Did Dave Brat mislead or lie to voters about his time at Princeton or where he says he got his degree? I have some unique personal experience with this topic. And I think the answer is no. If there’s any gilding of the lily it’s of such a de minimis sort as to not merit much discussion.
I explain why after the jump.
First some basic facts. Princeton Theological Seminary is just a few blocks from Princeton University. But PTS is not a PU professional school. They are totally independent institutions. They do share a common and intertwined history. And if memory serves they have a partnership arrangement where like PTS students have access to the Princeton infirmary or something like that (this part is just from memory.) Princeton University students can take classes at PTS – under some sort of reciprocity relationship. And I actually did take a class there when I was a student at Princeton.
Brat is a bit vague in his campaign site bio on the distinction. Here are the two lines.
For years in Virginia, everyone from the media to Governors have come to Dave Brat for insights on the budget, knowing that he tested his rural values against the intellectual elite while at Princeton and against the powerful elite at American University.
Dave’s journey led him to Princeton where he obtained a Masters in Divinity and on to American University where he earned a Ph.D. in Economics. That education has led him to a career serving the Commonwealth.
On the first point, Brat seems to be implying that he took his rural values and stood them up against the big city elites and liberals at Princeton.
As I said, I spent some time at PTS. And it’s a very, very different place. It is definitely a prestigious seminary but it’s also very much a seminary. I also spent some time at Harvard Divinity School (which is a part of Harvard), where my then girlfriend was a student. Again, very different places.
I actually remember very clearly the different atmosphere at the Seminary, a pervasive feeling of warmth or intimacy that was very different from what I was used to on my campus. I liked it. Especially at that point in my life (19 years old). The experience has stayed imprinted on me. It was palpable.
PTS is also not “liberal” in the sense of what that generally means at elite universities. And it’s not really terribly liberal as seminaries go either, though that’s a much more complex question and one that depends a lot on your point of reference. It was actually a bastion of old-line, Calvinist with a capital “C” Presbyterianism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then moved in a more modernist direction and then moved back toward what might best be called the theological middle. I’m told it’s gotten considerably more conservative theologically since I was briefly there.
The Post suggests that Brat was trying to give would-be supporters the sense he locked horns with the elites on an Ivy League campus. And if that was the plan or the impression. That’s really not right. But picture, I don’t think there’s much to see here. As a gotcha, it’s an extremely weak one.