It’s been a rough couple of years for Louisiana College, the small, Southern Baptist, and primarily undergraduate institution located in Pineville, Louisiana. When Rick Brewer took over as LC President in 2015, replacing Joe Aguillard- a man who ate live worms on stage, compared a small local newspaper to the devil, and had attempted to open a new law school in Shreveport with vast fortunes he promised but never produced- the school’s most prominent boosters had believed he would quickly repair the significant damage Aguillard inflicted on the school’s reputation and credibility.
Two days ago, Louisiana College published its 2019-2020 Student Handbook, which includes a lengthy and troubling new policy on “social media use” by students. Multiple students, faculty members, and graduates of LC have contacted the Bayou Brief to express their deep concerns with what two people characterized as a “horrifying policy.”
I have decided to protect their identities because, among other things, the new policy authorizes LC to suspend or expel students for speaking critically about the school with a reporter. At my request, one person provided me with a digital copy of the new policy, which I was able to independently authenticate.
The draconian new policy represents a humiliating low point in LC President Rick Brewer’s career, and whether deliberate or not, several students believe it will have the net effect of silencing and further traumatizing classmates victimized by sexual abuse, which has become endemic on college campuses across the country, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation.
At LC, a student is subject to suspension or even expulsion for failing to report a classmate who posted online about “partying.”
Joe Aguillard had been almost-cartoonishly bad at his job, leading Louisiana College like North Korean dictator Kim Jon Un’s long-lost Baptist brother, purging faculty members who did not share his eccentric and fundamentalist opinions on religion, decimating several academic programs so severely that the school had been warned multiple times it was on the brink of losing its accreditation, and embarking on a grand and delusional expansion plan- involving not only a new law school but also new film and medical schools as well.
Brother Joe, as he was known to his colleagues, had set the bar so low that almost anyone else would look better by comparison. Rick Brewer’s job should have been easy; he had an entire community rooting for him to succeed and willing to do whatever he needed to restore LC’s reputation and credibility.
Over the course of the past two years, however, Brewer has bafflingly squandered that opportunity through a series of erratic decisions and actions, beginning with allegations that he had refused to hire Joshua Bonadona- an LC alum who converted to Christianity while an undergraduate- for an open assistant football coaching job because of the man’s “Jewish blood.” Brewer has denied ever making the remarks, but multiple sources have corroborated the account to the Bayou Brief.
A federal magistrate judge ruled in July of 2018 against Brewer and LC, and the case, which was first reported by the Bayou Brief, has made national and international headlines; if successful, it would be the first time ever that a person of Jewish heritage successfully won a claim for racial or ethnic discrimination and not religious discrimination.
The case is complicated though, and while some Jewish organizations have signaled support for Bonadona, the Anti-Defamation League repudiated him and his attorney, James Bullman, who is himself Jewish, for even filing the claim.
“The idea that Jews are not only a religious group, but also a racial group, was a centerpiece of Nazi policy, and was the justification for killing any Jewish person who came under Nazi occupation –– regardless of whether he or she practiced Judaism,” explains attorney Aaron Alhquist of the ADL. “In fact, even the children and the grandchildren of Jews who had converted to Christianity were murdered as members of the Jewish ‘race’ during the Holocaust.”
Of course, what makes this particular case so interesting and potentially historic is that, despite the fact that Jews are not a “racial group,” Brewer is alleged to have believed otherwise. “The allegations against Louisiana College, if true, would indicate a very troubling and deeply offensive view by the institution that it perceives and discriminates against Jews as a race,” Ahlquist concludes. (Notably, the lawsuit is against LC, not against Brewer individually).
Both Brewer and key members of his administration have struggled to convincingly respond to Bonadona’s allegations. After I first published a report about the lawsuit, I received an unsolicited letter from a member of the school’s board; the letter was largely concerned about protecting the school’s “reputation.”
I suspect, however, that the impetus for the school’s new policy on “social media use” by students has almost nothing to do with Joshua Bonadona’s case and almost everything to do with the fall-out over comments made by Joshua Joy Dara at a mandatory chapel service earlier this year. Dara is a minister, a lawyer, and a Dean of Human Behavior at Louisiana College, and during his sermon, he made a series of comments that several people found offensive and misogynistic, comparing a woman’s body to a home and advising women who had difficulty sexually arousing their husbands to ”mow their lawns,” which was widely understood to be a euphemism for shaving pubic hair.
Several students and faculty members, including Dr. Russell Meek, complained that Dara’s comments amounted to the objectification of women’s bodies and were antithetical to the school’s own values and beliefs. Dara issued a hastily-worded non-apology, and the school’s communications director attributed the entire controversy to “cultural differences.” Dr. Meek was unconvinced and began drafting a response; he was also understandably concerned by a follow-up email Rick Brewer sent to all students and faculty members, using a passage in the Gospels as a way of commanding that allegations of improper actions only go to outside law enforcement after first being turned over for review by the school.
The tone-deaf directive was reinforced by Brewer and orders in a closed door meeting, Dr. Meek ultimately resigned in protest, and his experience quickly went viral in the LC community.
Louisiana College’s new policy on “social media use” by students appears to have borrowed large passages from “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Amazingly, they put the whole thing online, but made it available only to faculty and students, which is definitely a way of acknowledging that the policy itself “could negatively impact Louisiana College’s reputation.”
But I received a copy and am posting it anyway. #sorrynotsorry
“Students are not to post, Tweet, retweet, or Like images or statements that do not comport with the standards of the College.”
“Employees and students should not post or participate in unprofessional communication that could negatively impact Louisiana College’s reputation or interfere with its core values and mission.”
“… prohibited social media use includes… commentary, content, images, or videos that are critical, offensive, denigrating, derogatory, discriminatory, defamatory, pornographic, harassing, libelous, or that attack individual faculty members, staff, students, or the College.”
“Employees and students should be aware of the public and widespread nature of such media and refrain from any comment and/or hashtags that could be deemed unprofessional or harmful.”
“Online activity at any time, whether it is during the academic year, between terms, semesters, and/or academic years, that violates LC’s policies may subject employees and students to disciplinary action.”
“… students may be subject to corrective action up to and including suspension and expulsion.”
“Do not comment on matters that could reasonably be expected to be confidential regarding… Louisiana College.”
“Social networking sites may be regularly monitored by a number of sources within LC (e.g., Athletics, Student Development, Information Technology, and Campus Security) or authorized vendors engaged by LC to monitor social media.”
“If you participate in certain high-profile student activities, you may be required to provide full access to your personal social media to selected employees of LC or authorized vendors.”
“If you discover inappropriate information on the social media site of any LC student, you are required to contact the Dean of Students or other LC administrative staff member….”
“…Louisiana College may restrict ‘free expression’ if it deems that the speech is detrimental or harmful to LC’s core values and mission.”
“Comments related to LC, its administration, faculty, staff, and events related to LC should always meet the highest standards of professional discretion, must be neither inappropriate nor harmful to LC…and must not be contrary to LC’s core values and mission.”
It should not take long to recognize the ways in which these ambiguously-worded and absurdly punitive policies can not only stifle the open and free exchange of ideas- the bedrock of.every college and university- but why it may also easily discourage victims of crimes and survivors of on-campus abuse from reporting.
Notably, the policy does not exactly reveal what LC’s “reputation” is. Ignorance, they may be hoping, is bliss.