Calvinism is not the Issue at Louisiana College: On Vindictiveness

This is part three of a series which tells of my story with Louisiana College and argues that the problem at LC is ethical, moral, and spiritual. In reality, it has little to nothing to do with Calvinism.  To best understand the context for this article, read Part 1 and Part 2.

President Joe Aguillard

President Joe Aguillard

The last event in my previous letter was the court granting a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against Louisiana College and all of its agents. The Restraining Order stopped the hearings against me and lasted through the end of my contract so my lawyer and I believed it to be the end of my ordeal with the College. What we did not understand was the vindictiveness of President Aguillard.

After the completion of the TRO and thus after the completion of my contract, my lawyer learned that Louisiana College had pulled in a law firm that specialized in litigation. When one files for a TRO one is actually filing a form of a law suit. I, however, had no intention of continuing with a law suit. The sole purpose of the TRO was to protect my rights from being violated and allow my contract to be completed. My lawyer informed the College’s law firm that we had no intent to more forward and were happy to let everything end with the completion of my contract. It was his understanding that the law firm understood this and ordeal was completed.

However, in June we received news that the College had the case moved to federal court due to the freedom of speech implications of the TRO and filed a counter suit for my $500 bond, which was required to secure the TRO, and legal fees. That last part is the real catch. Legal fees for a law firm like LC was using can quickly get into the multiple thousands of dollars.  This was a brilliantly vindictive move! I was now in a situation where I either paid my lawyer to fight their counter suit or they automatically won and I paid not only the $500 bond but the thousands of dollars in lawyers fees. It is important to remember that this is all over a contract that at this point is already paid out and on a law suit and TRO that was dropped.

As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that there were two issues at play:

  1. Dr. Aguillard desperately wanted to be able to tell people that the TRO was frivolous and he had gotten it thrown out. This is all about saving face. When LC and I had tried to reach an agreement, months earlier, one of their stipulations was that I admit to dishonesty. Presumably, this was so they could tell the Board and College constituency that my letters were lies. I believe the same impulse was at work here. If they got the TRO thrown out they could argue that they were not violating my rights and it would add to the argument against my character.
  2. I think Dr. Aguillard really wanted to make me pay, to suffer for going against his rule. This was probably the biggest shock for me in dealing with Dr. Aguillard. Consistently the College made decisions that were not logical and in the end worked against their own interest. But, there was a vindictive spirit about the entire situation which really wanted me to pay in a very personal way. In filing the counter law suit, Aguillard found a way to make me pay one way or the other. I had to either pay thousands of dollars to their lawyers or to mine. 

I made the choice to have my lawyer fight the counter law suit. So much of my last few months had been about principle that I really could see no other option. Besides, I had to pay either way.

It took several months to resolve, but finally the Judge convened a conference call among the lawyers where he informed the College’s lawyers that in all his years on the Federal Court he had never seen a law suit, irrespective of lawyer’s fees, for $500. This was a clear sign to LC’s lawyers that it would not go well and after the negotiations were done I kept my $500 bond and was allowed to have my lawyer write the dismissal of the case- just as we had told them we planned to do several months earlier. In the end, LC spent thousands of dollars and cost me thousands of dollars to satisfy the vindictive nature of one man.

For the most part that was the end of my story with Louisiana College, with the exception of one story that I believe serves a purpose.

The case ended in the summer of 2011. In the summer of 2012, I was returning to California to begin work on a PhD in Art & Religion. When I had been banned from campus, I had been given an hour to empty out my office. In that time, I thought I had removed all my files. It wasn’t until I was packing up to move that I realized that I had somehow not gotten my student evaluations. For those not in the academic world, these can be a crucial component in finding future employment. I contacted the Vice President of Academic Affairs office at LC. For reasons I did not understand, the request had been sent to the President’s office. It took weeks to pull the copies out of my file and finally required some pressure from a member of the Board of Trustees. But, on the Friday before I was to leave town I got a call from the President’s office to meet with him and get my files.

When I met with the President,  he gave me an envelope with the evaluations inside.  I looked into the envelope to make sure that all the evaluations were there and saw a small wad of money. I looked up at President Aguillard and said, “I don’t feel comfortable…”

“Its a peace offering. Just read the card.” He insisted.

I read the card which in the absence of the events from the previous year would have been a nice card wishing me well in future endeavors. But, it made me feel very uncomfortable. He had transparently used the resources of the College to try and manipulate situations in his favor the previous year and I knew that there may be a time when I would need to speak again. I did not want to compromise my integrity despite the fact that the college had left me financially destitute and the money would be useful.

I pulled the money out of the envelope and said, “I don’t feel comfortable taking money from you given the vindictiveness you showed last year, costing me my salary and over $4000 in lawyer’s fees and…”

“I don’t want to hear it he said. I don’t want to hear it.” He repeated himself as he literally hunched over and covered his ears. He quickly retreated into his adjoining on-suite conference room and shut the door behind him. I was left standing alone in his office with the card and money in my hand. I was stunned, at a loss of what to do. So, I set the card and money on a table and left the office.

That was my last interaction with Dr. Aguillard. It was jarring in a way that I did not expect. I had seen the hard angry side of Aguillard, the manipulative side, and the dishonest side. Under all of it, I knew the cause was a brokenness. Scripture calls us to love those who spitefully use us. For me, that is maybe the greatest challenge in following Christ. There have been a few people in my life that have used me spitefully. Dr. Aguillard has certainly been one of those. The spiritual abuse, the financial ruin for my family, and the burden on my career that has characterized my interaction with Louisiana College is a difficult thing to forgive. The pain runs deep.

I had seen Aguillard red faced with anger when the courts granted the TRO. What I had never seen was a 56 year old president of a College covering his ears and running to another room like my seven year old might. It was deeply unsettling. And, I thank God for the opportunity to experience it. It is so easy to see the powerful tyrant only in his power and rage. But, typically under the facade is a broken person. The memory of that event breaks my heart. It gave me a realization of his brokenness.

The subtitle of this blog post is “On Vindictiveness.” Certainly a part of that is to show the vindictive character of the LC administration over the last few years. But, there is a more important discussion about vindictiveness for those of us, the many of us who have been harmed by the LC Administration. We need to guard against our own vindictiveness. Yes, there needs to be a change at LC and Aguillard should no longer be in that position. But, I pray we are able to see him as the broken person I was privileged to glimpse and not just as the hard authoritarian. I think to love those who spitefully use us we need to be able to see their brokenness. We need to connect with their humanity and love them despite the evil they perpetuate. The reality is we all perpetuate one evil or another. No doubt I am more offended by Dr. Aguillard’s evil acts than those I commit. I do not believe we need to down play their significance. In fact a part of healing requires that we acknowledge the brokenness. But, I do need to remember that I am also a broken person in need of Love. God loved me before I loved Him. I need to strive to love Aguillard. I struggle. I fail. But, our calling is not to perfection. It is to faithfulness and perseverance.

I pray I can learn to love those who spitefully use me. Amen.

 

Rondall

Rondall Reynoso is an artist, scholar, and speaker. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He holds an MFA in Painting and an MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and is completing a PhD in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Rondall has shown his work in over 80 exhibitions internationally and his scholarship has been presented at conferences and published in both the U.S. and Canada.

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