Louisiana College, Lingering Questions & Last Thoughts

All’s well that ends well.” I can imagine that these words — or a variation of them — have been uttered more than once by supporters of Joe Aguillard, the beleaguered President of Louisiana College, since a slim majority (widely reported as 16 to 13) of LC’s Board of Trustees voted on April 30 to retain him as President:

After a long, thorough investigation, the board has exonerated Dr. Aguillard of all allegations that were brought forward in the whistleblower complaints”

For many supporters of Louisiana College and of Dr. Aguillard (not necessarily the same thing), their hopes and prayers are that the Board’s vote last Tuesday will be enough to put this sad saga in the past and allow both LC and the Louisiana Baptist Convention to move forward into a bright future. If last Wednesday’s press conference (video here) — announcing the anonymous donation of a $10 million pledge — is any indication, it would appear that Dr. Aguillard and the powers-that-be at LC want to act as if “all’s well that ends well.” That is certainly their prerogative, but I’m not sure that a split vote of the Board of Trustees, which was itself preceded by a split vote of a Special Committee appointed to review the report of the independent investigation, will be how most folks — including most Louisiana Baptists — define “ending well.”

As I wrote in my post last Thursday, I have no dog in this fight. However, the kerfuffle at LC is a story made for “From Law to Grace.” It is the quintessential collision of religion, politics, and law. As a lawyer-turned-pastor, I find the lingering questions of this tale quite compelling. Perhaps no one will think these questions worthy of consideration.  Some will object to the wording of the questions. Some will not like that the questions are even asked. That’s okay. I won’t lose any sleep over the matter, I assure you!

Before posing those lingering (and pesky) questions, let me state a few of my own presuppositions and assumptions. First, it is well-established that Louisiana College is not a secular, godless institution of higher learner, but rather a Christian school affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention. As such, those in leadership — the President, Faculty, and Staff — are, according to LC’s own website (here) those “who exemplify a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ.” There should be no question that the Trustees of LC are committed Christians who also exemplify that same “deep personal faith in Jesus Christ.”

Secondly, I assume that these same Christian leaders, including President Aguillard, would want to do everything in their power to be “above reproach” so that not only is the name of Jesus Christ magnified, but that LC’s reputation as a Christian college is protected. I don’t believe that Presidents or Professors at Christian colleges, universities, or seminaries are “pastors” in the Biblical sense of the word, but I think that employing an “above reproach” standard of character and conduct should not be too much to ask of these leaders. As such, if there are allegations of impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety, I would hope that Christian leaders would take the necessary steps, as quickly as possible, to refute the allegations, if untrue. Not only would this go a long way to ensure that a Christian leader remains “above reproach,” but it would also help to protect the ministry (church, college, entity) to which that leader has been called to serve.

Thirdly, the “thorough investigation” conducted by LC’s Board of Trustees — including the independent investigation and report (here) of the New Orleans law firm, Kinney, Ellinghausen, Richard & DeShazo – was not criminal or civil in nature. Joe Aguillard was not an accused in a criminal prosecution nor was he a defendant in a civil lawsuit. The rules of evidence, subpoenas, depositions, interrogatories, and the like were not applicable. Unlike a criminal case, Dr. Aguillard was not faced with a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. And, unlike a civil case, Dr. Aguillard was not required to sit down for a deposition conducted by opposing counsel. The facts of this case seem to be one of a Christian college President accused of wrongdoing by others within the college and an attempt by the Board of Trustees to discover whether or not the allegations against the President were true or false.

The above presuppositions and assumptions, while arrived at with reason and a regard for the facts of this case, are by no means infallible. I am certainly open to correction or contrary opinions. With that in mind, let me leave my readers — including many in Louisiana who took the time to read my first post on LC — with some lingering questions. I do not have definitive answers to these questions, mainly because some of the principal players involved have given contradictory statements. In addition, the reporting by Kelly Boggs of The Baptist Message, Louisiana Baptists’ state newspaper, has not only been confusing, but has raised additional questions relating to a “double-secret” file that he reviewed in Dr. Aguillard’s office.

