Biondi rejects Faculty Senate’s stance on VP

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In response to last week’s vote of no confidence against Manoj Patankar, Vice President of Academic Affairs, from the Faculty Senate of Saint Louis University, Lawrence Biondi S.J., President of SLU, sent out a letter stating his disappointment in the vote and reaffirming his support for Patankar.

“I fully support Dr. Patankar and have confidence in his ability to lead the academic division of the University,” Biondi said in his letter.

The letter was released on Oct. 2 in accordance with the Faculty Senate’s requested response deadline, as stated in their message to the President on Sept. 26, which outlined their reasons for voting no confidence. In the Sept. 25 Faculty Senate meeting, the vote of no confidence passed with 50 out of 57 senators voting in the affirmative.

In the same letter, Biondi went on to address each of the grievances stated in the Senate’s message.

To the Senate’s assertion that Patankar had advanced a proposal to remove the protections of tenure, a move that would contradict the agreements in the faculty manual, Biondi stated that the policy drafts were meant to begin a conversation to work toward a faculty review policy that would ultimately benefit the University.

“While we may have different perspectives as to exactly how a post-tenure review should be implemented at SLU, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the concept,” Biondi said in the letter. “Now that Dr. Patankar has withdrawn the draft policies, I believe it is in the best interest of the University for the Faculty Senate and the Administration to return to the conversation and develop mutually-acceptable solutions.”

The Senate also wrote that flawed procedures were applied to the evaluation of the College of Education and Public Service with out prior consultation on the matter with the faculty. Biondi stated both the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate and faculty representatives from the College were involved in the process, which was consistent with the faculty manual and based on enrollment data in the college.

As for the faculty’s concern that adequate leadership was not being provided on issues remaining after the reorganization of the Graduate School and issues with approval procedures for administrative activities, Biondi stated the issues were being dealt with with input from the faculty, and that it could not be validated if the processes for administrative approval were hurting faculty productivity.

To the claims that Patankar was neglecting to collaborate with faculty on important issues and disregard faculty feedback when he did collect it, Biondi asserted that faculty feedback has been and will continue to be considered.

“All input, consultation and advice are considered in decision making,” Biondi said in his letter. “Just because an exact faculty recommendation is not enacted does not mean that the faculty feedback and efforts were not considered.”

Finally, when the Senate stated that Patankar’s Strategic plan was developed with with minimal input from the faculty, despite the significant role the faculty would play in the plan, Biondi said that from the initial development, the faculty had been involved, and that Faculty Senate President, Mark Knepfer, had voted affirmatively in support of the strategic planning process at the Sept. 27 meeting of the President’s Coordinating Council.

Over all, Biondi stated that he did not believe the Senate’s actions were correct or well supported.

“The letter to me provides no concrete of credible facts supporting the Senate’s assertion that the University’s reputation has been severely eroded, nor do the assertions support the action of no confidence in Patankar,” Biondi said.

Biondi concluded by urging the Senate to focus their efforts on the Blue Ribbon Committee, a committee working toward better shared governance at the University, and to use their leadership to work for the “greater good of the University,” namely by refraining from actions that would damage SLU’s reputation and standing.

Kneupfer conceded that what happens with the Vice President of Academic Affairs is ultimately the President’s decision, but he is happy that faculty voices are at least being heard.

“The [post-tenure review] policies were removed, that was first and foremost,” Kneupfer said. “We had felt the Vice of Academic Affairs was not capable of doing his job. We feel it is a difficult job to do, and he has not had much experience at this management level. It’s a complex university, but we feel we have voiced our concerns.”

Kneupfer hopes that the faculty and administration can reach a mutual understanding.

“The faculty don’t have the right to fire the vice president, just the right to make our voice heard,” Kneupfer said.