Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) confirms Louisiana College culture of dishonesty

Louisiana College LogoThursday Louisiana College posted the letter that they received from Belle Weelan president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC or more commonly referred to as SACS). This is a letter that LC officials (the president and the chairman of the board) received two months ago but refused to release even to the Board of Trustees until this week. Presumably, the reason that LC released the letter now is because the TownTalk newspaper obtained a copy of it and contacted LC to ask for comments.

southern-associationThe letter is a scathing indictment against both the Louisiana College Administration and the Board of Trustees. This is particularly interesting because many of us are watching LC to see if having Joe Aguillard out of the presidential office will actually indicate a change  in the way the college operates. Some of us are skeptical. Trustee, Jay Adkins, has even said publicly that nothing has changed. That certainly seems to be the case. Last week Joe Aguillard was praised in the first chapel of the academics year when the school held a ceremony to bestow the President Emeritus status on Aguillard.  During that chapel Aguillard was even compared to Jesus in his commitment to “[telling] it like it is.” Interestingly, the college for two months had this letter from SACS which tells a very different story. Yet, the college still chose to honor him. The TownTalk rightly pointed out that the letter from SACS vindicates the minority group of the board who have for almost two years been raising concerns about the college. It also vindicates former Vice-Presidents Timothy Johnson and Chuck Quarles for the concerns they raised about Aguillard’s leadership when they filed whistleblower complains in December 2012.

The reality is that the letter from SACS vindicates a lot of people. Forgive me for indulging, but it also vindicates me. As I read the SACS letter yesterday I kept thinking how similar some of the issues were to issues I raised when I wrote my Letter of Concern for Louisiana College   all the way back in March of 2011.

All of these actions and others taken as a whole lead to an institutionally encompassing concern: a prevalent culture demonstrated by administrative staff and the governing board of misstating, ignoring, or denying matters of documetable fact, and generation and apparent pattern of breaches in institutional integrity.

Certainly there were things I did not know in 2011. I did not at that time know the power that David Hankins wielded nor that he was a huge part of the problem. I was pleased to see SACS call out David Hankins specifically in their letter. In the explanation of the concerns about External Influences on the college, SACS claims that “evidence provided suggests the governing board accepts the notion expressed by the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention…that since the Louisiana Baptist Convention “owns” the College, the directives of the LBC supercede actions or intended actions of the board.” The letter explains that this “notion” violates accrediting Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4 which “requires that governing boards act independently of external individuals or organizations, to include religious bodies, in order to support the welfare of their institutions.” Jay Adkins in particular has done a terrific job of calling attention to this issue.

Where my 2011 letter really hit the nail on the head was about a culture of deception, abuse, and spiritual unhealth on the campus. I opened the letter with this paragraph:

Recently I read an article by Billy Graham in which he wrote, “It is only the Christian who refuses to compromise in matters of honesty, integrity and morality that is bearing an effective witness for Christ.” It is with this truth in mind that I reluctantly feel compelled to write this letter. The growing mismanagement of funds, lack of concern for faculty, fear tactics, and moral ambiguities at Louisiana College force me to write this letter to make you aware of what is happening at your college.

Interestingly the issues that places LC on Probation are 1) Institutional Integrity & External Influence (these both tie to the moral ambiguities I referenced), 2) Personnel Appointments & Administrative Staff Evaluations (these both tie to fear tactics), and 3) Control of Finances & Title IV Program Responsibilities (these tie to mismanagement of funds). I am not saying that I knew all the details that would lead to probation. I didn’t. But, what was clear for anyone with eyes to see was the character of the institution. What LC faces now are the consequences of such behavior being allowed to continue unchecked.

On the second page of my letter I argued:

What concerns me most is the spiritual condition of the campus…what I have encountered at LC is anything but spiritual health…I believe that an integral aspect of Biblical Christianity is a commitment to Truth. In fact, the very gospel hinges on the Biblical narrative’s truth. If we are to love Christ, who is the Truth and the Way, we must have a love for truth. However, it breaks my heart that this commitment to truth is not what I find at LC. I see a culture of “spin” and compromised integrity. There is a spirit of fear among the faculty and students which is wholly inconsistent with our God who does not give a spirit of fear.

