Louisiana College- Open Letter to the Board of Trustees by Dr. Scott Culpepper
Dr. Scott Culpepper asked me to post his open letter to the Board of Trustees at Louisiana College. Dr. Culpepper and I were both on Faculty at Louisiana College and had many similar experiences. You can read, in part, about my experiences here and here.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Louisiana College Board of Trustees,
As an alumnus (1996) and a former faculty member (2007-2012) of Louisiana College, I urge you to take decisive action to restore the academic and spiritual integrity of our college by immediately terminating the employment of Joe Aguillard as president of Louisiana College and dismissing all charges against Joshua Breland and all other students involved in this recent fiasco. I do not make either of these requests lightly or without good reason. There are many who would attest to my conservative credentials, but I found that I could no longer serve under Joe Aguillard in good conscience because his leadership contradicts the very core of the scripture he claims to defend. Public and private dishonesty, spiritual manipulation and intimidation, irresponsible anti-intellectualism, and presumptuous attempts to implement poorly conceived pipe dreams rather than responsible planning has characterized life at Louisiana College during Joe Aguillard’s tenure. His recent attempt to penalize students for exercising their First Amendment rights is only the latest in a long series of poor decisions that have compromised the academic and spiritual integrity of Louisiana College.
I was initially a supporter of Joe Aguillard and excited about the new direction of Louisiana College. I had been concerned about issues at Louisiana College as a student and was hopeful that the new direction of the college would provide a fresh start in a positive direction. Even when I started to hear disturbing stories about how the transition had been engineered, I hoped that reconciliation could be achieved and that the college would move forward. None of that happened. As my first year at LC continued, I began to be concerned about the grandiose announcements that were being made regarding the establishment of a law school with no clear plan for funding the venture. I also became aware that many of my colleagues were struggling financially and yet vast amounts were being funneled for the building of a new football stadium. Only the first phase of that project is completed nearly four years later. I told myself that maybe the administration was just operating with the hope that athletics would make money to support academics, but it became increasingly obvious that little fundraising was going on to support the undergraduate program. In fact, the undergraduate program, the traditional core of Louisiana College’s liberal arts program, seemed to be taking a back seat to the dizzying array of proposed graduate ventures that were being advanced by the administration.
I thought I was alone in my concerns for a while and possibly overreacting. As evidence began to accumulate that my impressions were accurate, I started to compare notes with colleagues. I discovered that several of them had similar concerns and also new information to add to what I had observed myself. It also became obvious that there was no forum for faculty to safely speak to the administration about these issues. Conversations I had with Dr. Aguillard about them generally degenerated into attempts on his part to find out who I had been talking with and reminders that we need to be careful of idle gossip. We were told that anyone who went directly to the Board of Trustees without first speaking with Aguillard would be immediately terminated for insubordination.
My first direct encounter with Aguillard’s style of managing subordinates came in the spring of 2009 when I voiced concern, first through a series of e-mail messages and then through a letter sent to leading administrators as well as select faculty members, about comments made by David Barton at the spring commencement. Mr. Barton made several comments at the ceremony that were erroneous. Not only students but faculty members seemed to be taking his false assertions as fact. I had already communicated to the administration before the event Barton’s well known reputation for distorting facts and his nearly universal repudiation by Christian academics. I requested that Aguillard allow us to present the other side of the argument for students and faculty who might be aware of Barton’s factual distortions. The response was bizarre. Dr. Chuck Quarles had also written a letter in which he echoed some of my concerns about Barton’s presentation. Aguillard requested that his personal assistant, Joseph Cole, vet my letter and Dr. Quarles’ for factual accuracy because we probably “misunderstood Bro. Barton.” Cole was a music major with no background in history who had not even completed his undergraduate degree. Aguillard finally called me in for a rather strange conversation in which I tried to convince him with historical evidence that Barton was incorrect, and he responded by continually asserting that I would believe otherwise if I felt the spiritual vibe at Barton’s headquarters in Aledo, TX. The meeting ended with Aguillard saying that he forgave me for my letter. When I tried to diplomatically say that I stood by the letter and was not apologizing for its content, Aguillard said it would be best for my long term future at Louisiana College to forget about Barton. I am still convinced that if Dr. Quarles had not been involved as well and I had not just been selected as Professor of the Year by the student body that spring that my treatment at this time might have mirrored the ordeal that Rondall Reynoso endured two years later.
