Let's Be Who We Are
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College
The King’s College is experiencing an identity crisis. We are trying to figure out who we are as a school. This is not the first crisis of self-definition that King’s has experienced—when Dinesh D’Souza was president, some students questioned whether King’s was truly a Christian school or a boot camp for the GOP’s agenda. Now the question is whether King’s can survive as a traditionally Christian, classical liberal arts school in New York City.
Some may not agree that King’s is experiencing a crisis at all, so let me describe what I think that crisis is. In an effort to grow quickly, King’s recruits numerous students every year who do not care for the college’s mission and ethos. Interregnum was a perfect illustration of this—while Marvin Olasky, this year’s Interregnum speaker, did make a few unusual claims, most of the comments that angered students were actually statements of belief about marriage and sexuality that Christians have held since the time of the Apostles.
Furthermore, many students had no interest in Interregnum whatsoever and complained about having to attend.
"In an effort to grow quickly, King’s recruits numerous students every year who do not care for the college’s mission and ethos."
Interregnum represents many of the things that make King’s distinctive—intellectual seriousness and curiosity, a commitment to understanding the tradition of ideas that have shaped our civilization, and a commitment to examine our lives in community so that we can consciously live in accordance with our faith in Christ. Yet, every year students complain about having to show up to Interregnum, or whine about their required American Political Thought and Practice (APTAP) class as if they are high school students being forced to attend school instead of college students who willingly chose to pay $40,000 a year to attend a rigorous classical Christian college with unique traditions like Houses, Interregnum, and an Honor Code.
Although there are several factors in this development, one major cause of it is the way that King’s presents itself to prospective students. It is common for freshmen at King’s to find that the school is nothing like how it is often advertised—the classes can be intensely difficult, underage drinking is prohibited, and integration into one’s House requires a significant amount of initiative on the part of the new student.
Yet it is not entirely the fault of the new students for thinking these things, because King’s often fails to present itself as it really is—a Christian college committed to handing on the liberal arts tradition for the purpose of training young people for leadership in service of the common good and for the glory of God. Instead of recruiting specific students who believe in that mission, King’s sends email blasts promising scholarships to anyone who has achieved a high enough SAT score.
High school seniors are drawn to the promise of an exciting life in New York City and the connections to jobs that King’s appears to possess and that ambitious students understandably crave. Assembling new classes of students devolves into getting enough students with good enough grades and SAT scores into the door to meet whatever quotas are handed down from the board of trustees.
Recruiting students that really are hungry for the challenge of mastering the Great Tradition in the confines of a tight-knit Christian community becomes a secondary goal. This does a disservice both to the college and to students who feel misled about what King’s really is. It’s not absolutely clear where to place fault--but a significant part of it must include unrealistic expectations of growth that presumably comes from the top.
"Recruiting students that really are hungry for the challenge of mastering the Great Tradition in the confines of a tight-knit Christian community becomes a secondary goal."
King’s has always had a contingent of students who care more about partying and New York City than they do about King’s, and that’s okay as long as the faculty and a core of students continue to shape the culture of the college to value the college’s Christian convictions and intellectual seriousness.
But events like this year’s Interregnum highlight the fact that the school’s culture is changing.
In some ways for the better, but in seriously bad ways as well. The board will need to strongly reconsider the demands it makes of the college’s recruitment policies if it wishes to preserve its identity as a classical Christian college.