D. Michael Lindsay leaving Rice to become President of Gordon College

Famous professor and author D. Michael Lindsay is leaving Rice University to become the President of Gordon College. This is somewhat hilarious, given the huge differences between Rice and Gordon College.

Gordon College is a Christian school. So Christian, in fact, that students are required to be professing Christians to attend. There is also mandatory chapel attendance.

Gordon also requires students and faculty to sign a statement saying that they agree with the college’s own Statement of Faith. This statement includes lots of quotes from the Bible. (When I open a school, students will have to sign a Statement of Faith that has lots of quotes from Jurassic Park.) And Gordon takes the statement seriously. For example, former Gordon College professor Thomas Howard had to resign after he converted to Catholicism.

Students also have to sign a “Life and Conduct Statement.” As part of these “Behavioral Expectations,” students cannot drink or smoke on campus or at “adjacent properties,” or at “any College-related activity.” Students also cannot use any drugs.

(I never really understood the Christian ban on drinking, especially since, you know, Jesus drank! He turned water into wine for a party! It was his first miracle! John 2:1-11)

Furthermore, students can only have visitors of opposite gender during during certain hours. (I guess that means the school condemns midnight nookie, but afternoon delight is perfectly fine.)

All these religious regulations at Prof. Lindsay’s new school may be funny given Rice’s own reputation for, say, Baker 13, the Night of Decadence, or having two on-campus bars. However, it is all the better given my one main interaction with Prof. Lindsay.

It was the first issue of the Thresher my senior year. We were scouring campus for content to fill the opinion section, a difficult task given that we were working before students were on campus. Luckily, Prof. Lindsay made a submission. He had only joined Rice the year before, I think, but had a pretty impressive collection of work, including the award-winning though somewhat personally distressing Faith in the Halls of Power. However, he also had developed somewhat of a reputation for unnecessary pretentiousness, notably rumors of him proposing a Salon where Rice’s best and brightest could discuss the important matters of the day.

(But Percy, I was netting butterflies.)

As if Rice needed any more talking clubs that did nothing or status symbol associations to slap on a resume.

But overall, he seemed like a guy who grew up in a world that only exists in Republican campaign speeches. Nevertheless, we gladly accepted his column and read it with grateful yet increasingly skeptical eyes. His piece was a general condemnation of the work hard, play hard mentality at top schools, specifically identifying Dis-O as a problem.

However, his column was somewhat flawed. First, Dis-O was perhaps not the best target. Dis-O, or Disorientation, isn’t as much a centrally planned party as it is a general celebration of returning to campus after summer, and a commemoration of the campus going wet for the year after a dry Orientation Week. There is no singular event, but instead a spontaneous expression by individual students. One could not end Dis-O any more than one could end lunch. It is merely the time at which nearly all drinking students have the urge to drink and party. This all makes sense given the circumstances of campus going wet and students seeing friends after the summer.

Furthermore, for at least two years before Lindsay’s own column, Rice had been providing alternatives for students who wanted to celebrate the new semester, but without alcohol. For example, Rice held a alcohol-free Big Owl Bash specifically to compete with Dis-O. As the Thresher documented in 2005:

O-Week began Aug. 14 and ends tomorrow at noon, but the new events will not stop when O-Week is over. The Big Owl Bash, organized by the newly-formed Dean’s Committee to Address Alcohol Awareness, will feature a hypnotist, free food and two local bands.

The committee, made up of a group of students, faculty and staff, designed BOB to compete with the “Dis-Orientation” party tomorrow night.

The committee planned BOB as part of a campaign called “Real Rice,” to communicate that many students on campus do not drink, Director of the Wellness Center Emily Dexter Page said.

Indeed, it was my understanding at the time that Dis-O had been declining in raucousness, which leads to the second problem with Lindsay’s column:

Dis-O really isn’t that crazy.

Maybe I was too busy working on the Thresher every O-Week, but I don’t remember Dis-O being wilder than many of Rice’s centrally planned parties, such as NOD or ‘80s Party. Its decentralized nature maybe made Dis-O seem like a bigger deal than it was. It is also the first time that many new students drink heavily, perhaps compounding problems. Furthermore, since Dis-O happens before classes, students can party without academic concern. But during Dis-O, I usually heard people complaining about the difficulty in finding a large party, rather than the usual “I was so wasted!” claims of centralized college parties.

These days, Rice has had a demonstrable problem of over-drinking. However, I recall  2007 as a more simple time, when people may have drunk until they passed out, but rarely to the point of needing an ambulance. Lindsay’s argument applies better now than it did then.

Overall, the general sense from Lindsay’s topic and tone was that he had never actually been to Dis-O. It would have been much better if he actually hung around campus during that Dis-O and then wrote about what he saw, rather than working from some ill-informed vision of a campus gone Gomorrah.

But of course, these arguments and reservations were all personal, and we gladly ran a column written by an award-winning professor.

However, that does not mean that all of us were happy to be lectured by a seemingly ill-informed Evangelical from on high, tut-tutting our good time. Especially one who quotes David Brooks. So cartoonist Dan responded in traditional style. It isn’t exactly perfect journalistic ethics to allow a response to a column in the same issue, especially without informing the original author. But this one somehow slid through.

Oh no, a reefer!

We thought the cartoon was a hilarious response to Prof. Lindsay’s overreaction to Dis-O.