My second direct encounter occurred in the early summer of 2010. I had become increasingly aware of the deteriorating infrastructure on campus. The information technology services were and continue to be an embarrassment. The dorms and library were rotting even then. I had just returned to my office after teaching a May term class. My students in the class were upset because they had not been able to access e-mail for days; they were unable to read primary sources for the class that day because the blackboard server was down; several of them had major registration issues, and the classroom computers did not function that day. As I sat contemplating all these frustrations, the melodic strains of “Home on the Range” wafted over Alexandria Hall from the sparkling new chimes that had been installed in our dilapidated headquarters through the generosity of an anonymous donor. Sick and tired of the complete cloak of silence imposed by the administration on any hint of a statement that sounded like a critique or criticism, I placed a statement on my Facebook page expressing my frustration that we had money to install bells to play American folk anthems on the hour, but none to provide an adequate infrastructure for our students. Several students and faculty members responded with their own frustrations. Joe’s response was immediate. He called me and two other faculty members to his office with no warning.
In my meeting with him, he claimed that the donor was very upset and that the donor had specified which songs he wanted played. “Home on the Range” was supposedly one of them. I am guessing he liked “The Wizard of Oz” as well because we often heard other triumphant songs to advance the Kingdom of God such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I was very open and honest with Aguillard at this meeting. I told him that I wanted to trust him but that I had serious questions about the direction of the college and his leadership. He responded by giving me a trite illustrative story on gossip printed from one of those web sites that provides cribbed illustrations for sermons. When I said that there were others who shared my concerns, Aguillard responded, “Who? I want to know all their names!” When I refused to provide him with names, he accused me of lying about there being other concerned parties. When he asked why I did not think that the administration was working to raise money to care for the campus, I indicated that the library roof was in disrepair, the dorms were falling apart, and the information technology infrastructure was shot. When I mentioned the library roof, Aguillard shouted, “That is a lie! You have been a pastor and you are lying about the state of our campus!” I later learned that a crew was brought in just a few weeks later to examine the roof. Two years later, I learned from a student that both a donor and the Board of Trustees were going around campus asking questions but not about the condition of the campus. They were asking questions about me. To this day none of them, including the donor, has ever approached me or asked me anything about my reasons for expressing those concerns. I am convinced again that it was only my good record and the verbal support of many students that protected me. I am also convinced that this was the moment that the administration decided to make Rondall Reynoso the scapegoat for faculty dissent. Rondall was only one individual involved in the Facebook posts, but as an Art professor with a small cohort who was unknown to many students on campus, he was easier to slander than the rest of us. He also was known to challenge the administration on ethical issues when they were in the wrong. Aguillard directly called Rondall poison in our meeting that day and said I needed to “pray about the influences on my life.”
While these two encounters represent occasions when I attempted to express concerns directly to Dr. Aguillard, we daily lived in an atmosphere of tension and paranoia. Aguillard and many of his associates routinely acted in ways that were spiritually immature. They made a regular practice of shunning people who displeased them by refusing to acknowledge their presence when they passed them in the hallway. There was an expectation that, in the words of an administrator, “You must love everyone Joe loves and hate everyone Joe hates.” My department chair increasingly put pressure on me to stop allowing people to come to my office who were considered critical of the administration. Information technology personnel who could not keep the campus network operating in the best of circumstances spent an inordinate amount of time monitoring faculty e-mail and Facebook to look for “subversive” activities. A spirit of fear and paranoia pervaded the campus.
