The whisper in the wind is that President Joe Aguillard will soon be removed as President of Louisiana College. Some think it will happen in today’s board meeting while others believe he will hold on until the March meeting. But, very few people seem to think that Aguillard will survive this latest controversy.
After I wrote my open Letter of Concern, Dr. Aguillard accused me of trying to get him fired. That honestly wasn’t my aim. It was my conviction that LC needed to change some behavior and be more transparent. But, with the events that followed I learned that the moral situation at LC was 10 times worse than I had thought when I wrote my first letter. The more I learn, the sadder I become.
But, it seems that change is in the air. But what sort of change? I want to take a moment to think through what meaningful change at Louisiana College would be.
A Louisiana College student who I taught for one class wrote on my Facebook wall:
“I’d really like to understand why the time is so ripe for all these alumni to come forward and make statements. Joe Aguillard’s antics, the reign of terror, didn’t happen over night. Students having be going through what Breland and Wales are now experiencing for the last 8 years. And now everyone is really grieved and concerned with the condition of the school. All because differences in doctrinal semantics have seemingly caused contractual non-renewals in the divinity school/christian studies department. Aguillard regularly told students, specifically the SGA [Student Government Association], that US constitutional protections like the first amendment right to free speech, carry no weight at LC. But now everyone’s shocked that a couple theology students are being persecuted for blogging about the situation at the school. These sort of tactics were perfectly acceptable and easily overlooked when it was other departments being targeted. I’m sorry, but this part angers me more than what is going on at LC right now, and I have very little hope that the meeting today will make any difference. Even if, wonder of wonders, Dr. Aguillard is removed, I don’t see the school making a turn around after this. The damage has been done, both to the school’s reputation and its witness. It’s alienated more alumni than it can afford and lost face as a school and Christian institution. I care about the place as an alma mater, and I want to see it thrive, but after almost a decade of this with no change or hope for change, I can’t see it as anything other than a lost cause.”
This Louisiana College Alumnus has a fair point. The problems at Louisiana College did not just appear out of thin air or without warning. There has been a culture created at LC, within the LBC, and even within the SBC that has facilitated the sort of behavior we see at LC. So what does LC need to do now?
- Remove Aguillard from the Presidency. I don’t see any way around this. There is so much baggage with his presidency. As bad as what has been made public is…there is so much more. I pray that Aguillard will repent and turn his life around. But, whatever happens he should not remain as president.
- Publicly Admit Wrong. There has been so much damage over the last decade that has been swept under the rug. People’s lives have been destroyed and students have been emotionally and spiritually scarred. There are serious trust issues with LC right now. The only way for LC to get past these issues is to admit they blew it. Anything else will simply look like more of the same. Public sins need to be dealt with publicly.
- Apologize. In some ways this won’t change anything. The wrongs will still have been done. But, LC needs to show contrition. The board needs to look into the eyes of those who have been wronged and let them know with a broken spirit that they are truly sorry for their part. Heeling needs to occur before LC has any hope to rebuild.
Bring in a President from Outside the Church Political Structure. I once had a former administrator at LC tell me that even if the Board got rid of Aguillard they would bring in someone akin to him. This is a constant concern that I hear. It is the tendency of an institution like LC to look to theologians at times like this for moral guidance. That is understandable. But, one of my great disappointments at Louisiana College has been the moral cowardice of Southern Baptist Theologians when it comes to speaking into the political powers that be. They are great at calling out the sins of the world. But, their livelihood is caught up in not rocking the SBC political boat too much. I know theologians who are now states away from LC who still remain silent despite the fact that they know the truth. I know theologians at LC who supported Aguillard for years while turning a blind eye to his sinful actions. True some stood against Aguillard in a strong way at the end of 2012 which is what has caused the current issue, but those same persons committed their own wrongs while supporting Aguillard. A stand once the political winds are turning cannot undo the years of wrongs committed. The sad truth is that the current power structures within the LBC and SBC are about power as much, or likely more than, about theology. As long as LC hires a president who is invested in the current power and political structures things cannot change. LC needs a president who can speak both to the sins of the world and the sins of the church.
