By Bob Allen
Louisiana College trustees are working on a contract extension for President Joe Aguillard, according to the Town Talk newspaper in Alexandria, La., even as new documents emerged alleging that Aguillard’s office submitted papers with forged signatures to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Blogger J.D. Hall last week released internal documents suggesting that the Louisiana Baptist Convention-owned school in Pineville, La., paid hush money to a potential whistleblower in 2011.
Hall, pastor of Southern Baptist-affiliated Fellowship Church of Sidney, Mont., obtained additional documents over the weekend detailing communication during a process leading up to a recent trustee statement declaring Aguillard “fully exonerated” of charges that nearly got him fired last year.
New revelations include a June 2012 legal document by Tim Searcy, named in 2010 as vice president for academic affairs, claiming he was wrongly denied a contract extension after being appointed president pro tempore of an ad hoc committee to investigate allegations of misconduct contained in a letter demanding severance in exchange for silence from Aguillard’s former special assistant Joseph Cole.
Searcy said he found “forged documents and misrepresentations made by agents, trustees and employees of Louisiana College to a federally recognized and approved accreditation agency in an effort to secure federal financial aid for students in violation of the False Claims Act.”
When he recommended reporting his findings to the full board of trustees, Searcy claimed, Aguillard terminated him from the investigatory committee and did not offer him a contract for the following year.
The Town Talk obtained a letter dated Oct. 22, 2012, from then-trustee chairman Marc Taylor saying Cole gave contradictory accounts of who told him to sign other people’s names on documents submitted to SACS.
SACS, one of six regional accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, was in the process of considering whether to reaffirm the college’s accreditation after placing the school on warning the previous two years. The agency subsequently reaffirmed Louisiana College’s accreditation in December.
At one point, Taylor said, Cole admitted he lost some of the evaluation reports. “It could be understood that Mr. Cole did this so as not to inform the administration that he had lost the original evaluation forms,” Taylor informed trustees.
Hall, who blogs at Pulpit & Pen, says his interest in Louisiana College is to exonerate former faculty members let go by Aguillard purportedly to prevent a takeover of the school by Calvinists.
Hankins’ son, Eric, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., wrote a widely circulated rebuttal of Calvinism titled “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” in 2012.
Hall says Aguillard used Calvinism, a controversial topic in current Southern Baptist life, to divert attention away from allegations of misappropriation of funds and policy violations.
Former vice presidents Charles Quarles and Tim Johnson filed whistleblower complaints in late 2012 alleging that foundation funds donated for a divinity school were improperly spent on a project in Tanzania and that Aguillard misled trustees about it.
They claimed Aguillard violated the school’s whistleblower policy — which requires employees to report suspected misconduct and safeguards them from retaliation or harassment — by not renewing their contracts.
Trustees hired an independent law firm to investigate the whistleblower allegations. The New Orleans firm reported in March 2013 that Aguillard refused to cooperate with the probe, but evidence pointed to “numerous improprieties and falsities” by the president in presentations both to donors and the board of trustees.
Last April a trustee investigative committee determined by a 4-3 vote that Aguillard “had not acted improperly.” Two weeks later the full board voted 17-13 to retain him as president during an all-day meeting on April 30, 2013. The board reaffirmed the process July 22 in action finding the independent investigation “inaccurate and biased.”
“It is time to bring clarity, finality and the absolute truth to the issues and hearsay surrounding Louisiana College,” trustee chairman Tommy French said in a news release. “Our president, Dr. Joe Aguillard, has been vetted and completely exonerated.”
“The facts have proved the absolute integrity of Louisiana College, the board of trustees and President Aguillard,” said French, a veteran pastor who over the years has held various leadership positions in both Louisiana and the Southern Baptist Convention. “The board of trustees is thrilled at the SACS reaffirmation and looks forward to the bright future as President Aguillard leads Louisiana College to fulfill her mission.”
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. Aguillard’s 2005 election over faculty objections was contested in court, where a judge ruled it valid.
Hall said in a March 2 podcast he doesn’t think Aguillard would survive another confidence vote, but he doesn’t want to see him resign or be fired only to be replaced by someone hand-picked by convention leadership. Hall said part of the problem is trustees, who were aware of the information now being made public, “and they chose to ignore it.”