This article has been updated at the end.
Columnist Stanley Fish interviewed D’Souza last week to elicit his response to Times’ readers’ objections to both D’Souza’s arguments in 2016: Obama’s America and Fish’s critique of the film.
The documentary has grossed more than $26 million in seven weeks, becoming the second-highest grossing political documentary behind Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11.
D’Souza has mostly managed to keep King’s separate from his quest to tell President Barack Obama’s story, often referring to himself in the media as simply “a college president.”
Times readers, however, linked D’Souza to King’s. So Fish asked D’Souza how he would characterize The King’s College:
Some readers characterized [T]he King’s College, of which you are the president, as “barely above correspondence level,” a place where little science except creationist science is taught, a venue for the promotion of Christian doctrine rather than a genuine liberal arts college devoted to open inquiry. How would you characterize the college? …
After describing King’s as “a quite selective liberal arts college,” D’Souza said, “We don’t teach creationism and we don’t teach Christian doctrine. We do teach the New Testament and the Old Testament, but in a scholarly way.”
He also said, “Our students are not being prepared to enter seminaries, but to go to Goldman Sachs and Capitol Hill and Shanghai, where, from a liberal point of view, they will be even more dangerous.”
One “Times pick” reader comment swept King’s center-stage into the discussion. “I checked their website and they appear to be both an accredited college and one of those right wing pseudo-colleges,” ‘Physics Dad’ from Charlotte wrote. “Their curriculum appears to be aimed at indoctrinating an army of Christian Soldiers.”
The comment was recommended by other readers 111 times as of Wednesday evening.
Students and faculty have mixed reactions. Some students are asking if President D’Souza has sat in an Old or New Testament class.
“I’m not sure I agree with President D’Souza’s specific wording, but I suspect that his point isn’t what most people think,” Student Body President Sam Tran said. “I think he’s attempting to draw a distinction between blind doctrinal teaching and the careful study of the doctrines.”
Josh Linder, director of communications on The King’s Council, said D’Souza’s statement about King’s not teaching Christian doctrine is “understandably concerning amidst worries that King’s is becoming a conservative school, not a Christian one.”
However, Linder believes D’Souza’s comment in context is an attempt to distance King’s from non-scholarly colleges.
“Both King’s and Bible Colleges do teach Christian doctrine, in the sense that Christian doctrines are treated as a legitimate set of presuppositions students and faculty can approach the academic disciplines with and King’s explains how those doctrines affect different fields of study in a way that most institutions do not,” he said. “But I think D’Souza’s point is that we don’t teach Christian doctrine in the sense that King’s doesn’t require students to agree with the college.”
Faculty are required to sign a statement of faith, but students are not.
As for King’s itself, the “About King’s” page online says, “the College teaches a compelling worldview rooted in the Bible and informed by close study of great works of philosophy, political theory, and economics.”
In D’Souza’s first speech to the college Aug. 27, 2010, he laid out a vision of a King’s College that would engage secularism and affirm the truths of Christianity.
“In a way we are more open and inclusive than secular institutions: in their quest for truth they focus on secular knowledge and leave out the Bible and Christianity,” he said, according to a transcription of the speech. “We too are after truth, but we are willing to examine all angles, all points of view, the secular option and the Christian option.”
Linder urges dissatisfied students to write a letter to President D’Souza.
“If students really care about the college, they will respond to these incidents by engaging the people involved personally, not attacking platonic forms, and by bringing solutions, not accusations to the table,” he said.
President D’Souza, Provost David Newton and Associate Provost Robert Jackson were unavailable for comment.
UPDATE 9/13/12: President D’Souza emailed the student body, staff and faculty Thursday afternoon, admitting he misspoke.
“While attempting to describe King’s as a liberal arts college, I mistakenly said ‘we don’t teach Christian doctrine,’” D’Souza said in the email. ”Clearly King’s teaches Christian doctrine.”
D’Souza said he “was trying to describe King’s as a community where open inquiry and scholarly effort lead to a more holistic view of the world—one that needs not choose between faith and reason, religion and science, etc. Whether deliberately or not, Fish led me down a dark alley, where I momentarily lost sight of the terms.”
“As the historical record shows, Christianity—with its doctrines and the development of a robust worldview—produced the university and the tradition of liberal arts colleges,” he said in the email. “This is no either/or; it’s not a choice between Christian doctrine and open inquiry. Indeed, Christian doctrine made possible the venue of higher education, where open inquiry has thrived for nearly a millennium.”