PLANK OCTOBER 16, 2012
Updated 10/18/12: Dinesh D'Souza resigned his position as president of The King's College on October 18, 2012, after two days of meetings with the school's board of trustees. The board chair and now-interim president Andy Mills announced D'Souza's resignation, and told faculty and students, "I have to admit, I got a little over-enamored with him," according to King's student newspaper. In a written statement defending himself on Wednesday, D'Souza insisted that his wife asked him for a divorce two years ago, and blamed the World magazine story on personal "bitterness" toward him from editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky, citing the story below. However, D'Souza did acknowledge he had made one crucial mistake: "I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced."
If you detected a whiff of schadenfreude in the air today, it is probably connected to the story of Dinesh D’Souza and his lady-friend. D’Souza is a conservative political commentator and author whose conspiracy-laden movie 2016: Obama’s America has been breaking box-office records for political films. He has also been married for 20 years to his wife Dixie, who he has credited with encouraging his evolution from mostly-Catholic to mostly-evangelical. Last month, D’Souza spoke at a religious conference in South Carolina, but instead of bringing along Dixie, he squired a woman at least 20 years his junior and introduced her as his fiancée. Only a few weeks later did D’Souza file for divorce.
Needless to say, this sort of thing is frowned upon in the conservative religious circles in which D’Souza is usually celebrated. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the story was broken by Warren C. Smith, a writer and associate publisher for the evangelical World magazine. The publication has a history of covering problems within the evangelical world, and it has not shied away from stories about preacher scandals or church abuse of women. But this particular story may have interested the magazine for a different reason: World’s editor-in-chief is Marvin Olasky, the sometime Bush advisor who is no fan of D’Souza.
Olasky has been editor-in-chief at World for more than a decade. But in 2007, he shifted most of his focus when he was named provost for The King’s College, an evangelical school housed in the Empire State Building in New York City. Originally an unremarkable Christian college located in Westchester County and run by fundamentalist but apolitical leaders, King’s was re-launched in the mid-1990s with the purpose of bringing conservative culture warriors into the heart of the secular city.
Only a few hundred students are enrolled at King’s, which provides a choice of only two majors—business and politics/economics. The school offers no science classes, and students reportedly complained early on in Olasky’s tenure that he weakened academic standards. One of his main efforts at King’s was a guest lecture series that mostly brought in conservative heavyweights like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, but also invited the occasional liberal for ambushing. After one such event at which Olasky harangued Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas—who can hold his own when it comes to harangues—the student government at King’s was so appalled that it voted to rebuke Olasky and demand he apologize to Hauerwas. (He did not.) I endured a similarly unpleasant experience with Olasky when I spoke at King’s in 2009. It is the closest I have ever come to walking out in the middle of an event.
With his high profile in the conservative world, Olasky was the face of King’s, and in 2010 he declared that one of his roles as provost was to make sure that the school “remains firmly in the Protestant, evangelical tradition.” Not long after, King’s hired D’Souza to serve as the school’s president. D’Souza sometimes identifies as an evangelical, sometimes as a Catholic, and his hiring raised eyebrows in the Christian press. Those eyebrows lifted even further when, just a few months after D’Souza’s hiring, Olasky resigned his position.
Olasky’s vague explanation for his departure didn’t help matters. When Christianity Today contacted him about the resignation, Olasky replied: “It will come as no surprise to you that Dinesh D’Souza and I have different ideas about some things. I’d like to leave it at that and not do an interview.” Those differences certainly extend to the theological orientation of King’s, although Christianity Today reported that D’Souza signed an evangelical statement of faith before coming aboard as president. But it’s also very likely that a school of two-dozen faculty is simply too small for two such forceful and uncompromising personalities.
The King’s College board will discuss D’Souza’s situation at meetings later this week and surely has some questions for its celebrity president. Divorce is still a tricky subject for many evangelicals. In a 1998 New York Times Magazine profile of Olasky, David Grann noted that the conservative did not reveal—and in fact seemed eager to hide—a first marriage that ended in divorce. But if divorce is a no-no, brazen flaunting of mistresses is something else entirely.