Students and faculty at The King’s College should be thrilled to be rid of Dinesh D’Souza. He was, at best, an expensive PR stunt who would have, I have no doubt, eventually compromised the college’s strong academics for some sort of right-wing hackery, probably a scheme involving profit. In my reporting on the scandal the past week, I heard both that the board was unsatisfied with his performance and that it remained deeply enthralled by him. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they were smarter than the latter option, and that they were blinded to who D’Souza actually is by their need for a big name two years ago. Now that we see how that worked out, they have the chance to go back to square one and pick someone who can make King’s into the school it thinks it is (and has the faculty and students to be).
Just what I wrote in my brief Newsweek profile this week, all information that was freely available in 2010, should have been enough to disqualify D’Souza from being president of King’s. I began last week with a pretty dim opinion of D’Souza and, incredibly, he turned out to be even worse than I realized. (And this has nothing to do with the marriage situation, about which I couldn’t care less.) The guy has never written a graduate-level thesis or dissertation and never published a peer-reviewed article. He has quite literally written the same book over and over to make money. The only work he’s done that anyone considered semi-serious was approaching two decades ago, and we don’t even need to talk about the more recent stuff. But it’s fun, so we will: The Roots of Obama’s Rage is a deeply insane book that was panned by every critic who reviewed it. Like so much of his previous work, its racial undertone is offensive, to put it mildly, without justification. D’Souza had, as always, nothing to offer but excuses, evasions, and accusations of a conspiracy against him.
D’Souza is a product of the corner-cutting conservative machine, which is desperate to promote anyone young, female, non-white, or scholarly, all demographics that are typically not very interested in conservatism. You see this day and night on the movement right, and it explains the bounty of attractive Fox News pundits who wouldn’t know an argument if it bit them in face, and all the smart young conservative journalists and think-tankers who were allowed to skip crucial training and become insufferable just because the conservative movement is so desperate for new blood. D’Souza was bright, did a ton of research and got a lot of attention, so he was plucked out by the big conservative institutions at a young age. He wasn’t made to sit through mind-numbing graduate seminars, wade through an overwhelming amount of scholarly research, and forge something original that he was actually able to defend. He got fame and money quickly, so really, why would he bother doing slow, boring academic work for years or hold a job that didn’t get him on TV or the New York Times bestseller list? It’s a perfectly reasonable choice for him to make, but that does not mean scholarly institutions have to continue giving him jobs.
This is free advice, conservatives: conservative schools, magazines, think-tanks, whatever, are never going to compete until you stop hiring these people. Until you make somebody do the work, your institutions will never have anything worthwhile to offer, and will always be relegated to some kind of parallel universe where no one takes them seriously. The absolute worst thing you can do for your twenty-somethings is give them promotions that outstrip their work, just because they are superficially useful to your ultimate political/financial goals. The lesson is that rewards come automatically, and that money and fame accompany…just being relatively smart and able to spout some Republican talking points. In the real world, that mostly doesn’t happen, and setting up a fake universe where 22-year-olds get cable news contracts and political book deals is not preparing anybody to exist anywhere except in conservative fantasyland. This is mostly the fault of right-wing rich people who aren’t really interested in ideas, they just want to subsidize a return to the past by whatever hackish means necessary. And then they wonder why the liberal media is so critical.
All that said, I don’t think the King’s College is one of those sort of hackish, corner-cutting institutions. Its professors and students are serious people, and the education they get is rigorous, challenging, and respectable. It makes sense that D’Souza was a bad fit, and I think that had something to do with his quick departure. I hope so. But if it happened once, then it could happen again, so here are some base-level requirements for the presidential search committee:
- Candidates should have previously worked in an administrative role at a college or university.
- They should have a doctoral degree, not from a seminary or (if possible) an evangelical college.
- They should not have profitable projects that are far more important to them, financially and ideologically, than fulfilling the duties of the presidency of the college.
- They should not be the author of any, much less many, books that virtually any academic, from any discipline or ideological background, would be likely to describe as “nutty,” “hackish,” “absurd,” “sloppy,” “pseudo-intellectual,” etc.
- They should not be widely known to hold conspiratorial, partisan political views.
- They should not view the students of The King’s College as potential weapons against liberals or any other cultural bogeymen.
- They should be absolutely committed to funding the liberal arts education of TKC students, i.e., not overly enamored of faddish business models, higher ed “reform” projects, and meaningless “leadership” jargon.
Sticking to that level of criteria may not give King’s the most “buzz” or make it the most edgy name in Christian colleges. It may remain relatively unheard of for 10 or 20 years. But it already has a lot going for it—strong academics, small class size, New York City—and building a real academic reputation will be more than worth it in the long run.
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