David Hankins, Joe Aguillard, and the Train Wreck Louisiana College has Become.
The problems at Louisiana College are well documented at this point and likely even more details will become known over the coming weeks. What, I believe, remains unclear for many is how did this all come about and how has it been allowed to go on for eight years?
The beginning was before my time at LC so I can only give my impressions. I took a position at Louisiana College because of the introduction of a conservative theological approach. Being a part of a movement that had returned a school from “liberalism” to “Biblical Christianity” was very appealing to me. What became obvious within a short period of time was that many good people also got hurt in the transition. I think there were some changes that needed to be made but they seem to have been accomplished in an acrimonious rather than a loving way.
As I went about my work at Louisiana College, it quickly became apparent that the administration did not have the proper focus. There was one announcement after another about plans that sounded great to the public but left those working at LC wondering about the lack of support for the institution’s core academic programs and facilities. Further, the rapid turnover of the Vice President of Academic Affairs (VPAA) was troubling. There were three VPAA’s in the four years I worked at the college and there has already been another turnover in the two years since. To me personally, I was troubled by the consistent lies I was told in my numerous meetings with the President. At one point in my fourth year, I realized there had only been one meeting with the President where he had not lied to me in some fashion, sometimes small – sometimes large.
When I wrote my open letter to the Louisiana Baptists, including the Board of Trustees, in 2011, it was my assumption that the Board simply did not know how bad things were. I still think that is true. But, what I did not realize was how difficult it would be for the Board to see the destructive behavior of President Joe Aguillard. I had been in meetings with Trustees where it was clear that there was an almost messianic aura around Dr. Aguillard within the Board. During his tenure as President the school policies had also been rewritten so that Dr. Aguillard controlled all information that went to the Board. Add that to the fact that the Board was only on campus a few times a year and you can begin to see the problem. I remember coming to the beginning of the year faculty meetings in the Granberry Conference Center. When contracts had been issued before the summer there had been no raises. But despite the fact that the rug in the conference center had not been in bad shape, it had been replaced with a new high end linoleum (faux wood) floor. One faculty member looked at the floor and commented, “There is our raise.” While this may seem random and an odd example, what is important to know is that Granberry is where the Board of Trustees meet. Aguillard was seemingly carefully managing how the Board perceived the College. The new floor they would see equated with prosperity while the lack of raises for faculty remained invisible.
Ultimately, of course, the Board is responsible. But, Dr. Aguillard deftly used the 2004 SACS (accrediting agency) probation which was caused by the Board over-stepping their role to shift the culture so that it almost felt as if the Board worked for Dr. Aguillard rather than the other way around. Dr. Aguillard became involved in selecting who was placed on the Board and who on the Board would be selected for the Executive Committee. Over the last two years this has begun to change as members on the Board began to become personally aware of the issues which were raised. For the first time in his Presidency, Dr. Aguillard did not control the selection of the Executive Committee for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. There now seems to be a majority on the board who believe that Aguillard needs to be replaced.
One notable hold out seems to be David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Despite the mounting evidence of Dr. Aguillard’s ethical failings, fiscal maleficence, and administrative incompetence Dr. Hankins, by many reports, is still campaigning to retain Dr. Aguillard. By one report he is putting “significant pressure” on the pastors who are members of the Board of Trustees. The main issue for Hankins seems to be the issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism. In other words, it seems that Hankins is willing to sacrifice the moral and academic equity of Louisiana College so that he can continue using Dr. Aguillard to push the issue of Calvinism at the state level.
The ties between Dr. Aguillard and Dr. Hankins can easily be seen since they both were elected to their current posts within a month of each other in the beginning of 2005. According to Dr. Hankins’ speech at the inauguration of Dr. Aguillard, he did not know him until the night of his election. But, it seems the same powers brought them both to their positions and they have been useful to each other ever since. In that inauguration speech Dr. Hankins said, “Dr. Aguillard, Louisiana College stands as a sign and a symbol from the Lord Almighty. Your best work will be the witness you give of Christ.” The reminder that the greatest work of an individual or an institution is the witness we “give of Christ” is an important one. It needs to be remembered that our commitment to truth and integrity is a large part of that witness.
On April 24, 2011, just over a month after my Open Letter noting the moral, spiritual, and academic deficiencies of the college had been released, The Town Talk published the following Letter to the Editor from Dr. Hankins:
Louisiana Baptists have one institution of higher learning in their constellation of ministries.
Louisiana College, a liberal arts college founded in 1906 and located in central Louisiana.
As Executive Director for Louisiana Baptist Convention, I thank God for Louisiana College because of its:
1. Spiritual Commitments. LC proudly declares its firm commitment to biblical and historical principles. I am thankful for what is being advocated, modeled and taught at LC today.
2. Creative Vision. Who would have thought a few years ago that LC could be deeply engaged in graduate education, have a new divinity school, a law school and other strategic endeavors such as a medical school and a film school being contemplated?
President Aguillard is quick to give credit for these innovations to the Lord and his able staff, but God has used him to help all of us dream big dreams for the advance of the school. Anyone doing anything worthwhile is going to be criticized. Criticism can also be useful in helping us improve.
However, in recent years, LC has been the victim of intensive unwarranted, untrue and destructive criticism. I’m grateful the leaders have stood firm to what is true.
3. Gospel Influence. It is amazing to think of the long-term, lifetime of gospel influence that will come to pass from the students as they move into their respective professions.
4. Academic Excellence. LC takes a backseat to no one in providing the highest quality of educational preparation in all its fields of study. I recently participated briefly in the decennial accreditation process and saw firsthand the strides LC continues to make in its academic excellence.
