The King's College (New York)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.

About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

  • Rob

    Good post, and agreed on all counts. For all his flaws–and they are myriad and infuriating–I am still relieved that our mutual alma mater actually selected an academic as its president several years ago.

  • Jay

    I applaud almost everything you say here. Just a bit curious, though: how is it that the man’s marital fidelity is an issue about which you “couldn’t care less”? Granted, D’Souza should not have been hired in the first place. And there were plenty of grounds for King’s either to not hire him or to dismiss him on the basis of his sheer quackery. But I am trying to understand how his marital faithfulness doesn’t warrant any concern. Have you so thoroughly abandoned your own evangelical convictions that it has become necessary for you to ape a kind of Manhattan-cool about something as fuddy-duddy as marriage vows?

    • http://www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/david-sessions.html David Sessions

      Jay, I’m not sure this is an issue of marital fidelity; he claims that he’s been separated from his wife for two years, and based on everything I’ve been able to find out from people around Kings, that’s true. Sure, becoming engaged to someone you met three months ago while you’re still married is pretty crass, but seeing someone else after a two-year separation with a divorce pending is just not that big of a deal.

      • Jay

        “seeing someone else after a two-year separation with a divorce pending is just not that big of a deal.”

        Yeah, it is kind of a big deal. Fidelity to marriage vows isn’t merely a matter of not committing adultery. That King’s might want to hire someone as its next president who holds his or her spouse in higher esteem than his/her career would seem a non-negotiable, as far as I am concerned. And that’s not the kind of person they hired last time around.

      • Rob

        David,

        I was rather expecting you would respond with the old dichotomous “public/private” (or professional/private) trope, claiming that one’s private indiscretions have nothing to do with one’s public persona or competency. In which case, we could have had a lively discussion.

        In this case, though, you seem to have made a rather bohemian remark–to be charitable, and for lack of a better word. In the civilized world–especially the corner of civilization occupied by conservative Christians–it is regarded as immoral, if not declasse, to see other women publicly when a divorce is still pending–unless one is comfortable taking on “blame” for wrecking one’s own marriage, cheating on one’s spouse, etc.

        • Neil Wilson

          Fascinating comment. So I take it that by your argument if the conservative Christian world is supposedly committed to truth and righteousness that De Sousa should have been disqualified for a leadership role due to his seeing woman while still technically married – then why on earth do they so strongly endorse Mitt Romney for President? After all he is a Mormon Bishop a leader of something that all conservative Christians regard as a cult whose members are not saved and therefore are going to perdition.

      • Scott

        I guess my question is as follows:

        How are we supposed to believe that you “couldn’t care less” about D’Souza’s marital issues when you link to an article YOU wrote about the issue in the Daily Beast? Did you not care about it then? Or do you not care about it now that he’s left King’s?

        I realize that this wasn’t the point of your article (I thought your article was a bit on the overly-venomous side at the beginning, but towards the end you became more level-headed), but that line really struck me as odd.

        It’s as if you don’t mind holding people accountable to their marriage oaths when it is a means to an end (embarrassing D’Souza), but you don’t want to be seen as this uncool “Christian” who actually cares about adultery and such.

        “I mean, it’s cool and I don’t care at all, but that guy totally shared a hotel room with a woman who isn’t his wife, again NO BIG DEAL or anything, and I seriously don’t care at all, but you can go read my article all about it at the Daily Beast, not that I care one way or another about infidelity.”

  • http://baylyblog.com/ Tim Bayly

    Taking just your first criterion, fat chance. My home’s been in Wheaton, Madison, Boulder, Boston, and now Bloomington, IN, and the worst thing King’s could do is require experience in higher educational administration. These people are utterly craven. Given the failure of American colleges and universities to provide anything other than vocational ed and indoctrination, if King’s wants a prez who will lead her profs to profess, she should find someone who has refused to play the game. And honestly, I think that means going off the continent, back to where an education is still (somewhat) that.

    • http://www.thedailybeast.com/contributors/david-sessions.html David Sessions

      Tim, I’d respond, but I’m not sure what you’re saying. If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the actual university world I’m familiar with.

    • Rob

      Tim,

      Like David, I would like more clarification of your concerns. On the one hand, it seems that we probably share some sympathies: higher education bureaucrats are, in the main, ridiculous and insufferable. (And we could go on for days about the fact that most American colleges are heavily over-administered.) But, in spite of all that, the college presidency is a necessary position, and it should go to someone who is a) an academic and not merely a career bureaucrat and b) someone with demonstrable experience in academic administration, having served as a department chair, dean, provost, or a similar position. It should not go to a pseudo-intellectual figurehead.

  • Pingback: Goodbye, Dinesh D'Souza

  • Keith Jenkins

    David, as a career academic professional (2 master’s degree and a PhD) who has served as VPAA at several schools and president at one, I applaud your views on the importance of hiring leaders with academic, as well as personal, integrity, and who have been tempered and proven themselves in the fires of serious scholarly endeavors. I would take issue with your recommendations on one point, though. You advise against hiring a seminary-educated president. I have a seminary degree from Duke University, but my doctorate is in a non-theological discipline from a secular research university (Rice, in Houston). While it is true that many DMin degrees (or other theological doctorates) don’t require serious scholarship, and some aren’t worth the paper their diploma is printed on, many mainline seminaries in this country have first-class graduate programs and award completely credible research doctorates (ThD or PhD mostly).

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