Judge validates election of Aguillard as Louisiana College president

PINEVILLE, La. (ABP) -- Despite a search process that failed to follow established procedure, the election of Joe Aguillard as Louisiana College president is valid, an Alexandria judge ruled March 17.

The ruling by Ninth Judicial District Judge Dexter Ryland ends a lawsuit that sought to invalidate Aguillard's election as president of the Louisiana Baptist school.

The suit charged that Aguillard's election was invalid because a majority of school trustees did not follow the presidential search procedure as set forth in the governing bylaws. The suit was filed by several alumni and supporters of Louisiana College, as well as one retired faculty member who also was a member of the original presidential search committee.

After receiving a full day of testimony in late February and oral arguments from attorneys March 17, Ryland agreed that established procedure was not followed in the election of Aguillard as president but added he "was properly elected president of the college."

The matter in question dates back to March 2003, when then-president Rory Lee announced his resignation and a search committee was formed to replace him. The committee worked under constant criticism from some who wanted Aguillard as president, but though he was considered as a nominee, he was not among the top three finalists.

Eventually, the committee settled on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary educator Malcolm Yarnell as their top candidate. He was presented to the full board and elected on a divided vote. In ensuing days, he attended several college events as the school's incoming president.

But contract negotiations between Yarnell and the board hit a snag. Just days after addressing the annual Louisiana Baptist Convention, Yarnell withdrew his name from consideration.

Trustees relaunched the search process in December, this time with a blended search committee that included the original members as well as new trustee leaders. Board members directed the search committee to consider Aguillard first as a presidential nominee and bring his name to the board for action.

All but one of the original search committee members protested the moves, saying the board went outside established procedure. The school bylaws clearly state the search committee is to remain in place until the presidential office has been "filled." Since Yarnell never signed a contract, the office was never filled, they said.

Other trustees said that since Yarnell received compensation for attending school events, the post was filled and the original search committee no longer was in place.

All but two of the original search committee members then chose not to be involved with the blended committee. The remaining members quickly interviewed Aguillard and presented him as a presidential nominee during a called board meeting Jan. 17. Then-interim president John Traylor also was nominated at the meeting, but Aguillard was elected on a 17-13 vote.

The suit was filed soon afterwards.

In his ruling, Ryland acknowledged that Aguillard was not nominated by the procedure outlined in Louisiana College bylaws and that Yarnell never "filled" the position of president. But, he noted, Aguillard was nominated from the floor by a valid trustee and received a majority vote.

He said the central question is whether a president has to be nominated by a search committee and, on that point, he ruled there is no prohibition against floor nominations for the post. As a result, Aguillard was duly elected, he concluded.

The ruling was greeted with affirmation by supporters of Aguillard, while others expressed disappointment. Attorney Jay Bolen of Alexandria, representing those bringing the suit, said a decision has not been made on whether to appeal Ryland's ruling.

Aguillard told reporters he was pleased with the ruling and anxious to move forward.