Continue to pray for LC. Pray for Dr. Aguillard’s improving health, finances and prospective students. Pray for LC leaders as they defend themselves from recent attacks and as they set the record straight and that the working press will be fair.
Thank God for LC. May she bring glory to Christ Jesus and His kingdom.
Louisiana Baptist Convention
There are so many issues that were brought up by this Letter to the Editor. The first that strikes me personally is that this letter attempted to publicly counter all the points I made in my letter without naming me. In large part this happened because I had refused to discuss my letter with the media, neither The Town Talk nor The Baptist Message. At that time, I felt it needed to be handled privately within the church. But, given what has happened over the last two years there are several additional insights.
- The Spiritual Commitments that Hakins praises at LC in 2011 have not changed to this day. This is interesting in terms of the current Calvinism issue. Both Dr. Jason Hiles and Dr. Kevin McFadden were on the faculty at that point in time. Dr. Hiles was the head of the Christian Studies Division and Dr. Quarles who is also known for his Calvinistic positions was, and still is, a Vice President of the College in the area of the Integration of Faith and Learning. In fact, there was a higher percentage of Calvinistic professors of Theology in 2011 than there is today at LC. Why then were the “spiritual commitments” of LC laudable in 2011 and a terrible danger in 2013? Sadly, the answer is political. In 2011, I had accused the school of spiritual cancer. It was important politically for Dr. Hankins to back the school and Dr. Aguillard as he is so politically tied to Dr. Aguillard. Today, the memory of my letter has faded to an extent and there are new battles to wage. The Calvinism issue has been in the national spotlight but more importantly Dr. Aguillard has fallen under increasing scrutiny from the Board since my letter in 2011. Aguillard has sought to use Calvinism as a theological tool, much as innerancy was used previously, to distract from the real issues of significance at LC and to consolidate his power. Hankins has been glad to work in this political fashion and knows he has a President at LC who he can control and count on. As a result, Hankins now works against multiple interests of the school to retain Aguillard’s power and camaraderie in the battle against Calvinism.
- Hankins praises the “creative vision” of the administration when it comes to graduate programs. He claims that, “anyone doing anything worthwhile will be criticized” and hints at Dr. Aguillard’s humility when he says, “President Aguillard is quick to give credit for these innovations to the Lord and his able staff.” But when one looks at the list of innovations two years later, one sees failure and embarrassment. There is no film school. There is no medical school. That seemed to fall apart when foreign Arab governments courted by Aguillard were not willing to give money to the Baptist school. There is no law school. In fact, the former Dean left contentiously reportedly with harsh words for President Aguillard. The law school has completely fallen apart with all staff leaving and even the phone being disconnected. Yet, LC still keeps the facade alive by linking to the Law School on Louisiana College’s home page. The Divinity School is in some ways a success but it has led to the current battle over Calvinism and some reports indicate that Dr. Aguillard has also alienated the Divinity School’s anonymous donors. Is Dr. Aguillard going to give credit for these failures to the Lord or his staff or will he stand to give an account? Are these criticism’s only being mounted because Dr. Aguillard doing something “worthwhile” or are they being mounted because of his administrative incompetence?
- Dr. Hankins claimed, “in recent years, LC has been the victim of intensive unwarranted, untrue and destructive criticism. I’m grateful the leaders have stood firm to what is true.” No doubt for any public institution there are some attacks which are unfair and unwarranted. However, the issues which I brought in my original letter were imminently warranted and, in fact, were only the tip of the iceberg. There has been ample documentation of serious issues at Louisiana College to the point where Shawn Thomas a former member of the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee has publicly withdrawn his long standing support of Dr. Aguillard and a large portion, likely a majority, of the traditionally loyal Board now sees the need for a change. Yet despite the evidence Dr. Hankins remains committed to Dr. Aguillard. There comes a point where those in positions of responsibility need to admit the merit of criticism, cease the political positioning, and do what is right.
- The point of Gospel influence is what tears me apart the most. I am broken every time I encounter a student who has been harmed at the hands of the administration. Or, a student who now questions their faith because of the actions of the administration. There are numerous students who fall into either category. What concerns me most about LC is the long term spiritual damage which is being done to impressionable young men and women. The life-time influence of such spiritual damage is heart-breaking.
- Dr. Hankins referenced his involvement in the accreditation process as support for LC’s “Academic Excellence.” He stated, “LC takes a backseat to no one in providing the highest quality of educational preparation in all its fields of study.” Of course the great irony is that the result of the accreditation visit which Dr. Hankins mentioned was a long and serious list of sanctions from SACS, the accrediting agency. The truth of the matter was that LC had significant issues academically and Dr. Hankins was either negligent in his role as a Trustee and LBC Executive Director or he was willfully misleading the public.
- “Pray for LC leaders as they defend themselves from recent attacks and as they set the record straight and that the working press will be fair.” wrote Dr. Hankins. As more information has become available to the public, it becomes even more obvious that the “recent attacks” were justified and that the press in pointing out issues at Louisiana College was, in fact, being fair. What remains unclear is why the Executive Director of the LBC has remained in support of a leader who so clearly must be removed.
As information about the oppressive leadership of Dr. Aguillard at Louisiana College continues to be made known, I pray that Louisiana Baptists remember that this sort of environment does not happen in a vacuum. Ultimately the Board of Trustees and the Louisiana Baptist Convention has allowed it to happen. The seeming actions currently being taken by a large portion of the Board indicates contrition or at least an awareness of the current environment and an acknowledgement that things must change.
But, why are some still striving so diligently to protect a spiritually and morally broken administration?
As Dr. Hankins pointed out in President Aguillard’s inauguration, “Your best work will be the witness you give of Christ.”
What is the witness that Dr. Hankins is giving when he continues to protect a leader such as Dr. Aguillard?