(See update at bottom of post)
Last week, the University of Incarnate Word made the abrupt, surprising decision to place its president of 30 years on medical leave for 90 days. In a statement that was emailed to people within the UIW community late last week, board chairman Charles Lutz apologized to anyone offended by "sporadic uncharacteristic behavior and comments" supposedly made by the university's longtime, bombastic president Louis Agnese Jr. It was a curious statement without much explanation—half denunciation, half pity.
What made things even more confusing: Agnese, 65, was clearly caught off guard and infuriated that the school would call him sick enough to be put on leave without even so much as giving him a heads up (an odd response, considering Lutz's initial apology to the UIW community claimed Agnese had "requested" medical leave). Early this week, Agnese walked back his initial reaction to the Express-News (he'd vowed to "sue the pants" off Lutz), telling the paper he and the administration had come to an understanding. It just wasn't clear what that understanding was, and Agnese made his leave sound more like an extended vacation than anything medical-related. The university stayed mum, even as anonymous sources chirped to the daily about a possible brain condition being behind Agnese's strange behavior. Agnese, meanwhile, insisted there was no medical issue.
On Thursday, things got even weirder after the E-N unearthed an anonymous complaint that it says the school received this summer before UIW's decision to put Agnese on leave. In it, according to the daily, some "very concerned students" claimed Agnese spoke to some students, faculty members and administrators at a luncheon last week, during which he started cracking jokes about skin color.
Per E-N writers John Tedesco and Kolton Parker:
It started with Agnese singling out an African American student who wasn’t wearing the school colors of Cardinal red. “Well, you’re lucky you’re black so you are in a way wearing Cardinal black,” Agnese reportedly told her.The letter reportedly says Agnese even called a Hispanic faculty member by the wrong name (his name is Jaime, not José), and when the faculty member corrected Agnese, the president responded by saying, “Well, close enough, you look like a José.”
Agnese went on to ask if there were any Native American students in the group, according to the complaint, and he said their “Indian-red skin color would also count as wearing Cardinal red.”
Agnese also reportedly quipped how Mormons were taking over the computer graphics and design school. And when he asked another student where he was from and the student answered “Dallas,” Agnese was quoted as saying, “No, where is your family originally from? You’re Indian, right?”
According to the complaint, Agnese made another student stand up, said she wasn’t good enough to get into any other program because of her poor test scores, and noted how lucky she was to be accepted to UIW.