Woes continue for Louisiana College even without Aguillard

Louisiana College LogoSeveral months back Dr. Joe Aguillard denied that the Southern Association of  Colleges and Schools (SACS) had reopened an investigation into Louisiana College. However, this afternoon LC released the following Press Release:

Louisiana College Placed on Probation by SACSCOC; Maintains Full Accreditation 

PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact John Willie, (318) 487-7194
jwillie@lacollege.edu

PINEVILLE, LA. June 19, 2014 – The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) has placed Louisiana College on probation because of issues related to trustee board governance (3.2.4), institutional integrity (1.1), personnel policies (3.2.9; 3.2.10), and audit findings that pertain to some financial control matters and student financial aid (3.10.3; 4.7).

The announcement comes following a vote of the accrediting agency’s Board of Trustees at their annual June meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

“Although the decision is disappointing, it represents an opportunity for Louisiana College to address the issues in preparation for the arrival of a new president.” said Dr. Argile Smith, President pro tempore. “Fortunately, the issues don’t bring into question in any way the excellent classroom work being done by our professors and students. The issues have to do with administrative areas.”

The decision by SACSCOC does not change the status of Louisiana College as a fully accredited school. Louisiana College has been continuously accredited since 1925. In fact, the accrediting agency reaffirmed Louisiana College’s accreditation in December 2013. The faculty has worked diligently to maintain and exceed the standards set by the accrediting agency.

In accordance with its probationary status, Louisiana College remains fully accredited. A monitoring report will be prepared in advance of a SACSCOC team visit to the campus in April 2015.

To learn more about the recent SACS ruling and Louisiana College’s steps moving forward, a question and answer session with Wildcat Media’s, Al Quartemont, and Interim President, Argile Smith, will be available tomorrow.

This comes only six months after Louisiana College had been removed from Warning Status by SACS and this makes the third time in 10 years that LC has received sanctions from SACS. So what made SACS change their mind so quickly after giving LC a clean bill of heath? Only SACS can answer that for sure but the standards which are cited as reasons for SACS punishing LC give some good hints.

  1. trustee board governance (3.2.4)
  2. institutional integrity (1.1)
  3. personnel policies (3.2.9; 3.2.10)
  4. audit findings that pertain to some financial control matters and student financial aid (3.10.3; 4.7)

Trustee Board Governance

SACS Standard 3.2.4 reads:

The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence. (External influence)

It has been clear that there are huge issues with the Louisiana College Board of Trustees. Ten trustees released a public statement about the undue influence which David Hankins exhibits on the Board. Jay Adkins has made the argument that according to the bylaws of the Louisiana Baptist Convention that Hankins should not even serve of the Board. In response Chairman of the Board Tommy French told the Board of Trustees that he had received a letter from SACS stating that if they did not expand the Trustee Gag Order (Confidentiality Agreement) that SACS would place the college on probation. The problem is that SACS sent no such letter. It was a bald-faced lie by the Chairman of the Board. This resulted in one Board Member resigning and another leaving the meeting in protest. This was just the most recent and most obvious incident among many where the majority of the board has been accused of covering up the truth and hiding misdeeds.

Institutional Integrity

SACS Standard 1.1 reads:

The institution operates with integrity in all matters. (Integrity)

This is the big one. Everything else in accreditation hinges on the accrediting agency being able to believe the institution. Unfortunately, documents were forged under Aguillard’s administration and as discussed above, the Chairman of the Board lied to the entire board at their last meeting. What is important now is that LC demonstrates that they do have integrity. The problem is that Joe Aguillard was a huge part of the problem. Sadly, rather than firing Aguillard because of his gross misconduct they decided to grant him a year sabbatical at full presidential pay and make him President Emeritus. Further, when the announcement was made the Board praised Aguillard’s leadership and Christian Commitment. None of this is indicative of an institution that is seeking to correct its integrity problem.

The Board also made a problematic choice in selecting Argile Smith for the Interim President. Recordings of Smith demonstrate that he falsified his testimony against former Vice President and Dean of the Divinity School Chuck Quarles when he claimed that Quarles wanted the Divinity School to be a Calvinistic institution. A recording of Smith threatening a student was also released last year. These two events have made me very cautious about Smith, who I do not know personally as he came to LC the year after I left. These sort of problems cannot give SACS confidence that LC has turned a corner.

I will say that I try to reach out to those who I criticize on this blog. So, today I contacted Smith to see if he had any additional comments and to offer him the chance to tell his side of the story (unedited by me) if he chooses. I have extended this offer to others. Smith is the first LC or LBC official to even respond to me. So, while I am still very concerned about the two incidents above Smith does seem to be more transparent. LC needs transparency.

Personnel Policies

SACS Standard 3.2.9 reads:

The institution publishes policies regarding appointment, employment,  and evaluation of all personnel (Personnel appointment)

SACS Standard 3.2.10 reads:

The institution periodically evaluates the effectiveness of its administrators. (Administrative staff evaluations)

In some ways, these are odd Standards to cite since presumably they were found to be in compliance when LC was removed from Warning Status six months ago. What changed? It is hard to tell but I would wager that this has to do with Tim Johnson and Chuck Quarles. Both former Vice Presidents filed whistle-blower complaints- some thing they were able to do as administrators but something that most faculty could not do since the whistle-blower policy was never published. Further, it is clear that Aguillard retaliated against Tim Johnson in his evaluation and I have been told that Aguillard did not undergo regular evaluations himself. All of this points to some policies not being published and some published policies not being followed.

I know from personal experience that Aguillard played very loosely with the published policies. In one meeting I had he produced an altered document which supported his claim that a letter I wanted placed in my personnel file could not be placed in that file but that he would keep it in his own personal file. It wasn’t until I returned to my office and looked up the published policy, which I had previously referenced but had not memorized, that I realized that he had produced a falsified document.

Audit findings- Financial Control and Student Financial Aid

This is the area I know the least about. I do know that a recent audit showed that Aguillard had indeed misappropriated designated funds as had been previously found by all sources except the Board of Trustees investigation. I have also been told that there have been issues with LC not turning in Financial Aid documentation in a timely manner. But, beyond that I know very little. However, these are serious issues. Without proper financial controls an institution is in trouble and despite their private religious status LC cannot survive without federal and state financial aid dollars.

 

Watching the responses to this news on social media has been interesting. So far, I have seen very little surprise. There is sadness but it seems many felt that this was expected. The only surprise I have seen is from people who are surprised that SACS finally did something after doing so little for so long.

The important thing here though is for this to be a wake-up call for Louisiana College and the Board of Trustees. Joe Aguillard wasn’t the problem. He was a symptom of the problem. It has become clear that the problem at LC is not “Aguillard and his cronies” as one Facebook comment put it but Hankins and his cronies. Aguillard and his abusive personality stayed in power because Hankins willed it. When Aguillard lost Hankin’s favor he lost his job. But, LC has done wrong and needs to be willing to admit it. At this point, there is no way to move forward without admitting their wrongs and correcting them. In Church we call this confessing and repenting. What is good for the individual soul is also good for LC’s corporate soul.

 

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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