Louisiana College president leaves, VP resigns, trustees ignore protests

PI

NEVILLE, La. (ABP) -- Trustees of Louisiana College met March 16 without revisiting a controversial textbook policy or commenting on the recent resignations of the Baptist school's president and academic vice president.

Trustees did add an unscheduled meeting for April, but did not disclose the agenda for the meeting.

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 came just days after the resignation of Ben Hawkins, vice president of academic affairs.

Both Lee and Hawkins said their resignations were not in response to new conservative policies enacted by trustees, which have sparked protests from some faculty, alumni and students.

The trustees did not say if replacing Lee and Hawkins was discussed during their meeting, during which they handled routine business, including a tuition increase.

About 50 alumni and students rallied on the campus March 15 -- as trustees convened their closed-door session -- to protest the trustees' December decision to require faculty members to get all classroom materials pre-approved by the academic VP. Critics 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.

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.

-- This story is revised from its initial release March 16.

-30-