In the fall of 1993, 25-year-old Maury Kennedy enrolled in a new course being offered at Kennesaw State University, located 20 miles north of Atlanta. “Renewing American Civilization” was its title, and its instructor was Newt Gingrich.
“Being new to Atlanta, I wanted to make friends,” Kennedy remembers, and the ten-week course was a practical option. On Saturdays, he and hundreds of other students would gather in a large auditorium to hear the congressman lecture for two hours. Although Gingrich was a notorious firebrand, “nobody dreamed he would become Speaker.”
But Kennesaw was a public school, and Gingrich’s critics griped that he was mixing academics with politics. In 1994, then, the congressman approached Floyd Falany, president of Reinhardt College — a private school in Waleska, Ga. — and asked if he could teach the course there.
“We had just built a state-of-the-art broadcast center,” Falany says, and Gingrich wanted to record his lectures and stream them over the Internet. Falany proposed the idea to the board of trustees, and though the members initially “had mixed emotions about it,” after debating it “for a considerable length of time,” they voted unanimously to approve the course.
It was a hit. For a small school “that didn’t even have a football team,” to nab the Speaker of the House of Representatives was a coup. In the winter of 1995, Gingrich gave ten lectures, while an assistant professor, Kathleen Minnix, handled administrative tasks: writing tests, correcting papers, assigning grades. “It worked beautifully,” Falany says.
Yes, Gingrich caused controversy. His opponents were furious that a college would dignify his pontifications by giving him a course. But Falany shrugged off the complaints. “It’s not unusual for colleges to have politicians teaching courses,” he notes. When Secretary of State Dean Rusk retired in 1969, the University of Georgia hired him to teach a course in international law, despite the fact that he lacked academic credentials.
And Gingrich was nonpartisan, maintains Falany, a registered Democrat. “I have a very, very positive remembrance of the course.”
But why did Gingrich want to teach a course at the same time as serving as Speaker? Longtime friend Tucker Andersen explains: “Part of him was excited about coming up with a course which he thought would have relevance and he would enjoy teaching in an educational setting.” The bigger reason, however, “was to help him refine and articulate the ideas about the uniqueness of American civilization, which is something he passionately believes in.”