The general point seemed to be that it is not as if Dis-O forced people to do anything than what they otherwise would do. The vast alternative offerings on campus and Dis-O’s own decentralized format ensured that students who didn’t want to drink didn’t have to. And it was not as if responsibly engaging in Dis-O’s activities would somehow, say, cause students to bleed from the eyes.

What made it even better was the placement, with Dan’s cartoon right on top of Lindsay’s column. It was probably a little mean, but we students loved our Dis-O and damnation upon any man who would dare take it from us. (pdf: Lindsay thresher column)

But Prof. Lindsay won’t have to worry about students engaging in beer, reefers, or beautiful 17-year-old girls anymore. He is going to a better place.

He is going to a place without Valhalla, Dis-O, NOD, Baker 13, or seemingly fun in general. So what do they do for fun at Gordon? According to Wikipedia: “On Sunday nights, students are able to participate in Catacombs, a student-led worship service of quiet music in the darkened chapel.”

Hey, maybe the lack of fun and distractions is why Evangelicals are able to develop a studiousness and work habit that helps them reach the halls of power in our nation. Someone should write a book about that!

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14 responses to “D. Michael Lindsay leaving Rice to become President of Gordon College

  1. Lindsay got his Master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. I heard him speak at one of the Wednesday-ChickFilA-Christian lunch things my freshman year, about how he and his wife attacked another couple for “living in sin” while obtaining their PhDs.

    Fun times, fun times.

  2. It’s amusing to watch snarky, cynical twenty-somethings spew their ignorance all over the world wide web. Meanwhile, Prof Lindsay is out accomplishing things and establishing himself as a world-renowned scholar. What have you accomplished, besides contributing to an irony-laden, pedantic, sour-group-infused, and far-from-clever website?

    • Glad to be amusing. That is the general purpose. However, it is simply not accurate to compare Lindsay’s grand accomplishments to the paltry offerings of a 20something. After all, he has about a 15 years head start. But I wonder what Prof. Lindsay accomplished by the time he was 24. His CV (http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~dml1/Lindsay%20CV%20December%202010.pdf) doesn’t mention anything from his college years besides graduating Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. In 1999, before getting his Masters, he did publish with George Gallup, Jr, a study titled “Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Belief.” So that is something he must have done in his mid-20s.
      What have I done? Well in high school at St. John’s School my columns brought the discussion of gay rights to an otherwise conservative campus, and my writings about the school’s chapel program elicited response from board members and alumni.
      In college, my writings initiated discussion about racial issues at a time when they were utterly necessary, my column about Lakewood Church has been widely circulated and published in books, and my Backpages were used in the court of law to defend Rice University.
      In law school, I have brought attention to homophobic rhetoric and policy by the Yeshiva University president, which otherwise would have gone ignored. My other columns have been linked by Above the Law.
      Furthermore, my blog entry about typography on Mad Men was linked by Slate and Jim Cramer. And my coverage of the KTRU sale has influenced the grounds of that debate.
      Really, this isn’t anything grand. I create a product. People read it. It influences a small sphere. Certainly I am not at the level of Prof. Lindsay. And I certainly cannot match his academic achievements. But what did he do by the time he was 24?

  3. I’m mildly impressed. You do stay busy and do noteworthy things. That and a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee.

    Ultimately, however, this is less about your being featured on Slate.com or whatever else. It’s about an adolescent boy (“but i’m 24!! look at me in my early-adult precocious splendor”) taking cynical potshots at some guy he doesn’t even know, mocking the man’s career choices, institutional affiliations, etc.

  4. So what are you doing in these comments that is any different?

    • For one, I’m not mocking your institutional affiliations or what you choose to do with your life. Being a lawyer and a blogger are fine uses of one’s time.

      Second of all, I’m not initiating a slanderous blog post about someone.

      Specious logic will get you into trouble down the pike, Evan. Learn to sniff if out before you write comments like the one above.

      • 1. It was an honest question.
        2. Slander is oral, this would be libel.
        3. This isn’t libel.
        4. You did mock my “institutional affiliations or what [I] choose to do with [my] life” by describing this blog as “an irony-laden, pedantic, sour-group-infused, and far-from-clever website.”
        5. “An irony-laden, pedantic, sour-group-infused, and far-from-clever website” will be BurnDownBlog’s new tagline.

  5. I’d rather have a beer with Evan than with Harold.

    This comment is ALF-Certified!©

  6. Michael Lindsay


    I’d like to have coffee with you if you’re interested. If so, please send me a personal email, and we’ll work to find a date and time, assuming you are in the area (I couldn’t immediately find your contact details).

    And pagiebailey, I distinctly did not use any phrase akin to “living in sin” when referencing the way my wife and I responded to the lifestyle of some colleagues who were living differently than we think is best. The fact that we befriended this other couple in grad school and are still very close to them now was precisely the point I was trying to make about the most faithful way to respond to people who think differently than you do. I’m sorry that point slipped by you, for that was the main reason I raised it at all.


    Michael Lindsay

  7. I’ll take your “irony-laden, pedantic, sour-group-infused, and far-from-clever website,” and raise you a “Too often in the past we’ve missed out on top students –but granted honors to marginally-capable enthusiasts.” My (at the time) thesis adviser’s accidental assessment of the honors students (me included!), accidentally sent to every English Major over the listserv…. :) I’ll take it!

    Obama had his beer summit…you’re having a coffee summit. At least you didn’t have to get arrested to get this far

  8. Pingback: I’m Not the Only One Criticizing David Brooks as a Commencement Speaker | Burn Down Blog

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