Conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, riding a wave of attention for his successful anti-Obama documentary, 2016: Obama's America, suddenly finds himself swamped by a different sort of attention, this time over his alleged relationship with a 29-year-old woman with whom he shared a hotel room and described as his “fiancée” despite still being married to his wife of 20 years.
The evangelical magazine World reported Tuesday that D’Souza, who is also the president of The King’s College in Manhattan, shared a hotel room with Denise Odie Joseph at a conference in South Carolina in September and introduced her to at least three people as his fiancée. A conference organizer confirmed to World that D’Souza and Joseph had both checked in to the hotel and left together, and D’Souza confirmed to the magazine that he and Joseph were engaged. But California court records show that he only filed for divorce from his wife on Oct. 4, which means he will be married for at least another six months. D’Souza later sent a text message to World’s reporter saying that he had decided to “suspend” the engagement.
Joseph graduated from high school in 2002, according to her Facebook page, and attended George Washington University’s law school. Her website, I Denise Lust After, appeared to be taken offline, but a blog she authors on the site Smart Girl Politics remains active.
D’Souza moved from California to New York in 2010 to become the president of The King’s College, a small evangelical school with headquarters in Manhattan’s financial district, leaving his wife behind in California. According to former staffers who worked closely with D’Souza, his wife didn’t want to move, and the distance put a strain on their marriage. In early 2012, Joseph began showing up at the college, which was then headquartered in the Empire State Building, where students and staff eventually noticed her inexplicable presence. A former student said people would ask about Joseph, whom he described as “pushy,” but would be met with “weird smiles” and evasive answers. That student said one of his friends, a staffer who worked closely with D’Souza, was tasked with creating an official response to the speculation, which was that she was “a good friend of Dinesh.” The student said staffers he knew believed Joseph made her presence known at the college because she wanted to be more than D’Souza’s “road tail.”
Almost immediately after D’Souza’s arrival two years ago, the college’s provost Marvin Olasky, who is also the editor in chief of World, left the school over differences in vision. There was speculation in the evangelical media that D’Souza’s Catholicism conflicted with Olasky’s evangelical Protestantism, though D’Souza emphasized his ecumenicism. There were also rumors that D’Souza wanted to take the school in a harder-right political direction and downplay its emphasis on Christian education. World’s headline on the story breaking the D’Souza affair, “King’s Crisis,” seemed to have an undertone of vengeance, though Warren Cole Smith, who wrote the story and also formerly worked for the college, said the news “fell into my lap” at the South Carolina conference and that it was a “tough decision” to publish it.
D’Souza’s affiliation with the college was a ongoing embarrassment to many students and alumni who feared their education would be associated with his dubious and controversial scholarship, and several said they were more concerned about his politics than the affair.
“I find D‘Souza’s confusion about his marriage far less distressing than his rampant hatred of Obama,” said Keith Ross, a 2010 graduate. “As far as long-term harm to the college, I think that the Obama crap is more harmful.”
“Many graduates with moderate views have not liked the Dinesh Obama movie and that whole business,” said Richie Grote, another 2010 graduate. “We went to King’s because of its strong academics, and we thought it was a Christian school, not a right-wing school. Myself and several other recent graduates have been wary of the move toward the right, and this is sort of the icing on the cake.”
If D’Souza gets the ax, it will be yet another movement in a gradual arc of excommunication from the conservative universe.
D’Souza’s conflict within the college recently surfaced in a small flap over his comments in an interview with The New York Times’ Stanley Fish. Defending the school’s reputation against charges that it teaches Creationism, D’Souza said, “We don’t teach Christian doctrine.” He also emphasized his view of the school as a right-wing training ground: “Our students are not being prepared to enter seminaries, but to go to Goldman Sachs and Capitol Hill and Shanghai, where, from a liberal point of view, they will be even more dangerous.” The comments caused controversy at King’s when they were reported by the student newspaper.
The new revelations about D’Souza’s personal life will be a shocker in the evangelical world familiar with his 2008 book, What’s So Great About Christianity, and who think of The King’s College as a prestigious destination for evangelical students. According to WORLD’s report, D’Souza earns as much as $10,000 for speeches to Christian groups, which will no doubt have questions about his alleged affair. King’s president Andy Mills told WORLD through a spokesman that he knew about D’Souza’s marital troubles, but that they had prayed for “restoration.” Speaking to the Associated Press late Tuesday, D'Souza defended his relationship with Joseph on the basis that he and his wife had been "living in a state of separation for two years." The college’s board convened an emergency meeting by phone, and will discuss the matter at a regularly scheduled meeting later this week.
"Though we've become accustomed to hearing of Dinesh in the news, this latest story is a discouraging profile of our president," Eric Bennett, the school's vice president for student development, wrote in an email to students Tuesday. "The Board has been in conversation with Dinesh and will meet tomorrow in executive session to address this development, placing it at the top of their agenda."