Crisis of Confidence; Our View; St. Louis University Community Deserves Respect, Answers

St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Crisis of Confidence; Our View; St. Louis University Community Deserves Respect, Answers


In his 25 years at the helm of St. Louis University, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi never has been known to back down from a challenge or to let controversy keep him from forging ahead with his agenda.

He often has been referred to as a visionary leader. He is properly lauded for reshaping the universitys campus and, in the process, fostering a rebirth of St. Louis midtown area.

Father Biondi, 73, has shored up the schools finances and academic resources, increased enrollment and scholarship and more than doubled the size of the faculty. He stood down the Vatican and got the university out of the hospital-ownership business and, at least aspirationally, into the big-time basketball business. Among its many honors, SLU was named to the Chronicle of Higher Educations 2009 list of Great Colleges to Work For.

This is not the type of profile or list of achievements typically enjoyed by someone who is shy and retiring, adjectives that would never be applied to Father Biondi.

No, he is known and sometimes feared for his iron-fisted style and no-nonsense approach. He rules SLU and a large part of midtown and woe be it to anyone who would assert otherwise.

In an interview with the Post-Dispatch in 2007, Father Biondi said, Some people like me because they know me, and some people dont like me because they know me.

That style helped earned him back-to-back votes of no-confidence this week from the universitys Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association. The unrest was sparked this summer by a proposal since abandoned to change teacher tenure and employee evaluation rules. The concerns have since broadened to include the universitys endowment, faculty compensation and retention of students and faculty.

A more conciliatory leader might have avoided the embarrassment; Father Biondi appears to be ignoring it.

This is a moment of courage, Timothy Lomperis, a SLU political science professor told Faculty Senate members before the vote. Do not be afraid of a world without Biondi.

Neither Father Biondi nor Thomas Brouster, chairman of the universitys board of trustees, have answered questions from the media. The official response to the no-confidence votes came in a statement from a university spokesman who called the votes unjustified.

This is a unfortunate. The faculty and students have expressed legitimate concerns. St. Louis University is an important institution to the community. Its reputation should not be allowed to suffer.

Universities and colleges, public and private, are laboratories for thought. What better place to question authority, learn about the boundaries of expression and enjoy the freedom of intellectual exploration? …

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