King’s Students Respond

We’ve already been receiving a flurry of letters responding to Jonathan D. Fitzgerald’s essay about The King’s College in the Empire State Building, “Whose College?” Reid Rogers, in Auburn, Alabama, offered some grateful words:

I am a former King’s College student, though not a graduate. After reading your article, I feel you have articulated much I had not felt comfortable saying. Namely, the school’s adoption of “God, Money, Power,” and as I see it, it’s absolute contradiction to the Gospel. I just missed your teaching at King’s, I left in the Spring of 2009 in order to transfer to Auburn University and complete my degree in Social Work, and about to begin my graduate work back at NYU. There are times I miss the community within King’s, even miss the rigor of education. I’m back at a University where pajamas rule the classroom, and there’s a bit of Kingsian left in me as I find myself unable to dress down quite so much. However, diving into a field surrounded with people who follow a code of ethics devoted to the pursuit of social and economic justice has been an encouragement unmatched by anything.

I appreciate your article, and hope that you did find enjoyment in your students. They are a wonderful bunch, and as you correctly acknowledged, many have spoken out against the changes and the values they find inappropriately instituted.

A bit more critical is a letter from Matthew Kaal, in Brooklyn, who thinks that Fitzgerald didn’t capture the nature of TKC’s conservatism accurately. One hopes that he is right:

I attended King’s from August 2006 until December 2009, when I graduated, and during my time witnessed much of the right-wing shift that is described in the post.  It is undeniable that Stan Oakes and Marvin Olasky aimed at re-focusing the mission and vision of the college toward the right, but it would be inaccurate to say that they were entirely successful in convincing anyone but themselves (and perhaps Mr. Fitzgerald) that they were successful.  I think it is also important to note that neither is now in a position of real authority within the college, and their exits did not cause despair, but in many quarters created a feeling of optimism and renewed focus.

Many of the internal arguments Mr. Fitzgerald cites seem surprisingly out of date, and are not entirely accurate in their presentation.  It is true that “God, Money, Power” was a popular phrase of Stan Oakes (one that was stenciled for a time over a receptionist’s desk in a corner), however, Stan’s failure to define what he meant by it lead to much tension between the administration and the students and faculty.  The citation of Dr. Carle’s comments on the matter comes from the defunct “Gadfly,” which stopped publishing (in print and online) prior to Mr. Fitzgerald’s time at the college. Mr. Fitzgerald fails to note that much of the controversy surrounding this phrase no longer exists.  The faculty have voted against its usage, the infamous stencil has been painted over, and it is more frequently used satirically than seriously.

It is true that by and large the students and faculty are conservative, but thoughtfully so. One could rightly characterize our conservatism as a Burkean conservatism which values continuity and tradition; a conservatism grounded in faith and guided by a earnest desire to seek the good, and practically accomplish it through the application of logic and reason. King’s embrace of such a strain of conservatism is hardly something to fault—it provides an alternative to the common trend of progressivism within American higher-ed, and might breathe new life into debates and discussions which have grown stale and one sided.

To confuse principled conservatism with tea-party fundamentalism is to draw up a straw man in the image of a horde of young Sean Hannitys or Sarah Palins, and completely misunderstand many of the young men and women who sacrifice better opportunities elsewhere to join the noble experiment going on at King’s. Our graduates are all still young, and by and large have not earned notoriety or fame; they are instead paying their dues and working out the mission of the college in their ordinary lives, with beginner-level jobs (which a surprisingly high number of them have successfully landed and kept, considering the economy)… this is hardly something to disdain, but rather to praise.

Thanks for your letters, Reid and Matthew. Others: feel free to weigh in in the comments below!