- Judiciously Clean LC’s House. Aguillard was not able to do what he has done without surrounding himself with people who were willing to go along with it. At the same time, Louisiana College cannot afford to turn over 75% of its faculty like it did a few years back. The next president will need a great deal of wisdom to clear the walls that need to be cleared without knocking down the structures that hold up the roof.
- Build Good Will in LC’s House. While there are plenty of opportunists and sycophants at LC there are also plenty of good people. These people have been marginalized and abused for years. They live in fear for their jobs and their careers conflicted by the immorality they see but unable to speak because of the oppression under which they have lived. Sadly, they need to learn to trust the college again but the college has to prove its trustworthiness. This can happen in part by bringing in the right person as president. It also, however, needs to be accomplished through changes in school policy. Aguillard and his supporters consolidated all power into the president’s hands. That needs to change. There needs to be a dispersion of power and there needs to be transparency. Only then will the faculty and staff be able to have some confidence that they are safe in their professional home.
- Build Good Will with the Alumni Community. When the administrative change occurred in 2005 the present administration did little to build bridges with the alumni. Many alumni were critical of the change and as a result the administration took to characterizing any who disagreed with the administration as ‘liberal’ or doing the work of the devil. From my experience, I see that many who have been disenfranchised were not liberal but were concerned with the unethical behavior of the administration. They have been hurt and as the comments on this blog indicate many have no desire to support LC as it currently stands. The reality though is that a college needs its alumni community. I believe that a thoughtful administration can build bridges with the schools alumni while maintaining a conservative theological stance. In some ways the Aguillardian era may make this easier. The alumni have seen how badly things can and have gone. They still love their school and will likely be open to a reasonable yet theologically conservative administration.
- Build Good will in the Church Community. The situation with the churches is a little different. LC has had very poor church relations for a long time. Many of the relationships that have been built with churches over the last 8 years have been built upon the narrative that the good and godly Aguillard administration kicked out the godless liberals and restored LC to God’s grace. I do not doubt that there were elements in the “Old LC” that needed to change. What I do doubt is that it was as broad as claimed and that what replaced it was more healthy. I know for a fact that a faculty member in VERY good standing with the administration taught aura alignment in her classes. This is hardly the type of conservative Biblicism that most churches want taught at their schools. As I see it, one of the main jobs of the next president will be to spend a great deal of the time on the road meeting with church leaders and building relationships and trust. LC has destroyed a great deal of trust over the last decade and more will be destroyed as the failings of the Aguillard administration become clearer. LC needs the churches. They need to work hard to build honest, transparent relationships with them.
- Reestablish Academic Credibility. A professor at a Louisiana state school has called LC the Louisiana College of Bible and Football. There is nothing wrong with LC being known for its Biblical commitment or its excellence in athletics. But, LC is a college and also needs to be known for its academics which have declined markedly over that last few years as student ACT scores have fallen and faculty have been forced to be more concerned with placating the administration than providing a rigorous education. I am not saying that many professors don’t still try to provide quality education, many do, but the administration has made it more difficult. Many still succeed but the academic world sees the challenges which faculty face. Further, LC has made a habit of nepotism and cronyism. Administrators and faculty with degree mill diplomas and faculty without proper credentials do not help LC’s academic reputation nor does it help with the current accreditation issues which plague the institution.
- Reestablish Spiritual and Moral Credibility. LC has covered up problems for years and has done so with little compassion. That must change. LC must become a beacon of true spirituality and morality in Central Louisiana. I had a sales job when I was in college and one thing we were taught it that “nobody cares how much we know until they know how much we care.” That is a lesson LC must learn. At the heart of the Gospel is love. Powers at LC are willing to go to the mat over the Calvinism verses Arminianism debate but were willing to stay quiet on issues of basic morality and honesty. They stayed quiet on issues of love. The world sees that and it destroys LC’s witness.
It is my prayer that Louisiana will come out of its current issues a healthier institution. But, it doesn’t just require a change of president. It will require a complete change in how business is done.