The apparent impending demise of The King’s College is instructive about the pitfalls lying in wait for even the best-intentioned institutions of higher education.

Peter Wood:

Every college and university has a history. Students and faculty members typically have only a hazy idea of what came before their time, but that history still bears down on the present. TKC was founded in the 1930s by a popular radio minister. It moved several times before acquiring a campus up the Hudson at Briarcliff Manor. As a consequence of some bad financial planning, the college closed in the mid 1990s, but it kept its New York State charter. In the late 1990s, with financing from the Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “Cru”), the college re-opened on several floors of the Empire State Building. 

At that point the college had a campus of sorts, a handful of staff and faculty, a lot of unwarranted confidence, and very few realistic ideas about how to proceed. It tried a variety of contradictory approaches loosely centered on the idea that it was going to bring Christian higher education to the heart of Manhattan. But it had no coherent curriculum or any compelling reason for students to attend. The figure from Cru who had engineered the college’s re-opening, J. Stanley Oakes, slowly came to grips with the problem. He settled on the idea that TKC would strive to be an academically rigorous college that would serve students whose profiles would have fit them for elite liberal arts colleges but who wanted an explicitly Christian education. “Christian” in this context meant something like “evangelical Protestant” with something of a Baptist flavor. 

I was at the time serving as associate provost and the president’s chief of staff at Boston University. I had never heard of TKC, but Oakes had heard of me, and in his view I fit like a key into the lock: an evangelical Christian with considerable administrative experience in a large secular university. He offered me the provost’s position at TKC and I said no.

But after a few years of saying no and after various unwelcome changes at my secular university, I decided to give TKC a try. Oakes offered me a free hand in recruiting faculty and developing the curriculum, and he was as good as his word. I offered him the prospect of an intellectually demanding curriculum that would quickly weed out the students who were not up for the adventure.