Louisiana College elects Aguillard as president amid campus turmoil

PINEVILLE, La. (ABP) -- Joe Aguillard, 47, was elected president of Louisiana College Jan. 17 after a marathon trustee meeting that included protesters and a last-minute alternate nominee.

Aguillard, assistant professor and chair of the education division at the Louisiana Baptist school, was the favorite of the trustee board's conservative majority. But interim president John Traylor, 76, also was nominated by moderate-leaning trustees and interviewed by the board.

As trustees met for more than four hours, mostly behind closed doors, about 250 students and others marched on the campus with signs opposing Aguillard. Meanwhile, a smaller group of supporters wore yellow tags supporting him. Earlier the faculty voted 53-12 to oppose Aguillard.

The embattled school already is on probation from its accrediting agency for issues of academic freedom. Now it faces a lawsuit over Aguillard's nomination and election.

The alumni and former faculty members who filed a lawsuit last week claim the new president's election violates the school's bylaws because he was not nominated by the original search committee. Trustees appointed a special committee Jan. 6 to bring Aguillard's name before the board for a vote.

The original search committee was replaced after its first choice, seminary professor Malcolm Yarnell of Fort Worth, Texas, turned down the job two months after accepting it. The committee offered it's second choice, New Orleans seminary professor Stan Norman, but was rebuffed by other trustees, who appointed a new committee.

Trustees are divided over whether the original committee had completed its work after Yarnell was elected.

Before electing Aguillard Jan. 17, trustees voted 19-8 to affirm the new search committee. No vote count on Aguillard and Traylor was released. Aguillard assumed the presidency immediately, trustees said.

Traylor, a retired pastor from Monroe and former trustee, had been a popular interim president with a reputation as a peacemaker. He told trustees, if elected president, he would not serve long term, according to the Town Talk newspaper of Alexandria. But Aguillard comes with "divisive baggage," he said. "You need to go to someone who can rise above all the controversy."

Aguillard promised he would boost enrollment and lower tuition. He denied he was hand-picked for the presidency by the Louisiana Inerrancy Fellowship, the conservative Baptist group that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said was trying to control the college.

"For those of you who say that I'm a puppet ... I will tell you I would not have taken the abuse I've taken these last months for anybody but him [God]," Aguillard said, according to the Town Talk.

"Dr. Aguillard is a top-notch educator who is theologically sound," trusteee chair Timothy Johnson said in a prepared statement released to Associated Baptist Press. "He has the ability to help us effectively address the SACS situation and lead us to satisfying all of their requests."

"Louisiana College stands in a unique position as an academic and spiritual 'Louisiana treasure,'" Aguillard says. "With the full support of our alumni and Southern Baptist churches, our beloved LC will continue to grow in value as a gleaming treasure chest of opportunity for our children across the state."

Aguillard, a Louisiana native, received a bachelor's degree from Louisiana College, two master's degrees from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., and a doctorate of education from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

He held a number of administrative positions with the Beauregard Parish School Board between 1984 and 2000, rising to superintendent, before taking a teaching position at Louisiana College.

Louisiana College has been in turmoil for more than a year after conservatives gained control of the trustee board. After a dispute over textbook and faculty-election policies, the college's president, chief academic administrator and trustee chair resigned.

In December SACS placed the college on probation -- one step short of withdrawing accreditation -- for violating the association's standards for academic freedom and proper governance.