Talking with Dr. Stan Oakes, President of The King's College: Part 1
When I first met Dr. Stan Oakes, the president of The King’s College, in September last year, I might have appeared calm, but I was actually trying to compose myself after what I’d just heard. Dr. Oakes and other representatives from The King’s College in New York City were in Orlando that afternoon to promote the college and a trip it was sponsoring last fall. After hearing from them, I was at the bursting point of excitement about going on the trip as well as eager to meet Dr. Oakes.
When I got the change to introduce myself, I found out Dr. Oakes is as insightful in conversation as he is on a podium. Since King’s is the “flagship college of Campus Crusade for Christ,”Dr. Oakes is a crusader, and it was obvious, in talking to him, what his crusade is all about. He shared his conviction that a college rooted in a Christian worldview but in tandem with challenging relevant cultural issues is the best preparation for a Christian student who wants to impact his or her culture.
Since The King’s College isn’t (yet) a household name like Harvard or Yale, is a King’s education equal in reputation to one at a more established college? Though I didn’t ask the question, Dr. Oakes anticipated it. “When you go to get a job or apply to graduate school, show your skills. Show that you can think and write well,”he told me. His advice makes sense to me, because these are two abilities (and two emphases of a King’s education) that characterize success as much as a diploma from a prestigious college. Dr. Oakes also observed to me that professors make a college just as much as students do. Professors are not hired accidentally, and the beliefs a college’s professors hold are the beliefs that the college itself is trying to further. Dr. Oakes keeps this in mind as he oversees and expands the team of professors at King’s. (One of King’s newest professors is noted author Dr. Peter John Kreeft, who has taught at Boston College for 38 years and is now the Crawford Professor of Philosophy at King’s.)
Dr. Oakes’vision, throughout the conversation, for equipping a new generation of Christian leaders was so contagious that I went home wanting to find out more about the college that attracted such a president. So I registered for the Operation Airlift trip last October and had an incredible time.
I’ll make way for the interview with President Oakes, a crusader whose leadership sense and devotion align with his passion for God’s truths and testify to the work God is doing through The King’s College.
Visit www.tkc.edu to learn more about The King’s College. You can learn the history behind The King’s College, read about the board of directors, download an application, and investigate financial aid.
TOS: Two chapters from your upcoming book are currently available: What Difference Does It Make? and The Ideas That Move the World. Tell us more about the book and your goals for it.
Dr. Oakes: I have worked on secular campuses for 25 years, and I have spent 17 of those interacting with professors and intellectuals. Having overseen hundreds of lectures and debates and conversed with scores of intellectuals, I am writing this book to describe what I have observed and learned. In reading and analyzing what intellectuals are saying, I feel like a magician who is telling everyone how the tricks are done.
When I observed the flimsy foundation upon which the views of intellectuals rest, I was quite surprised, especially since intellectuals claimed the moral and intellectual right to re-shape culture. As such, it is not a book on how to prepare for college as much as it is an insight into the moral agenda of the secular intellectual.
As for goals, I hope that I can aid students, parents, and thoughtful lay people in understanding that Christianity is not just about the heart, the home, the family, and the church. The gospel has implication for economics, politics, and sociology. And these three disciplines serve as the foundation of America’s strategic national institutions. They can either be informed by secular ideology and amorality or Christianity. This is the great divide in America today.
TOS: Who is your favorite author, and what is your favorite book?
Dr. Oakes: My favorite writer of fiction is the author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo. At the end of the book, I wept over the worthy life of Jean Valjean.
The nonfiction writer that I appreciate the most is Paul Johnson, the author of Modern Times. He is learned and perceptive, a wonderful writer.
Other than the Bible, my favorite book is Aristotle’s Politics.
TOS: What advice do you have for high school students as they consider their college options?
Dr. Oakes: Do not get suckered in by prestige and adjectives like “great.”Ask yourself which college will help you learn to write well, speak persuasively, understand money and markets, gain a biblical worldview, and progress in your Christian life.
Also, don’t try to choose a major or discover your calling too early; doing so will narrow options. A college education should provide you with increased opportunities, a broad knowledge base in the important ideas and essential skills.
Finally, ask what side your prospective college takes in the “ideas that move the world.”
TOS: What advice do you have for parents as they support their students in the college search?
Dr. Oakes: Meet with professors. Talk to them. Look at what they have written. This is not so important in engineering or science programs (except the life sciences like chemistry and biology), but it is crucial in the social sciences and humanities.
Colleges are not the ivy-covered buildings, or the admissions department, or the dorms, or the technology, or the Greek houses, or the sports programs. A college is its professors. The problem is that it takes an extraordinary amount of time to investigate properly. Most parents choose a college based upon cost, proximity, nostalgia, or sports, as if a secular education is essentially the same as a Christian one. Time won’t allow for elaboration, but this is why I wrote chapter one. In fact, I am doubling the length of the chapter to include a case study on homosexuality.
TOS: Your inauguration as president of The King’s College was in May of 2003. What have been the most exciting development you’ve participated in since then?
Dr. Oakes: Without a doubt, the most exciting development this year is our growth. We started with 17 students in 1999; it made for a long year. Of course, it’s good to remember that Harvard started with just 9 students.
Now we have more than 225, and we expect to grow to more than 400 next year. We can now confidently predict that we will have 2,000 outstanding students within 10 years.
When you start getting great students, it means that good things will happen. Last fall, some of our freshman students started a radio station. They are learning to put together programming, raise money, develop a business plan, and work together. Just to give you an idea of what they have done, they contacted one of the biggest radio stations in New York City, and when the manager heard the story, he committed to give our student station all of their used equipment as they change it out every year. One of the most popular radio talk show hosts in America promised to host a fundraiser for them. Leadership is infectious.
See Part 2 for the remainder of this interview.