By Bob Allen
A group of Louisiana College alumni and former students, faculty and staff found high levels of concern about the Baptist school founded in 1906 in an online survey of Louisiana Baptist clergy and college trustees released Oct. 9.
Friends of the College said two-thirds of those responding to a survey of 240 pastors and directors of missions, as well as members of the Louisiana College board of trustees, expressed “concern to extreme concern” about the Louisiana Baptist Convention agency located in Pineville, La.
While respondents voiced differing opinions about the most serious problems facing the school, 70 percent cited leadership of the current administration. Two-thirds said possible loss of accreditation and condition of the physical plant. Six in 10 worried about stewardship of funds and more than half about financial status.
Kelly Boggs, editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, questioned the accuracy of the survey results, citing its methodology and small sample size — 62 respondents, representing a return rate of 25 percent.
On Tuesday a delegation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools arrived on campus for a three-day visit to examine the school that has operated under “warning” status the last two years.
The SACS Commission on Colleges, which reviews accreditation of member schools every 10 years, refused to renew Louisiana College’s accreditation in 2011, finding the school out of compliance in 11 standards. Last year the SACS extended the warning another 12 months, while reducing the number of deficiencies to six.
A SACS warning lasts a maximum of two years, meaning that absent satisfactory progress for compliance Louisiana College could be placed on probation, a more serious sanction that represents the final step before accreditation is revoked.
Schools seek accreditation voluntarily to ensure prospective students can expect to receive an education meeting quality standards agreed upon by institutions of higher learning across the country. It allows students to transfer course credits to another accredited school and qualifies them for federal financial aid.
Louisiana College has faced controversy on-and-off since 2004, when the Southern Baptist Convention inerrancy controversy trickled down to the state convention level and conservatives achieved a majority over moderates on the board of trustees.
The following months saw a new restrictive textbook policy, resignations of the president and academic vice president and SACS probation. Current President Joe Aguillard was elected in 2005 in a disputed vote that wound up in court.
This April trustees voted to retain Aguillard after two vice presidents filed a 13-page whistleblower complaint accusing the president of misappropriating funds and intentionally deceiving administrators and trustees.
The Friends of the College website says for a long time members of the group passed off reports of problems at Louisiana College “as the grumblings of a few malcontents.”
“In recent days, it has become glaringly obvious that is not the case,” the website says. “There are serious problems at LC that are not being addressed.”
“This is not a witch hunt,” the group says. “There are no personal vendettas here. We have simply gathered verifiable facts and are in the process of asking questions to determine how the situation devolved to what we have today — a school that was once one of the premier Christian liberal arts colleges in the state and in the South is now in the midst of its second year of warning status by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is facing possible probation.
“We have questions about how the physical plant was allowed to deteriorate to the point where a $50 million campaign was needed to cover just a portion of the repairs.
“We are concerned why endowment decreased by 2.58 percent from 2005 through 2011 while the endowment at seven comparable Christian colleges in the South all saw gains of 20 percent or more with an average growth of 28.3 percent.
“We wonder about the process that, in the midst of these problems, allowed the launch of a medical school, a film school and a law school — all of which have failed before the first student was enrolled.
“We are concerned that LC’s admission standards have fallen behind almost all of the four-year state schools and rank near or at the bottom when compared to other Baptist schools of comparable size across the South.”
School officials, meanwhile, issued a press release noting that Louisiana College continues to rank among the best regional colleges in the South according to U.S. News and World Report, ranking 60th and in the top 75 best colleges for the third consecutive year.