An interview with David Claudio Iglesias, the associate professor of politics and law and director of the Wheaton College Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy.
Wheaton Record: How has the transition to teaching been?
David Iglesias: It’s been good. Now, what I need to say is I did quite a bit of short term teaching while active duty Navy, so I taught at a couple of military schools on an as-needed basis. One school was in Rhode Island, that was the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies, and we would teach foreign military, law enforcement, judges, intelligence officers and their equivalent of department of defense civil lawyers. And then I would be sent overseas to teach law issues to the same type of post-grad legal professionals . . . I’ve got a fair amount of teaching experience teaching lawyers and judges. I wasn’t sure how well that would translate to teaching undergrads, but I’ve been really really pleased as to how engaged the average Wheaton student is. So it’s been a good transition.
WR: Why did you first consider returning to Wheaton, and what made you decide to come?
DI: I was made aware of an opening, so when Dr. Norton stepped down from his position as director at the then Hastert Center, I was contacted and made aware that there was a vacancy. So this was around the time that I was getting ready to retire from the Navy; my initial plan was to go back to Albuquerque and practice law. But the more I thought about it, the more I prayed about it, the more I thought “well, I can bill, I can work for a small law firm and bill every six minutes of my time, or I can make a difference for the Kingdom and work with a lot of really bright students who will go out and make a difference for the Kingdom.” That just sounded a lot more attractive, a lot more fun. So I went through the process and was given an offer several months after my first phone call.
WR: You’ve had a lot of different jobs, primarily law-related. Which would you say has been your favorite so far?
DI: I think overall my Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General) position was the most rewarding. Especially the last job I had (prosecuting Guantanamo bay). I mean, it was the most frustrating job I had because it was so slow. But when we were able to actually get a guilty plea and see it go through, it was tremendously satisfying. I like the Navy culture a lot, I like the people, I like the accountability that’s in the military; there are clear leadership principles that are at play – you can see them. Leaders are typically very good. I liked my U.S. attorney position (District Attorney for New Mexico) a lot. I was given a lot of latitude, I could set my own priorities within the office, very little oversight from Washington D.C. So, I think in retrospect that was my second favorite job.
WR: What was the thought process behind the new name for the Center of Faith, Politics and Economics?
DI: It took us several months to figure out what the name was going to be. I socialized several different options, I talked to faculty here in this building, I talked to https://thewheatonrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IMG_0048.webpistration, I talked to my board of advisors – I have advisors that come in from different parts of the country to help me. Former speaker Hastert, when he resigned, he also requested that we change the name of the center, so we did. We figured we needed to get a name that captured our mission. We went through numerous iterations, using the words economics, public policy, politics, political economy, faith, institute, center, and the clear winner was what we have now: the Center for Faith, Politics and Economics.
WR: How has it been to be more settled with your family?
DI: It’s great. It’s wonderful to see my kids at Saga, or at the SRC. It’s nice to feel like I’m a family again. I loved my military service but I’ll say this: it’s really hard on families. So, I spent a lot of time away, and I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
WR: What were some of the things you were involved in at Wheaton?
DI: I did everything. I played football, news casted for WETN for a while, wrote for the Kodon, wrote for the Record, I did music reviews, concert reviews, album reviews. I did the international study program. I kept busy.
WR: Do you have any thoughts on that or how Wheaton students should approach racial issues?
DI: I’m in the process of reviewing some research – the justice department has a new racial profiling policy. Previously, you couldn’t use race alone as a means to stop someone for the purpose of investigation. Now you’re permitted to, provided there are specific other factual details, such as age, clothing, height, weight, a general description like long hair, short hair, glasses, tattoos, scars. As long as race is one of those descriptions, it’s permissible. And this federal policy only applies to federal law enforcement agencies, but that’s a lot of agencies. I mean think about it. That’s the FBI, Secret Service, drug enforcement agencies, drug, tobacco, alcohol and firearms, all the military investigative services. You know, it would be crazy to not include race. But where we’ve got in trouble in the past, especially at the local and state level, is when race is the only metric used. So “be on the lookout for a black male” or “a white female” is what causes a lot of problems with the community, and it leads to people being detained and questioned that have nothing to do with the underlying crime. So, the issue’s contentious because law enforcement in this country has used racial profiling alone, and it’s not only a bad law enforcement practice, but it causes communities to be fractured. It’s an abuse of police power, also.
WR: How do you think students can best respond to this?
DI: I think the best response is to cooperate fully with the law enforcement officer who’s asking questions. I would start off with showing them your Wheaton College ID. I mean, we’ve got a tremendous amount of goodwill in this community. Wheaton students by and large stay out of trouble. The wrong approach is to resist and not cooperate, because typically local law enforcement has the legal authority to ask you for ID and to identify yourself. So there is a legitimate state interest in finding out who you are. Where we get into trouble is when people don’t give any basic information, they resist the use of force and then phones are pulled out, a video is taken and documents what appears to be excessive police force. My only criticism of that model (of relying on video evidence of events) is you have no idea what the context is, you don’t know the preceding five or ten minutes, because all you get is the 15-second clip. But I think Wheaton students can really help themselves by cooperating fully. If there’s a problem and the matter goes to court, the Wheaton student can explain to the judge what happened. But in 99 times out of a hundred it’s not going to get that far, because law enforcement is just asking for general information because they’re not sure what exactly happened.
