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La. College president resigns; students protest trustee policies

PINEVILLE, La. (BP)–The president of Louisiana College and its academic vice president have accepted new positions out of state.

Rory Lee, president of the college for the past seven years, announced his resignation March 15, effective at the end of the academic year, to become executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Children’s Village, the children’s home affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

Ben Hawkins, vice president for academic affairs and student life for six years, announced his resignation March 12 to become dean of Campbell University’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business in Buies Creek, N.C., in June.

The resignations come at a time when some students and alumni are voicing discontent with a trustee-enacted policy to establish accountability regarding selection of classroom textbooks and other instructional materials. Neither Lee nor Hawkins referenced the controversy in their public statements, however.

Louisiana College’s trustees decided at their November meeting that all materials used at the school must be approved by department coordinators or chairs as well as the vice president of academic affairs. The policy took effect Dec. 2.

The decision followed complaints from a student and at least one observer regarding the inclusion of “A Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck and “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines in a college values class in previous semesters. Lee ordered the removal of the books from the college bookstore. Upon a review of college policy, trustees amended the guidelines for choosing such materials.

Trustees also voted to require all new faculty members to submit a worldview statement that includes their views on the sanctity of life and marriage.

In response, the school’s Student Government Association passed resolutions against the new policies and began a campaign sporting the slogan “Free LC,” which includes bumper stickers and protesters holding signs. At the March 16 board meeting, trustees walked past about 50 students and alumni who had gathered for a demonstration against the policies.

The Town Talk, a newspaper in Alexandria, said trustees did not consider revising the new guidelines, nor did they mention in public session any plans to find successors for Lee and Hawkins. The trustees did call for a special meeting in April.

Under Lee’s leadership, enrollment at Louisiana College has increased by 23 percent, the number of faculty with earned doctorates has increased by 40 percent, the operating reserve has increased by more than $500,000 and numerous building projects have been completed.

Lee released a statement thanking his supporters at the school and voicing optimism about his future position with Mississippi Baptists.

“After serving three different colleges,” he said, “I have now been offered the opportunity to use those wide-ranging experiences to administer the program which benefits the children under the care of Mississippi Baptists. I look forward to returning to my home state and working in an environment that is exceptionally beneficial to young people at such a critical point in their lives.

“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. It is a stellar institution and my prayers and best wishes will always be with LC,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, Hawkins, in a college news release, described the school as “an outstanding academic institution at which I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with a truly excellent faculty and staff. The students are academically talented and a pleasure to teach. Campbell University, however, will provide the opportunity for me to serve in a larger Baptist university setting where my academic and administrative skills will be valuable in providing leadership and vision for Campbell’s School of Business.”

Phillip Robertson, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville, told Baptist Press, “As Louisiana Baptist Convention president, I’d like to express my gratitude to the board of trustees’ commitment to maintaining the mission and purpose of Louisiana College.

“Also, I am confidently optimistic that our faculty is willing and committed to teaching in accordance with the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, which is Louisiana College policy.” The Baptist Faith & Message is the statement of beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Robertson said he regrets Lee’s departure but is thankful for all Lee accomplished during his time at the helm of Louisiana’s only Baptist college.

“I’m personally very grateful for Dr. Lee’s service to Louisiana College and our community and the hard work that he gave to our school, and I certainly wish him the best in his new endeavors,” Robertson said. “Dr. Lee has made his choice and his decision, I’m sure, based on the leading of the Lord and God’s will for his life. I personally regret that he is leaving, but I think the future is bright for Louisiana College.”

Robertson said he is optimistic about where Louisiana College is headed and said Louisiana Baptists are committed to having one of the best Christian colleges in the world.

“We have a very fine college. Obviously there have been some changes that have been made, and of course the mission remains the same as it has been since the founding of the school and that is that we have the absolute finest distinctively Christian college that we can have,” he said.

Joe Nesom, chairman of the school’s trustees, in a college news release commended Lee and his service to Louisiana College.

“It is a high honor that Mississippi Baptists have bestowed on Dr. Rory Lee,” Nesom said. “His unanimous election to be the executive director of the five branches of the Baptist children’s home system in Mississippi clearly reveals the high regard that Baptists in that state have for him.

“It has been a joy to work with Dr. Lee on behalf of Louisiana College,” Nesom continued. “His leadership has always been not only capable but invested with true Christian integrity. He will be greatly missed.”

Current enrollment at Louisiana College is just over 1,000 students.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RORY LEE.

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  • Erin Curry