The King’s College Releases House Namesake Decisions

The College retains existing House namesakes and announces rubric for future namesakes, and will create a process by which Houses may explore a namesake change out of the desire to learn from other historical figures who constructively engaged with the Christian or classical traditions.

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Today I am sharing the results of the House namesake review process. It’s important to understand the history surrounding this review, the principles that guided these discussions, as well as the decisions regarding House namesakes.

Historical Overview

In July 2015, then-president Gregory A. Thornbury tasked a committee to review the racial climate on The King’s College campus. This committee issued its Findings Report in September 2016, followed by a series of proposals in April 2017. Two of those proposals are pertinent to the current namesake review effort: 1. That as the student body grows, The King’s College should add more Houses with minority namesakes and 2. That the College should compose a theological vision statement for diversity in the King’s community.

The size of the student body has not changed since 2017, so we have not yet acted upon the first item. Regarding the second, I appointed a new task force in February 2019 to research and write such a statement, what would become A Biblical-Theological Commitment to Unity and Diversity, to be published this summer.

During the spring semester of 2019, the Biblical-Theological Commitment to Unity and Diversity authors recommended that the College undertake a review of the ten House namesakes to gauge their suitability to further the College’s aims. In response to this suggestion, I commissioned a committee to review the ten House namesakes. As the charter for this committee was being crafted, several things transpired prior to the announcement of the Namesake Review Committee (NRC):

  • An October 1971 audio recording of Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, containing racially offensive comments to Richard Nixon about Tanzanian delegates to the United Nations, became public. This new information sparked a sense of urgency around questions regarding Reagan’s suitability as a namesake.
  • The College released a statement in response to the audio tapes that mentioned the already-planned namesake review.
  • Shortly thereafter, and acting independently of the College, some members of the House of Ronald Reagan, announced they would refer to themselves as “the House of Honor” until the College finished its review of the ten namesakes.

The ten members of the Namesake Review Committee met eight times from October 2019 to March 2020. I chose the committee members based on their fair-mindedness, discernment, care for students, and commitment to the distinctives of the College.[1] Their mandate was to identify areas of alignment and dis-alignment between the current namesakes and the College’s mission and values, and to articulate a list of qualifications for future House namesakes. To assist the Namesake Review Committee’s decisions, the College solicited input from students, staff, faculty, and alumni. They received written feedback from 48 individuals.[2] Members of the Namesake Review Committee, as well as the President’s Cabinet, read all of these letters.

After much debate and discussion, the NRC completed its review of each namesake, proposed criteria for new namesakes, and considered additional steps the College should take as it concerns House namesakes. Each committee member voted on these items and articulated the majority view in a Recommendations document for the President’s Cabinet. The Cabinet debated each of the recommendations and affirmed the majority voice represented in the Committee’s recommendations. [3]

Philosophical Framework

Before I share the decisions, I want to outline three principles that anchored this deliberative process to help illuminate how the NRC and Cabinet came to our decisions.

1. All human beings, of every race, ethnicity, and background, are beloved by God and worthy of respect and dignity.
The term “diversity” can be complicated. It has become a buzzword that means different things to different people and, to some, even mentioning it positions King’s on the “wrong side of the culture war.” But we should esteem diversity in so far as it advances true ideas drawn from the Bible about the dignity of all people. The following is an excerpt from the working draft of our forthcoming Biblical-Theological Commitment to Unity and Diversity:

Christian education must have a special commitment to cultivating the diverse cultures and perspectives within it, while also critically engaging them… Throughout Scripture, we see God working to bring together people from various racial and socio-economic backgrounds. This is central to God’s mission, not an optional addendum. The final eschatological vision of “every tribe, nation, and tongue” united before God’s throne illustrates the type of kingdom that God is building here and now.