We hung our heads in embarrassment as Joe launched a crusade against the “Satanic” Town Talkwhich dared to print the truth about his administration. I listened to hateful diatribes in chapel and faculty meetings that contradicted everything we were trying to teach our students about developing the mind for God’s glory. We watched as Joe ate worms twice, hired an actor to play a mentally retarded person to make a point about how we needed to be open to admitting people with mental handicaps, listened as he slandered Baylor University as a godless and secular school, and chuckled at the great bat infestation which the administration would never admit happened. I listened to Joe lie repeatedly about the extent of our problems with SACS when I knew the truth and was threatened for sharing it. The entire time my heart broke for my students, some of whom had no idea what they were not getting at Louisiana College and others who endured threats and intimidation because they knew exactly what was happening and would not stand for it. In fact, those who are rightly expressing concern for the students now being repressed should know that there were many before them who were quietly dealt with by the administration and whose cause was not taken up simply because they were not ministerial students. In fact, the Christian Studies department often warned their students to stay away from these students because they were “troublemakers.”
The tactics of the administration reached a new low with the Rondall Reynoso prosecution. I will not retell the entire story because Rondall has told it well himself on several forums. For my part, I was walking a very thin line because of my friendship with Rondall and my obvious agreement with his critique. I was “asked” to recuse myself from his case, the only faculty case ever to reach the Faculty Advisory Committee during my tenure of service, because evidence would be presented about situations in which I had been involved. This directive was sent down despite the fact that Carolyn Spears, a fervent supporter of Aguillard, was allowed to serve on the committee even though she was implicated in evidence that Rondall was presenting in his defense. Aguillard’s “request” was delivered to me by Joseph Cole. Cole walked into an upper-level class and interrupted me mid-lecture to hand-deliver me the document in front of a room full of startled students. In addition to Rondall’s dismissal, another of my colleagues, Beth Overhauser was released from her contract despite the fact that she had been given a promissory notice that her contract would be renewed a month earlier. Beth had testified on Rondall’s behalf, a practice that was permitted by the faculty handbook, and she also dared to suggest to Aguillard that she was concerned that his rhetoric in chapel regarding homosexuality might be tempered with more references to God’s willingness to forgive anyone who would repent. Several faculty members assisted the administration in branding Beth a radical because we had read George Orwell’s 1984 in a faculty reading group. They also said she was disparaging Louisiana because we read John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces. This book had been chosen by another member of the group. All other books we read were chosen from a list of acknowledged classics by group consensus. It did not matter. She was given no contract while other faculty members received ours in our boxes during commencement exercises. She had to request a meeting to get face-to-face confirmation from acting president Tim Johnson and Vice President of Academic Affairs Tim Searcy that she was not being renewed..
I could write an entire book chronicling the issues at Louisiana College. Since this document is already longer than I planned, I will close by saying that the examples here could be supported by a ream of other incidents. By God’s grace, He delivered my family from these circumstances last year when we received a call to teach at another private Christian college. While I will not chronicle all of our personal issues due to our LC experience, suffice it to say that it was unbelievably stressful for our entire family. Louisiana College administrators often brought up our families when reminding us that we needed to toe the party line, regardless of the truth. They constantly displayed callousness towards concerns about the welfare of families and other innocents that stood in direct contrast to the compassion Jesus commands us to have for even our enemies.
For these reasons and many others that I have not had time to record, I state once again my impassioned request that you begin the rebuilding of Louisiana College by removing Joe Aguillard from power, rescuing the Christian Studies students he is persecuting currently, and dismantling the network of supporters who have enabled his ruthless leadership. This task will not be easy. There are many who would still be at Louisiana College who have been willing instruments in implementing Aguillard’s reign of terror. Others have enabled him through their silence or by reporting on other faculty and students who sought to bring change. Anyone who takes the helm will have to deal with these remaining corrupt elements as well as with a Louisiana Baptist constituency that has no understanding of how to foster a quality conservative Christian education. In other words, you and the future president of Louisiana College have your work cut out for you. But I am praying that you have been sent for this time, to this place, in this role, for such a time as this. May God bless you and Louisiana College!
Dr. Scott Culpepper
LC Class of 1996