Father Knows Best

Lawrence Biondi radically remakes St. Louis University, leaving resentment in his wake

"From that, what can you conclude?"

The move of the School of Public Health to the Salus Center, to make room for Biondi's new art museum, says the faculty senator, "is probably the most grievous [decision made] because of what those people were put through."

The Salus Center, formerly Incarnate Word Hospital, was not yet completed when classes began in August 2001. Fumes from the tarring of the roof infiltrated the ventilation system. Those who already suffered from respiratory problems suffered even more.

Jay Bevenour
Students protested Biondi's leadership in 1999; now it's the faculty's turn.
Students protested Biondi's leadership in 1999; now it's the faculty's turn.

"If they weren't asthmatic before," says one professor, "they're asthmatic now."

Everyone interviewed for this story praises St. Louis University. They are loyal to the institution. They are committed to its progress.

They all say that these disputes with the administration do not affect the classroom. They're too professional to allow it.

But they do talk about a reluctance for faculty to go the extra mile. One who has gone those extra miles puts it this way: "When individuals experience what we're talking about, they become demoralized. As a result of being demoralized -- what I'll call the vocation of the professorate -- becomes something that individuals will go about in a different kind of way. If individuals are unhappy and demoralized, they're not going to spend extra time on campus. They're going to do what they need to do. It's not that they're punching a clock, but they are abiding by their classes. They're abiding by their office hours, but the extra mile you want individuals to go with students -- it's different. What should be a love affair becomes much less than that.

"It begins with where you are," says the SLU veteran. "It begins with shared governance. It begins not with Biondi's vision of the institution but an institutional vision that's embraced by everybody. He keeps talking about 'It's my vision.' Frankly, who gives a shit whether it's his vision? That's part of it, but if everyone doesn't buy into it, especially the faculty, then it's going to be difficult to achieve that particular vision."

The Faculty Senate concludes its report with six modest steps toward positive change at the university. These proposals seek to decentralize the decision-making process by shifting the distribution of power from the top-down model that prevails today to one that is more inclusive. The Faculty Senate also stresses that special attention must be paid to the School of Medicine.

A committee has been set up to monitor the president's response to these recommendations.

"When do you get to the point where you no longer have confidence in this person? The answer is that if these six things are not done, it will trigger that," says a senior faculty member. "I really think that's going to happen. When do you get to the point that the faculty has enough chutzpah to be able to say, 'This is simply unacceptable. We cannot function or behave in this way. This is not the way a modern university is supposed to work'"?

He doesn't believe this is the way to becoming the greatest Catholic university in America.

"People believe we cannot get there from here unless there is a change of mind, a change of heart, and there is commitment to togetherness. That is not there at this particular time."

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