Our Biblical-Theological Statement is not advocating for a “diversity” of ideas, in which truth value is irrelevant; it is advocating for the embrace of “every tribe, nation, and tongue.” Our decisions should be made in view of the dignity of all people, and those decisions will at times be uncomfortable. As Harlan Redmond said in a lecture at King’s in 2017, “If we are to be one, clothed in Christ Jesus, we need to do the work of becoming one. Inconvenience yourself to become one.”

2. The College is open to change within the scope of its mission and intellectual commitments.
Our mission is to transform society through our “commitment to the truths of Christianity and a biblical worldview.” The College’s existence rests on the idea that there is such a thing as truth, and we bear responsibility to act upon our best understanding of it. We acknowledge that our understanding is incomplete, but seek truth by studying politics, philosophy, and economics through the lens of the Scriptures and church tradition. We draw reasoned conclusions about how to advance human flourishing in our present and future—spiritually, politically, economically.

In this search for truth, The King’s College is open to change. However, because we know our own limited understanding and the temptation towards “chronological snobbery,” we seek change in a way that is thoughtful and deliberate. There are many historical figures who are worthy of being House namesakes, but our hopes must be realistically tempered. We cannot “root out evil” from a roster of namesakes. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed,

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart… This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil.

Instead, we will create a process through which Houses, in collaboration with vested parties (e.g. alumni, administration), may explore the process of retiring a namesake out of the desire to learn and benefit from another historical figure who perpetuated the Christian or classical traditions as they grappled with the issues of their day.

3. Any namesakes we choose will not live up to our ideals—but we can still learn from them, both in their strengths and weaknesses.
I want our Houses, in dialogue with their alumni, to wrestle with the legacies of their namesakes, to see them for all of their flaws and shortcomings, but also to regard their contributions to society. Our heroes must not be placed on pedestals; they will inevitably disappoint us.

Dr. Dru Johnson wrote a helpful piece in the fall of 2019, “What Does the Bible ‘Do’ With Heroes?” explaining how the Bible handles the topic of heroes or “role models.”

The biblical authors don’t celebrate heroes in Scripture and then tack on, “but of course, they’re not perfect” as a superfluous qualifier. No! They go the opposite direction. They soberly explore the depths of their sin and light up the deep fractures that caused them to sin against God and against humans.

By naming Houses after well-known historical figures, we learn from their successes and failures and aid students in their search to be people of principled leadership and faith. During the creation of the House system in 2003-2004, the initial “selection criteria included that [namesakes] be statesmen who changed society, that they be recognizable beyond Christian circles, and that their personal characteristics be worthy of imitation.”

Approved Recommendations

The NRC made six specific recommendations, listed below:

1. Retain all ten House namesakes.
Based on thorough research and consideration, on balance, it is in the best interest of our community that the current namesakes be retained. Most of the namesakes have well-documented shortcomings. In some circles their reputations are mixed, but it’s important that we substantiate those views with real research. It is not prudent to “cancel” a House namesake because that figure is unpopular.

Looking at the arc of each of the namesake’s lives and their contribution to history, all of them had qualities worthy of emulation, and most had flaws we should strive to avoid. Each namesake spent his/her life, albeit imperfectly, fighting against oppression, supporting human rights, and pursuing justice. Ronald Reagan, for instance, made inexcusable racist comments to Richard Nixon; yet he also played a decisive role in ending the oppression of millions under totalitarian regimes, expanding the American economy, and protecting the rights of the unborn.

