The Saint Louis University Student Government Association passed a bill voting no confidence in President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. and Vice President for Academic Affairs Manoj Patankar on Wednesday night with a count of 38 in favor and one abstaining.
The vote comes just a day after the vote of no confidence made by Faculty Senate and following weeks of controversy within the school concerning the current administration and its relationship with the rest of the school.
“I think our senators made it pretty clear tonight what they think is in the best interest of the student body,” said SGA President Blake Exline. “They clearly stated that their constituents have no confidence in the president of the university to continue in his position.” Exline said the next step is for the executive board to write a letter to the Board of Trustees requesting the removal of Biondi as University president and detailing the logic of the Association’s vote.
Following the successful vote of no confidence, Senators made a motion to “to bar all student body representatives from attending any meetings in an official capacity with Fr. Lawrence Biondi and/or Dr. Manoj Patankar presiding.” This motion was passed with the intention of making clear to senators what was expected of them as representatives following their vote.
Debate on the bill endured for nearly five hours. Most of the discussion centered on the list of grievances to be included with the bill. The list of grievances included 24 points that the sponsors of the bill intended as evidence for their drafting a bill to vote no confidence in Biondi and Patankar. The chambers suspended parliamentary rules in order to systematically review and debate any points of contention in the list of grievances.
Multiple senators felt that including a list of grievances directly with the bill left an opportunity for criticism on the basis of the factual value of the statements made. The legislative committee involved in drafting the bill defended the accuracy of the grievances, claiming that all of the points had been fact-checked multiple times over.
Sen. Perry Draper argued the benefits of shortening the list to include only the most important points that effectively drove the move to take a vote of no confidence. In addition, some senators believed some of the statements made in the list presented an image that opponents might easily dispute with numbers.
Sen. Ann Knezetic countered these points by saying that leaving out certain grievances would fail to show how many issues there actually are.
Many senators also argued that putting out a vote of no confidence without a document backing up the decision with demonstrable proof put the image of SGA in jeopardy. Further, Sen. Becky Killian argued not including the list of grievances would dismiss the fact that hours of work was put in to the research and conversation that culminated in a bill of no confidence.
Sen. Andy Wilmes expressed displeasure at requesting the forceful removal of Biondi, citing his excellent history at the school and his long tenure as reasons for respecting his position and making a more docile move to incite his departure. Wilmes moved to amend the bill to request Biondi’s retirement at the end of the academic year.
Senators largely disagreed with the motion, and the amendment was voted down.
Another large part of the debate centered on whether to include Manoj Patankar, Vice President for Academic Affairs, in the vote of no confidence.
Those against including Patankar on the bill argued that his presence took away from the focus on SGA’s intention to remove Biondi. Sen. Nate Klosterman also argued that sending one piece of legislation to Biondi to remove Patankar but then telling the Board of Trustees to remove Biondi sent a mixed message.
“I think we need to just get rid of Dr. Patankar [in the bill] and go after the problem which is President Biondi,” Klosterman said.
Those for Patankar’s inclusion in the vote of no confidence argued that the actions of Patankar have demonstrated a lack of competence in his position and that SGA needed to make a statement of that effect.
Vice President of Student Affairs Richard Joubert called to attention the fact that Patankar had a measurable hand in enacting many of the controversial policies and proposals that SGA has found issue with.
Guests representing various student groups attended the meeting to voice their constituents’ opinions on the vote.
Alex, a graduate student representing a group of 34 graduate students presented a signed petition asking SGA to vote no confidence in Biondi. In the statement the students attributed the lack of communication and pervasive fear to a downtrend in SLU’s reputation under Biondi. Alex and Sen. Kyle Lincoln stated that the list would have been longer but many students did not include their signature for fear of losing their positions at SLU.
Also in attendance was one of the administrators of the SLU Students for No Confidence Facebook group, first year law student Liz Ramsey, who spoke on behalf of the students that has been vocal about Biondi’s removal through their support of the group. As of 11:23 p.m. Wednesday night the group had 968 “likes.”
The conclusion of the vote was met with applause throughout the room.
“Overall [the conversation] was productive,” said McLaughlin, author of the bill of no confidence. “The bill was not passed without scrutiny of the entire senate which was great.”
There was also an extensive discussion concerning the Student Learning Outcomes earlier in the evening. There will be a vote as to whether the University will adopt the proposed Student Learning Outcomes on Wednesday, Nov. 7. McLaughlin and Killian expressed hesitation about the learning outcomes due to the lack of time the Senate had to consider the outcomes, as well as the apparent subjectivity of the rubrics suggested and the undue burden of the outcomes.
Vice President Joubert expressed support for student learning outcomes, foremost due to the necessity for outcomes in order for the University to maintain accreditation as well as the ability for outcomes to concretely demonstrate the effectiveness of education at the University.
Joubert showed a strong desire for student feedback on the Student Learning Outcomes and their possible implementation.
Assistant Vice President of Student Development Mona Hicks made clear that the group of administrators developing the Student Learning Outcomes has remained open to student feedback and have been receiving and responding to e-mails sent to the group over the past months.
Multiple senators felt that the bill was not properly formed to address the issues the authors expressed.
The bill was tabled for next week’s meeting.