I noted this in my piece last week: “Who is Mike Johnson?” It has now caught the attention of the Associated Press.
Here is Brian Slodysjo:
Before House Speaker Mike Johnson was elected to public office, he was the dean of a small Baptist law school that didn’t exist.
The establishment of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law was supposed to be a capstone achievement for Louisiana College, which administrators boasted would “unashamedly embrace” a “biblical worldview.” Instead, it collapsed roughly a decade ago without enrolling students or opening its doors amid infighting by officials, accusations of financial impropriety and difficulty obtaining accreditation, which frightened away would-be donors.
There is no indication that Johnson engaged in wrongdoing while employed by the private college, now known as Louisiana Christian University. But as a virtually unknown player in Washington, the episode offers insight into how Johnson navigated leadership challenges that echo the chaos, feuding and hard-right politics that have come to define the Republican House majority he now leads.
The chapter is just the latest to surface since the four-term congressman’s improbable election as speaker last week following the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a reminder of his longstanding ties to the Christian right, which is now a dominant force in GOP politics.
It’s also a milestone that he does not typically mention when discussing a pre-Congress resume that includes work as litigator for conservative Christian groups that fiercely opposed gay rights and abortion, as well as his brief tenure as a Louisiana lawmaker who pushed legislation that sanctioned discrimination for religious reasons.
Johnson’s office declined to make him available for an interview and did not offer comment for this story.
In early public remarks, Johnson predicted a bright future for the school, and college officials hoped it would someday rival the law school at Liberty University, the evangelical institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
“From a pure feasibility standpoint,” Johnson said, “I’m not sure how this can fail.” According to the Daily Town Talk, a newspaper in Alexandria, Louisiana, he added that it looked “like the perfect storm for our law school.”
Reality soon intruded.
For several years before Johnson’s arrival, the college had been in a state of turmoil following a board takeover by conservatives who felt the school had become too liberal. They implemented policies that restricted academic freedoms, including the potential firing of instructors whose curriculum touched upon sexual morality or teachings contradictory to the Bible.
The school’s president and other faculty resigned, and the college was placed on probation by an accreditation agency.
But a shale oil boom in the area also brought a wave of prosperity from newly enriched donors. And school officials, led by president Joe Aguillard, had grand ambitions beyond just the law school, which included opening a medical school, a film school and making a movie adaptation of the 1960s pastoral comedy TV show “Green Acres.”
Bringing Johnson into the school’s leadership helped further those ambitions. As dean of the proposed law school, Johnson embarked on a major fundraising campaign and described a big-dollar event in Houston with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Pressler, according to an account Johnson wrote in a 2011 alumni magazine.
But he struggled to draw an adequate amount of cash while drama percolated behind the scenes. That culminated in a flurry of lawsuits, including a whistleblower claim by a school vice president, who accused Aguillard of misappropriating money and lying to the board, according to court records.
A law firm brought in to conduct an investigation later concluded in a 2013 report that Aguillard had inappropriately diverted funds to a school the institution hoped to build in Africa, as well as for personal expenses.
Aguillard declined to comment on Tuesday, citing health reasons.
Read the rest here.
We covered this whole Louisiana College mess back in 2013 when David Barton said that Louisiana College under Aguillard was a “safe” school for conservative evangelicals to attend. Tommy Kidd also had a good post on Louisiana College at The Anxious Bench.
Once again we have a David Barton-Mike Johnson connection.