Quarter century of progress

Bri Radici/ Design Director

Bri Radici/ Design Director

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Biondi’s record: buildings,campus beautification 

Bri Radici/ Design Director

On Sept. 30, 1987, representatives from Saint Louis University and numerous other American institutions of higher education gathered in Powell Symphony Hall to attend the inauguration of SLU’s 31st president.

When Lawrence Biondi, S.J., began his time as SLU’s president, he was 48 years old and had formerly been the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago. He opened his inaugural address not by speaking about his new position, but by disclosing his dream of being an opera singer.

“No one named Biondi could stand spotlighted here at Centerstage in one of our nation’s premiere concert halls without becoming an Italian Walter Mitty, imagining you are all assembled in trembling expectation of hearing me sing an aria from Il Trovatore or, better yet, La Traviata,” Biondi said. “For me, a lover of opera in particular and music in general, such is the stuff that dreams are made of.”

“But then,” he continued. “So is becoming the President of Saint Louis University.”

Twenty-five years later, Biondi is still living that dream.

By the time Biondi succeeded Thomas Fitzgerald, S.J. as the University’s president, he had already built a resume in academia approximately 15 years long. After receiving his Ph.D. in Socio-linguistics from Georgetown University in 1975, this Chicago native went on to become the chair of the Modern Language Department at Loyola University Chicago. Four years later, he became the dean of Loyola Chicago’s College of Arts and Science, where he remained until 1987.

Though Biondi had his beginnings at Loyola Chicago, his involvement at SLU began even before he became president. Beginning in 1982, he served as a member of the SLU Board of Trustees and his promotion was met with approval by the chair of the Board at the time, William Bush.

“We are vey enthusiastic about Fr. Biondi’s appointment and feel that he will be a very capable leader for this fine and versatile university,” Bush said.

When Biondi first took office, his main goal was to improve the academic standing of SLU.

“The building boom of the eighties is all but concluded,” Biondi said in his address, “And our aim now must be to fill them with the very best professors and the most gifted and professional students.”

Keeping his promise, Biondi wasted no time in creating a platform for SLU academics to improve. In January 1989, he announced the creation of a strategic planning committee to develop goals that would guide the university into the next century.

Based on a survey sent to students, faculty and staff, Biondi laid out eleven goals for the strategic planning committee in an interview with Joe Muelenkamp of The University News, including commitments to academic quality, the Jesuit mission, student success, financial responsibility and continued communication and planning

After 25 years in office, it is undeniable that Biondi has improved the University. As of 2012, the University is ranked 92nd in the country. SLU is the only Jesuit institution with a school of Public Health and boasts a Health Law Program ranked number one in the county. The average ACT score of incoming freshmen is a 27, and over 90 percent of students receive some form of financial or merit-based aid. The number of faculty on campus has increased significantly in the last 25 years and SLU now features and approximate 13-1 student to faculty ratio.

Beyond academics, Biondi has also made strides in the University decision-making process. Early in his tenure, he created the President’s Coordinating Council, which came to be a consulting body comprised of student, faculty and staff representatives who serve to advise decision making as a means of shared governance.

During his time as president, Biondi has also overseen some defining changes to SLU’s campus and surrounding Midtown area. The completion of Chaifetz Arena in 2008 not only gave the Billiken Basketball program a permanent home, but also brought a new business venture into the area. The construction Hotel Ignacio, an upscale hotel located on Olive St., can also be attributed to Biondi. The hotel has been a noteworthy part of the revitalization of the Midtown area.

The modern campus in nearly unrecognizable from the campus of 25 years ago thanks to numerous building and renovation projects, which took place during Biondi’s term. He has worked to create an “urban” campus, an endeavor that has included the creation of malls on both the Frost and the Medical campuses, lined with trees, flowers and sculptures. He also oversaw the renovations of the John Cook School of Business, the Pius Memorial Library and the Simon Recreation Center. Biondi also added parking lots to the area and integrated Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology with the Frost Campus.

Despite the accomplishments he has achieved, Biondi’s term has not been without controversy. In 1998, he came under fire for selling SLU teaching hospital for $330 million. In 1999, the Student Government Association voted ‘No Confidence’ on his administration after parking rates increased by approximately 65 percent.

The effectiveness of shared governance at the University has been called to question several times over the years, resulting in some tension between the faculty, administration and students.

Biondi’s lawsuit against Communication professor and former adviser of The University News, Avis Meyer, in 2007 over his use of SLU’s copyrighted name when he tried to create an option for the student newspaper to move off campus drew fire from some students, faculty and other groups. The suit was settled in 2009, according to reporting by the Post-Dispatch.

In recent months, Biondi was criticized when Annette Clark, former dean of the Law School, resigned her position. Clark alleged the Biondi had wrongly transferred funds from the Law School to the President’s Opportunity Fund and had neglected to consult her on the decision to relocate the Law School to a downtown location.

After 25 years as president, Biondi is tied with Paul Reinert S.J. for the longest tenure as SLU’s president. Biondi has no known plans to retire and will continue to work to improve the University.

In the future, Biondi has plans to see SLU become the best Catholic institution in the nation break into the top 50 universities on the US News and World Report rankings.