WR: On your bio it said that your parents were trilingual and tricultural. Can you talk a little about that?
DI: Sure. My father was a full blood Kuna Indian from the San Blas islands of Panama. He was educated in the United States, put on a ship, arrived in New York harbor 1936, and he was educated at a Baptist school in Oklahoma. He was saved as a 14 year-old but forgot his native languages of Kuna and Spanish, so he had to relearn these two languages. In the process of relearning, he met my mother, who had graduated from Wheaton in 1945 and worked as a Bible translator in Southern Mexico, so she spoke Spanish and an indigenous language from Mexico. They went back to Panama as missionaries and both became fully trilingual; my mother was gifted in languages. She spoke four languages over the course of her life, and my father spoke three. Growing up on the little island, I would speak Kuna in the village, Spanish at school and English at home. A lot of our family members were multilingual as well, so it was very normal for me to hear different languages at the dinner table, for example.
WR: There’s a video of you on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. How was that experience?
DI: Ha! It was a hoot. That was a lot of fun. So I was doing my book tour, and my book agent said, “Hey, I can get you on either Colbert or Stewart, what do you think?” I said, “Well, Stewart’s got a bigger market share – I mean, Colbert’s funny but I’d really rather do Stewart,” so he was able to work it out. It was a raucous audience of about 200 maybe, really loud, really noisy, Stewart’s quite short, maybe 5’5 . . . It’s funny because when somebody’s seated on television, you can’t tell how tall they are. His producer comes up to me and says, “So… make sure to let him be the funny man. Don’t try to be the funny man, because when political people try to be funny it almost never works.” I say, “Got it. I’ll be the straight man.”
WR: How have you been able to get a lot of guest speakers for Wheaton?
DI: It’s the power of the network. One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is to stay in contact with people you meet, so I’ve made a habit of keeping business cards. I ask people for their cards, I link in with them using the LinkedIn website, and I follow up, so when I’m in that town I’ll call them and have lunch. So when I go to D.C. for business, I almost always have coffee, breakfast or lunch with the people I know. And then I get an idea of what their specialty is, so when I have an idea I’ll pick up the phone and call them or shoot them an email. So for instance, Mr. Bud Cummins, I’ve known him since 2001, 14 years. I’ve just always maintained contact. The important thing about networking is you don’t just keep the card and let it gather dust, you maintain contact, so an occasional shout out, phone call, email.
WR: Do you have any advice for students who feel lost career-wise and don’t really know what they’re looking for?
DI: Don’t panic. I think there’s a lot of pressure put, self-imposed pressure to have a plan while you’re here as an undergrad, and it’s not unusual for your plan to emerge sometime in your twenties. So if you graduate and don’t know exactly what you’re going to do, don’t consider that a failure. Just be patient, seek advice from people you respect – I sure did. Pray a lot about it. Seek opportunities, take opportunities. Sometimes they come back, a lot of times they don’t. I don’t feel like I hit my stride until I was 36. (After Wheaton undergrad) I took a year off, went to law school, graduated at age 26. All I knew was that I was going to be a lawyer, which is like saying, “I’m gonna go into business” because the law is so huge. But as I got older and opportunities came my way, I always asked myself, “Do I believe in the mission of this organization?” If I do, that’s a step in the right direction. If I don’t believe in the mission, I don’t do it. Am I good at what this organization does? And in my case, it was mainly criminal and civil litigation, and I found out that I was good with juries. I didn’t know that until I did it, so do something you believe in and then find out what you’re good at and opportunities will come. The last thing I will say is be patient. Because a lot of undergrads think that they should have this master plan, this blueprint for the rest of their lives, you know. . . So, be patient, pray about it, seek advice – and not just from your peers. It’s fine to get advice from somebody who’s also 20, but get advice from somebody who’s older. That’s why I’m a big believer in WIN (Wheaton in Network); I think that’s a great, great resource.
WR: What are your goals for the future?
DI: Well, you know, I’d like to be here long term. I gave a long-term commitment and I’d like to make this the best center of its kind in the country. There are other centers in the United States that do politics and economics, but I’m not aware of any other one that does politics and economics from a Christian faith perspective, so I’d like to keep doing that with excellence. I’d like to keep bringing speakers in to challenge students, and I’d like to leave a legacy of a center that is consistent with our faith but looks very seriously at political economic issues globally, not just in the United States, because we’re so interconnected. I’ve been around the world on official trips and I realize how integrated our cultures are now in a way that our grandparents could not have imagined. I think as Christian businesspeople and politicians, we need to understand that the Christian Kingdom isn’t North America. In fact, where the church is growing isn’t North America, it isn’t Western Europe, it’s as you all know, other parts of the world. And I find that, given my background from the global south, I find that invigorating. I think the torch is being passed, and I think Wheaton students can help pass the torch.