  1. Was Dr. Aguillard instructed by the Board of Trustees to cooperate with the independent investigation conducted by the Kinney Law Firm? If no, why not? If the Board of Trustees failed to communicate to Dr. Aguillard that he was required to cooperate with the independent investigation, then the following lingering questions can be more easily explained. I would suggest that, if the BoT did not require Dr. Aguillard to cooperate with investigators, then the Board failed in its oversight responsibilities of the President.
  2. If the LC Board of Trustees did require Dr. Aguillard to cooperate with the Kinney investigation, then did Dr. Aguillard in fact refuse to be interviewed by the investigators, as has been alleged in the final report? (see page 13 of the Kinney Report) If so, did the Board of Trustees or Special Committee discuss this failure to cooperate with Dr. Aguillard?
  3. Did the Kinney Law Firm have access to the file folder of exculpatory evidence that Dr. Aguillard has in his office and which Kelly Boggs reviewed? Was this evidence only provided to the Special Committee and not to the Kinney Law Firm.  Why would Dr. Aguillard not turn over supposedly exculpatory evidence early in the independent investigation? According to a report in Town Talk:

The president responded via email and wrote, “Once a complete documentation of the facts were made available to the committee, which exculpatory evidence was NOT shown or provided for in the New Orleans lawyer’s ‘report,’ I was exonerated of all allegations.”

“Don Richard, a partner in the New Orleans law firm, responded to Aguillard’s comment that documents had been ignored,” according to the Town Talk. “I think our report speaks for itself,” Richard said. “We looked at what was given to us. I don’t know what he’s (Aguillard) talking about.”

4.  If the Special Committee of seven members who reviewed the Kinney Law Firm had access to Aguillard’s file folder of exculpatory evidence, how did the members of the committee review the evidence? Did they question why the evidence was not turned over to the Kinney Law Firm? Did they call witnesses to corroborate or contradict the emails and other evidence contained in the folder? What weight did the Special Committee give to the Kinney Report and to Aguillard’s exculpatory evidence? It’s interesting to note that the Committee split 4-3 on whether to exonerate Aguillard, even after reviewing the “double-secret” file. One of the three who voted not to exonerate Dr. Aguillard was Jack Hunter, an attorney and executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association. Did attorney Hunter miss something that the majority of non-lawyers on the Special Committee saw?

5. Did the full Board of Trustees have access to the “inch-thick folder” prior to their meeting on April 30 or was this evidence only given to them during their deliberations on April 30? If so, how long did they have to review all of the evidence contained in the folder? What process did the Trustees use in reviewing all of the new evidence? Did they call any witnesses to testify to the contents of any of the emails or to clarify any of the emails?

6. Lastly, how long did it take for Kelly Boggs, editor of The Baptist Message, to review all of the exculpatory evidence in the “double-secret” file in Dr. Aguillard’s office? Was it minutes, hours, days, or weeks? Does Mr. Boggs have an eidetic (photographic) memory such that he was able to coalesce in his mind all of the competing documents in the file and come to a rapid conclusion:

The Baptist Message was allowed to examine the contents of the folder with the understanding that because the information dealt with a personnel issue it should be considered confidential.  After examining the evidence contained in the folder, the Baptist Message had to conclude that information exists that seems to dispute the conclusions of the Kinney law firm’s report concerning the allegations leveled at Aguillard in the whistleblower complaints. (LC Board exonerates President Aguillard)

There are, no doubt, many other lingering questions that could be asked. Ultimately, it will be up to the churches — both pastors and lay folks — of the Louisiana Baptist Convention to pursue answers to these questions. As each state convention is autonomous, no one outside of the LBC can dictate what happens at LC. Although what happens in each Baptist state convention affects all Southern Baptists to a certain extent, the problems at Louisiana College — which appear to be long-standing — can only be solved by Louisiana Baptists. Absent extenuating circumstances, this post will be my last thoughts on the sad story of Louisiana College.

 

 


Comments

Louisiana College, Lingering Questions & Last Thoughts — 4 Comments

  1. I am reminded of Liberty U’s “exoneration” of E. Caner. This was promptly followed by his removal as head of the branch (my interpretation), followed by his removal from the institution as soon as his contract allowed (also my interpretation of what went on).

  2. Since I wasn’t in the meeting, I should have written, “it is my understanding that John Hoychick did not recuse himself from the vote to retain Aguillard.”

    • Ken,

      If your understanding is correct, I think that would be another illustration of the dysfunction that surrounds the leadership of Louisiana College. In order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, LC could acknowledge that individual Trustees recused themselves from voting. I don’t expect that to happen, but it would be nice. Thanks for the additional information and for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

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