Sept. 2 marked the first day of Bill Kauffman’s tenure as interim president of Saint Louis University. Motivated by a passion for the University and years of experience, Kauffman is nothing but positive about the future of SLU and the anticipated search for a new president.
He claimed that his 18 and a half years serving as General Counsel and Secretary of the Board of Trustees became the primary factor in his decision to accept his current position as interim president.
“I believe in Saint Louis University,” Kauffman said. “As we transition to the next phase in the University’s life, we have a spectacular opportunity,” referring to the presidential search process, which he sees as the primary concern for the University’s future in the coming months. The search committee for a new president is expected to be formed following the Sept. 28 Board meeting. Kauffman will not serve in any official role on the committee, though he intends to provide his advice where it is desired.
He said that he holds high hopes for the search process and the future of SLU as a whole, calling himself “euphoric” about the university, inspired by the dedication and talent of the faculty, staff, administrators and students of SLU.
“Saint Louis University is well regarded in the higher education community,” Kauffman said. “We have very strong faculty, very talented students, and we have very strong academic programs… That coupled with… the buildings we have here makes me think we will have very well qualified [presidential] candidates.”
He expects that some candidates will be sitting presidents at other universities, though he was careful to stress that the search process was a two-way street, and that SLU also has to work to appeal to the best leaders available.
With that in mind, Kauffman plans to work to address recent issues on campus, in addition to any lingering concerns from years past, in order to make SLU more appealing to potential candidates.
Kauffman’s appointment and the upcoming search process follow a year marred by controversy between former President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., and faculty, staff and student groups.
Over the course of the academic year the Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association individually voted No Confidence in Biondi as President of the university.
The conflict between the SLU administration and the faculty, staff and student groups centered on the concept of ‘shared governance,’ with no confidence supporters claiming that Biondi exercised too much control over university matters and had created a ‘culture of fear.’
Kaufmann hopes to help unify the SLU community under the mutual cause of finding the best possible president to lead the university into the future and has already set meetings with various faculty departments.
“I intend to be accessible to all of the university constituents,” he said. “I can’t guarantee that when we engage in a dialogue… that we will always agree, but I truly think the ability to have a conversation will advance our common purpose as an institution.”
Kauffman has already had experience interacting with various university groups during his time as General Counsel and said that his work with student leadership and SGA has encouraged him in the ability of the university to move in a positive direction.
“If I have any success it will be because of the university community pulling together for our common purpose,” Kauffman said. He also stated that he foresees a series of focus groups forming over the course of the presidential search so that all of campus can be heard, though he clarified that the final decision on appointing a president rests with the Board.
According to Kauffman, the administration generally expects the search process to conclude within the academic year. However, he placed priority on the quality of the president rather than the timing of the search.
He will remain available in his capacity as interim president should no suitable successor be found by the end of the year.
“Some people would say [it was a] failed search if the first try doesn’t work,” he said. “A failed search is appointing the wrong person.”