The Sacred & the Profane

Father Lawrence Biondi is praised for revamping the campus of St. Louis University and boosting its endowment. But the enemies he's made along the way claim that behind the fountains, statues and donations stands a Jesuit bully who's more interested in th

The staff of the newspaper asked Pauly to write a response, a "counter piece" to Biondi's.

"They didn't want to just run it and seem like they were suck-ups to the university. So I offered to do it," Pauly says. "I did it in about three hours."

Pauly's first paragraph was to the point: "Here is all you need to know about Father Biondi's style of management. If you disagree with him, you must be wrong. And he will make you pay the price."

One senior faculty member says, "I'm not sure I've ever seen so much courage from a faculty member" as was shown in Pauly's commentary.

"I'm sure there were people who disliked it," Pauly says. "Father Biondi couldn't have liked it. Most of the people in the vice president's council probably didn't care for it very much. But I literally had 40-50 people, from all over the university, all the way from staff people to administrative officials and deans, tell me, 'Thanks for doing that,' or, 'Somebody had to say that,' or, 'Good for you.'"

In Biondi's commentary, he claimed that "in the past few years, and particularly last year, the University News has become less balanced, more careless and, worst of all, far less mindful of the standards of the SLU community it strives to serve."

Much of the friction involved the coverage of the sale of the hospital. He specifically objected to one headline, "Hospital Sale Draws Vatican Investigation." Biondi called that story "wildly misleading" and "irresponsible." He also resented "having our University characterized as a prostitute in the cartoon of Oct. 10, 1997."

He concluded that the coverage of the hospital sale was "sensational, incomplete and ultimately misleading." One paragraph later, he admitted that the administration was "partially to blame for this." It seems that Biondi, during the hospital-sale flap, had told his senior administrators that all requests for interviews, including ones from the University News, would be handled by the university's public-relations department. "In hindsight, this was a mistake," Biondi stated in his commentary.

That tactic, according to one faculty member, shows Biondi is "very thin-skinned; he does not want any criticism whatsoever." Biondi, says the faculty member, also told senior administrators, "I'm not going to forbid you from talking to the press, but it's my preference that you don't."

"He wanted accuracy, but in reality he was telling key people not to talk to the University News. That's an internal conflict. How do you get the straight scoop if everything has to go through the PR people?" one faculty member asks.

"How many times have you ever heard on a college campus that key people won't talk to a student newspaper? Aren't we all about students? Isn't that the principal reason we have jobs?"

Even the change in the newspaper's charter, which occurred in the summer of '98, was a classic example of misinformation. Up until the June 13 board-of-trustees meeting when the charter change was approved, administrators and trustees denied that any change in the charter was in the works. After the meeting, John Kerr, associate vice president for public relations, met with newspaper advisor Avis Meyer and editor Leland Quarles, and Meyer and Quarles left the meeting unaware of any change in the paper's charter.

Not until August did the staff find out the charter had been changed and that the appointment of the editor was no longer up to the staff but would be controlled by the advisory council. With the revised powers given the council, the editor could be dismissed. In another change, the provost was given the authority to appoint two of the council's 11 members. The president was given control of selecting most of the members from lists submitted by faculty and the Student Government Association. The staff learned that a second advisor, law professor Peter Salsich, had been added to the newspaper. The threat that tuition remission for the editor might be revoked, made on the April night the editor was being selected, had faded.

The way Pauly sees it, Biondi and the trustees overreacted, big-time. "Clearly at some point this just became a power move, to try and take more direct control over the U. News," Pauly says, adding that the idea that libel was a problem was a false issue.

"If you look at the evidence of libel law, student press in the U.S. has an almost negligible libel problem," Pauly says, "in part because they don't have a lot of money that anybody wants to sue them for and in part because student press typically does all of the things that save you from a libel suit. They allow alternative responses, they print full and fair corrections of the work they do and they invite criticism in their advisory boards."

But Tucci, who as a trustee was involved in the discussion of changing the charter, thinks the University News has been too critical of the university. Tucci has two degrees from the university. "When I was president of my class, I used to call it the University Negative News. It hasn't changed yet. They have to be more positive."

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