2. Formalize criteria for future House namesakes.

  • Future House namesakes should be historic figures who have been deceased for a minimum of 50 years.
    Future namesakes should be deceased for a minimum of 50 years to help ensure that we have a full picture of that person’s life. The convention among historians is to require that a minimum of one generation pass before that person’s life and legacy can be documented and evaluated.
  • Future namesakes should be confessing Christians with a verifiable commitment to the historic Christian faith.
    Namesakes need not hail from a particular Christian sect, nor be “evangelical” (in the contemporary American sense of the word), but should be characterized by a well-documented commitment to “mere Christianity.” Given the priority of our Christian mission, the King’s community will be best served through human examples of those who were driven by a commitment to the truths of Christianity and a biblical worldview.
  • Future namesakes should demonstrate constructive contribution to the classical, Western, and/or Christian tradition.
    Namesakes should embody the educational ethos and mission of the College. Given our core curriculum and commitment to a biblical worldview, namesakes should be those who shaped society in concert with these ideas—they need not be statesmen in the narrow political sense of the word. Ideally, namesakes would hail from an array of fields and historic eras.
  • Future namesakes should be characterized by qualities worthy of emulation.
    Alumni email submissions to the NRC made it evident that their respective House namesakes served to inspire them to pursue character qualities and causes that matter. As noted elsewhere, this is a core rationale for having namesakes. Hence, future namesakes should be readily identifiable as embodying and promoting key aspects of a Christian character (e.g. Good, Brave, Ready). Namesakes’ faults should not be such that they are not good representatives of a biblical worldview. The collective good of their life and legacy should outweigh the bad.
  • Future namesakes should hail from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
    Only one of our current House namesake is a minority, yet we believe (see point 1 in Philosophical Framework above) students need to be inspired by the lives and legacies of those who hail from other ethnic backgrounds. We aspire to move toward a more diverse lineup of namesakes characterized by the criteria above. This will facilitate our mission of preparing students to shape culture. New namesakes should capture some of the racial and ethnic diversity in the worldwide Christian community. [4]

3. Publish concise institutional statements that explain each namesake’s contributions to society and qualities worthy of emulation.
Current namesakes were selected 16 years ago (10 years in the case of ten Boom). Many in the King’s community lack the understanding about why these namesakes were chosen. With the rise of “cancel culture,” it is more important now than ever before that the College clearly articulate why these individuals are worthy of recognition. Based on their research, the NRC submitted statements for each namesake that highlight notable contributions to society, worthy character qualities, etc. House executive teams and alumni will have the opportunity to speak into these statements.

4. Give incoming students the ability to switch Houses based on conscience. [5]
Some students may be particularly affected by the shortcomings of a specific namesake. If a student is initially assigned to a House whose namesake troubles them, this could create an obstacle for that student and sour their experience at the College. If an incoming student has a conscientious objection to being placed in a particular House, the College will make it possible for the student to request a reassignment.

5. Create an official process by which House namesakes can be changed. [6]
Based on the principles discussed herein, the College will craft an institutional process which includes all relevant constituencies through which namesakes can be changed, out of the desire for students to learn and benefit from other historical figures.

6. Advise and equip Houses to have robust discussions of their House namesake, including qualities and flaws.
As noted in Dr. Dru Johnson’s article “What does the Bible ‘do’ with heroes?,” Scripture expands on the failures of notable Biblical figures (e.g. Moses, David, Peter) and uses those failures to impart lessons to future generations. Similarly, students are not served by glossing over the failures of namesakes. The King’s community needs academically rigorous, historically informed conversations around the positive qualities and shortcomings of namesakes to remain thoughtful and responsible. We seek to equip students with the right tools and perspectives, and guide them in planning for productive House conversations, in order that both the successes and failures of namesakes have positive pedagogical outcomes.

What Next?

I understand that this announcement is not everyone’s preferred outcome. I fully expect differences of opinion which will undoubtedly lead to further discussion and debate—hallmarks of an educational community devoted to academic freedom. Even if every student and alum agrees with the goals of the House System—to integrate students into the campus community and support Christian formation and leadership development—we have different opinions on how best to achieve those goals.

I am not suggesting that the Namesake Review Committee’s and my Cabinet’s reasoning is immune to critique. Still, it rests on us to determine the best course of action for this institution as a whole, considering its unique mission and its past, present, and future, according to the information we have. We have done our best to make this decision faithfully, and trust the results to God.

To those who disagree with the decisions, I hope this process provides a model of how to disagree with civility and respect, skills that will serve us all well when facing similar decisions in the future. I look forward to continuing the conversation with our students, faculty, staff, and alumni during the town halls this week.