In the SACS letter, the issue of spin is strongly addressed:

The voluminous documents submitted by the institution are interspersed with narrative that is laced with opinions, accusations and vilification of former employees, unusual characterization of SACSCOC actions, and dissenting Trustees, rather than recognition of deficiencies of institutional processes to ensure integrity and establishing policies and procedures to remedy concerns.

In short, LC never took responsibility. Rather than admitting wrongs or weaknesses they spun the blame off onto former employees, disgruntled trustees, and even SACS itself. This is the “Christian witness” that LC has been sharing with its students and the community for several years now.

Later in the letter I wrote:

While these facts are individually disturbing, they represent a much larger culture of dishonesty at Louisiana College… It grieves me to see the cumulative effect this environment has on LC students. They see the lack of quality and the prevailing dishonesty as an indictment of Christ. There are some who gain strength in their faith through relationships with other believing students or with faculty who thoughtfully impact their lives, but many see LC as a place of academic mediocrity and spiritual cancer.

SACS is not concerned with the spiritual health of Louisiana College but SACS does have concerns about a culture of dishonesty that exists at Louisiana College. Probably the most quoted part of the SACS letter is this quote:

All of these actions and others taken as a whole lead to an institutionally encompassing concern: a prevalent culture demonstrated by administrative staff and the governing board of misstating, ignoring, or denying matters of documentable fact, and generation and apparent pattern of breaches in institutional integrity.

“Misstating, ignoring, or denying matters of documentable fact” is essentially declaring the administration and board leadership liars. Earlier in the SACS letter, concerns about  LC’s “mischaracterizations of SACSCOC actions” were addressed. The three concerns that SACS addressed directly were 1) “a claim of SACSCOC exoneration of the President from allegations filed in a complaint” 2) ” a misrepresentation regarding the reasons for the denial of approval of a law school” and 3) a claim that SASCOC explicitly approved a College policy.

In February, Aguillard lying about his exoneration by SACS was big news and sparked the release of recordings that eventually led to his demise. It is good to see SACS affirm that they were in fact NOT exonerating Aguillard. As for the law school…well…at this point I honestly can’t remember what lie LC told…there are so many. I do, however, remember the issue around the claim that SACS approved a College policy. Approved is actually an understatment. Tommy French told the board of Trustees that SACS required an expanded confidentiality agreement. The board then voted to approve the gag order based on French’s word.

I feel like a broken record. So many times proof has come forward that shows how bad and dishonest the situation at Louisiana College is. Each and every time, supporters of the college choose to ignore truth and back the political powers in the LBC. So much and yet so little has changed in the last three and a half years since I first wrote my open letter. I close this post the same way I closed my letter in 2011:

In all of this, my great pain is that I believe LC is taking the Lord’s name in vain. John MacArthur has written, “To use God’s name in such a way as to bring disrepute upon his character or deeds [is] to irreverently misuse His name.” Is that not what we do at LC when we claim all we do is for Christ yet do it without integrity, quality, or discernment? Are we not taking the Lord’s name in vain when we claim that others of faith who disagree with us are “poison” or that media reports which are based on our internal documents are “attacks from Satan?” When we see leaders rewarding themselves and neglecting their employees or falsehoods being propagated as truth in the name of Christ, are we truly honoring Him? When we set forth lofty plans about multi-million dollar programs yet neglect the basic health and safety of students already entrusted to us, are we bringing Him glory? When our works prefer to be hidden rather than known publicly, are we illustrating that “he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:21)?

The Louisiana College community is a group of believers who proclaim to stand for a conservative theology and claim to show our loving Christ to the world. I am passionate about the LC that I was recruited to serve: an LC that is academically excellent and honors Christ in word and deed. But, that is not the LC I have experienced. My greatest concern is that the Louisiana Baptist and Louisiana College communities are either filled with apathy or a lack of discernment. I fear that there will be those in our communities who will stand in judgment before Christ and be required to explain why they tolerated His name being taken in vain. For those who tolerate it, I pray they have an answer. But, mostly I pray that we do not tolerate it, that we stand now and say He is my Lord and my God and I will not let His name go undefended.

 

 

Rondall Reynoso

Rondall 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 Ph.D. in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

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