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La. College pres. elected legitimately; trustees address concerns

PINEVILLE, La. (BP)–A district judge has ruled that Louisiana College’s new president, Joe Aguillard, was legitimately elected by the board of trustees although the action did not follow the college’s bylaws; trustees, meanwhile, have taken steps to address accreditation concerns that have put the Baptist school on probation.

A group of Louisiana College alumni and faculty members filed a lawsuit contesting Aguillard’s 17-13 election by trustees in January. On March 17, Judge Dexter Ryland of Louisiana’s 9th Judicial District ruled in favor of the election.

The lawsuit claimed that trustees failed to follow their own bylaws when they created a “blended committee” after an initial presidential nominee, Malcolm Yarnell, was chosen as the college’s president last fall and then withdrew his name.

A lawyer representing the 13 trustees who voted against Aguillard said in court that his clients believed the president’s election was improperly conducted but was still legitimate, according to the The Town Talk newspaper in Alexandria.

Ryland ruled that the election of a president must include nominations from the floor, which is how Aguillard was elected.

Concerning the college’s accreditation, trustees unanimously voted to rescind a 2003 textbook policy, to dissolve a faculty handbook committee and to establish a task force to examine academic freedom, among other actions during a March 15 meeting.

Trustees spent five hours deliberating on actions specifically aimed at addressing accreditation concerns at the school, which is affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Last December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed Louisiana College on probation for one year after finding that the institution was not in compliance in matters of governance and academic freedom. The accrediting agency has given the college 12 months to meet standards for compliance, and Louisiana College officials have said they would strive in the coming year to maintain accreditation.

Trustees resolved to reaffirm the guidelines contained in their governing documents and their commitment to operate in accordance to those guidelines. They also agreed to “covenant together to never knowingly participate in or use caucuses as a matter of policy or practice in carrying out the responsibilities of governing” the college.

In additional resolutions, trustees agreed not to operate in a manner that allows other entities to control their actions and further defined their opposition to “all forms of undue influence.”

The decision to rescind the textbook policy implemented in December 2003, meanwhile, means the board will not require classroom materials to be reviewed and approved by departmental heads and the vice president for academic affairs while a task force studies the issue.

In dissolving the faculty handbook committee and agreeing to form a task force to examine concerns, trustees attempted to combat criticism that the committee was comprised only of trustees. The task force will include a broader representation of the college community — trustee, faculty and administrative representatives.

The task force on academic freedom is charged with suggesting a “working, clearly understandable definition of academic freedom supporting Louisiana College’s mission, identity and doctrinal statement.” It also will suggest policies that will guide and protect academic freedom, guidelines ensuring faculty responsibility and a system of assessment of the implementation of all policies related to academic freedom.

“The board sees accreditation as a vital element in the education we provide students here at Louisiana College, and we are all working toward a time when the school will be reinstated to full accreditation with no probation,” board chairman Tim Johnson said.

Louisiana College’s accreditation problems and other issues appear to have had an impact on the school’s enrollment. Fulltime equivalency totaled 870 this spring, down 123 from the fall total and 89 from the previous spring. The school’s faculty-to-student ratio has fallen to 11-to-one, which is seen as too low for any institution of higher learning to maintain.

Trustees did not adopt a budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year, opting instead to delay a decision until May 9 when more time to determine fall enrollment has passed. The board took the same action in 2003.

In other business, trustees approved an early retirement option as a cost-cutting measure for any college employee who will be at least 59 and a half years old by July 31 and have at least 15 years of continuous service at the school by that time. The employee will be eligible for post-retirement medical and life insurance as is currently available to those who retire at age 65.

Aguillard introduced Glenn Sumrall as the college’s new vice president for academic affairs and said he will assume full duties July 1. Sumrall currently serves as provost and vice president for academic affairs at LeTourneau University, a nondenominational Christian school in Longview, Texas.

“Dr. Sumrall was exactly the man we were looking for in this search,” Aguillard said.

“His background and academic profile — he has strong academic and administrative experience, a history of working well with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting agency and a dedicated Christian commitment — comport and mesh well with our desire to fulfill the mission and doctrinal statement of Louisiana College,” Aguillard added.
Adapted from reports by the Baptist Message, Louisiana’s state Baptist newspaper, online at www.baptistmessage.com.

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