Mills if the college would distinguish itself from D'Souza's approach to politics.
"[TKC] is a Christian college. Period," Mills said. He reiterated the point in an interview with CT. "We are reaffirming the reason students came here. Students come here for the [Christian] mission and vision."
In the presidential search that led to D'Souza's hiring, TKC published a list of "'true ideas' that distinguish King's within … higher education," including "biblical competition" and the right to "seek prosperity and risk bankruptcy." TKC no longer lists these on its website.
TKC was not the only Christian school to include economic and political theory among its core commitments. But changes have been afoot at similar schools that have positioned themselves as conservative in more than just theology.
Gene Edward Veith, provost at Patrick Henry College, says his school's conservatism has become "more sophisticated" since its founding in 1998. What he described as a "meltdown" in conflict between faculty and administrators six years ago "was mainly a matter of the institution maturing and going through some disillusionment struggles," he said. "I see that happening across the board. Christian activists who get involved with politics soon find that things are not so simple as getting Christians elected."
Meanwhile, Colorado Christian University includes in its strategic objectives support of "traditional family values" and "sanctity of life," but also "limited government," "free markets," and "original intent of the Constitution." But spokesman Ron Benton says the school wants "to be known as a Christian university first and foremost."
Many more Christian schools used to have explicit ties with cultural and political conservatism, says Allen Guelzo, professor of history at Gettysburg College. But some have tried to "return to center."
"There are many pressures against being known as a conservative institution," he said.
But Guelzo says it is good news if TKC students truly want more doctrine instead of politics. "Doctrinal integrity is number one," he said. "There will be issues that lead politically from that."
Mills agrees. "We've got to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy between the idea of being faith-based on the one hand and the idea of engagement on the other," he said. "I don't think we want to set the two against each other."
But the D'Souza incident serves as a warning for administrators at other Christian colleges, said David Dockery, president of Union University and author of The Future of Christian Higher Education.
"We have to be reminded that our calling is to serve the kingdom of God and the church through Christian higher education, first and foremost," he said. "When the focus is only in the cultural sphere, we run the risk of missing our calling."
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