David Leedy, Megan Dishman, and Rebecca Au-Mullaney contributed to this piece.

1. Members were David Leedy, NRC Chair, non-voting except in case of tie, Dean of Students; Koby Jackson (’20), Student Body President; Dr. Anthony Bradley, Professor of Religious Studies; Dr. Kimberly Reeve, Associate Professor of Business; Dr. David Tubbs, Associate Professor of Politics; Dr. David Talcott, Assistant Professor of Philosophy; Leticia Mosqueda, Director of Residence Life; Jonathan Sheaffer (’12), Director of Student Development; Tyler Cochran (’17), Assistant Director of Admissions; and Rebecca Au-Mullaney (’15), Director of Strategic Communication.

2. Some of the individuals who wrote in gave us permission to print their names: Glenn Tuley (’77); Zahra (Yoder) Abrahams (Business ’06); Michael Toscano (PPE ’08); Nicholas Joch (’09); Sharon (Rogers) McCaskill (PPE ’09); Matt Kaal (PPE ’09); Zachary Cochran (PPE ’10); (Alexandra Harrison Gaiser (PPE ’12); Clara (Limback) Kennard (PPE ’12); Josiah Peterson (PPE ’12); Jane (Clark) Scharl (PPE ’12); Ariana Smith (PPE ’12); Kate (Knowlden) Spanos (PPE ’14); Joshua Craddock (PPE ’14); Rebecca Au-Mullaney (MCA ’15); Phillip Reeves (PPE ’19); Sarah Stettheimer (Humanities ’20); Tia McCord (Humanities ’20); Edward VanZandt III (PPE ’20); Kathryn Caswell (PPE ’20); Haley Turner (MCA ’20); Charles Soto (MCA ’21); George Qarmout (PPE ’22); Amelia Underhill (PPE ’22); Jaidyn (Victoria) Fisher (PPE ’23); Dr. David Innes; Dr. Robert Carle.

3. The President’s Cabinet includes the President’s Executive Committee, who have voting status (Tim Gibson, President; Brian Brenberg, Executive VP; Bridget Rogers, Chief Development Officer; Dr. Mark Hijleh, Provost; Frank Torino, VP of Finance; Eric Bennett, VP for Student Development and Enrollment Management) and the non-voting members who represent various constituencies at the College, increasing situational awareness and aiding in decision making (Koby Jackson, Student Body President; Dr. Kimberly Reeve, Associate Professor of Business; Dr. Matthew Parks, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Politics; Grace Gleason, Director of Human Resources; Leticia Mosqueda, Director of Residence Life; Noah Hunter, AVP of Admissions; Megan Dishman, AVP of Marketing and Communications; David Leedy, Dean of Students; and Dr. Jennifer Tharp, Assistant Dean of Student Academic Services).

4. The signal contributions to the Church and society by different ethnic and racial minorities deserve recognition at King’s. In the United States, for example, the contributions of the Black Church to the nation are hard to overstate; because of the civic dimensions of its ministry, one presidential candidate in 2016 aptly referred to the Black Church as the “conscience of the American nation.”

5. A process already exists for current students to appeal to change their House after spending some time in the House assigned to them. Starting this fall, incoming students will be able to appeal to switch their House based on conscience before they arrive on campus.

6. I am committed to building this process to better serve our students. We will begin building the process in Summer 2020, but we will not be ready to implement it until 2021 at the earliest. I will note that we received a wide range of suggestions for future namesakes from our students, alumni, and faculty, including the following: Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglass, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Issa al-Issa, Saint Moses (Bishop of the Arabs), Arethas, St. Teresa of Los Andes, Winnie Mandela, Leila Khaled, George Habash, St. Nimatullah Kassab, Khalil al-Haddad, St. George of Lydda, Augustine of Hippo, Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Pádraig, St. Francis, St. Martin, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Boëthius, Alfred the Great, Charles de Gaulle, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Blaise Pascal.

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