PINEVILLE, La. (ABP) — The president and academic vice president are leaving Louisiana College, a Baptist school that has been embroiled in a controversy over academic freedom.
Rory Lee, president for seven years, announced March 15 he is leaving at the end of the semester to take a job in Mississippi. His departure comes just days after the resignation of Ben Hawkins, vice president of academic affairs.
Lee said his resignation was not in response to new conservative policies enacted by trustees. No reason was given for Hawkins' departure.
But Lee's March 15 announcement came the same day that trustees met in an executive session prior to their quarterly meeting. The same day, alumni and students rallied on the campus to protest the trustees' December decision to require faculty members to get all classroom materials pre-approved by the academic VP.
Some faculty, alumni and students say the new policy amounts to censorship. But trustees and school officials say the policy is reasonable and not uncommon. Some critics worry the high-profile resignations will only speed conservative changes at the college, which is affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
“The immediate question is: 'Who's going to run the show?'” history professor Thomas Howell told a local newspaper. Howell said trustees, some of whom have “a very rigid religious agenda,” now have the chance to appoint people to the school's top positions who share that view.
The trustees would not say if replacing Lee and Hawkins would be discussed during their meeting, which was to be closed except for final votes.
Blake Cooper, president of the Student Government Association, said student leaders feel their protests and requests to meet with trustees over the new policies have been ignored. He told the Town Talk newspaper he hopes the students won't be ignored during the search for new leaders. “We feel it is in the best interest of the student body to let students and faculty get involved in this process,” Cooper said.
The new textbook policies were enacted after a student complained about two books available in the bookstore — “A Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck and “A Lesson Before Dying” by Earnest Gaines. Lee ordered the two books removed.
In addition to the book-screening policy, trustees now require all new faculty members to submit a worldview statement that includes their views on the sanctity of life and marriage.
Lee, 54, is leaving to become executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Children's Village, which has five branches in Mississippi.
“I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve Louisiana College and for the support that has been given to me by all constituents,” he said in a statement. “It is a stellar institution and my prayers and best wishes will always be with LC.”
Lee's tenure at Louisiana College was marked by a 23 percent increase in enrollment, a 40 percent increase in the number of faculty members holding doctorates, a fund balance increase of more than $500,000, and completion of numerous building projects.