Louisiana College trustees nominate president, but lawsuit may block vote

Editor's Note: This updates and corrects a story released Jan. 6.

PINEVILLE, La. (ABP) - Trustees of embattled Louisiana College will meet Jan. 17 to try again to elect a president, but they likely will be sued to prevent him from taking office.

Joe Aguillard, 47, a conservative professor and chair of the education division at the Louisiana Baptist school, will be nominated as president Jan. 17, trustee chair Timothy Johnson announced Jan. 6.

Critics say Aguillard's nomination - and likely election - are in violation of the school's bylaws because the committee nominating him was illegally appointed. A group of school alumni and supporters plan to file a lawsuit Jan. 11 to stop the election.

Meanwhile, the college's faculty voted 53-12 to oppose the nomination of Aguillard, their faculty colleague, to become president.

The school has been in turmoil for more than a year after fundamentalists 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 the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the college on probation - one step short of withdrawing accreditation - for violating the association's standards for academic freedom and proper governance, saying trustees were unduly influenced by the Louisiana Inerrancy Fellowship.

The crisis deepened after Texas educator Malcolm Yarnell suddenly withdrew as president Nov. 23 - two months after his election but before taking office - citing "governance issues."

The search committee wanted to nominate as president Stan Norman, a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, who had been the committee's second choice. But trustee officers, who reportedly preferred Aguillard, responded by trying to expand the search committee to add more conservatives or dismiss the original committee.

Aguillard supporters say the original committee's power expired when Yarnell was elected president. But members of the original committee insist no contract was ever signed with Yarnell and the bylaws require them to remain in place until a president is hired.

Trustee leaders held a press conference Jan. 6 to announce the trustee board will vote on Aguillard, an LC education professor for the past four years and former school board superintendent.

"The board has placed his name for nomination and it was referred to a special committee charged with bringing his name back before the board for a full up or down vote," trustee chair Johnson said in a prepared statement. "This is not a circumvention of the process but rather a part of the process afforded the board in our bylaws."

Johnson said he sought an opinion from the parliamentarian of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, which appoints trustees. "In his opinion, and according to Robert's Rules [of Order], this [special] committee is valid, was duly formed, and is appropriately charged with bringing Dr. Aguillard's name before the board - with or without recommendation," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been prepared and a temporary restraining order will be requested to block the Jan. 17 election, Stan Lott of Pineville, a retiring professor at Louisiana College, told Associated Baptist Press.

According to Lott, former vice president for academic affairs, an attorney who serves on the board said the trustees violated their own bylaws by dismissing the original committee. "Once [the board] specifies who is on the search committee, it is to stay in place until a president is found," Lott said.

Lott said he met with a group of attorneys to discuss legal action. "We decided the only recourse left for people concerned about the college is through the courts."

Lott said the group, which is enlisting other plaintiffs, hopes to file the suit by Jan. 11, alleging the trustees have caused "irreparable damage to the school."

"Even conservatives [among Louisiana Baptists] are really disturbed by what these Taliban trustees are doing," Lott said. "They are continuing to recklessly ignore accreditation, and if it continues, they will have accreditation withdrawn."

Trustee chair Johnson defended the board's action and called Aguillard "a top-notch educator who is theologically sound." He added the professor is "a man of integrity, internationally recognized scholarship, sterling character and unequaled leadership."

Lott disagreed. "He has neither the education nor the experience to serve as president of Louisiana College. He is a fundamentalist to the core."

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 University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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