Students participate sit-in protest to express no confidence in the VPAA and President of Saint Louis University

Students participate sit-in protest to express no confidence in the VPAA and President of Saint Louis University

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Students stage sit-in and march in protest; Biondi responds 

The Faculty Senate voted no confidence in President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. as president of Saint Louis University in their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Students participate sit-in protest to express no confidence in the VPAA and President of Saint Louis University. Kristen Miano/News Editor

In a secret ballot vote of 51 senators in favor, four against and two abstaining, the vote expresses that the faculty do not feel that Biondi is leading the University in the best possible direction.

“This has been building for a long time,” said a faculty representative from the Department of Political Science, “We can’t seem to imagine a life beyond Biondi, but there’s a whole other world out there.”

Discussion prior to the vote mostly concerned whether or not this was the right time to take the vote and if the Senate should save the vote for a later date, but the majority of senators present agreed that the vote needed to take place. Faculty councils of most of SLU’s colleges had meet previously and expressed similar sentiments.

“I want my mission back,” said Department of Theology representative Ruben Rosario-Rodriguez. “I want this university to be a Catholic, Jesuit university, and I want leadership that I can believe in. How are we going to be top 50 or even top 90 [when] we don’t have confidence in our leaders? We need to vote together on this.”

This vote comes after a vote by the Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences two weeks ago expressing no confidence in Biondi in respect to his continued retention and support of Vice President of Academic Affairs Manoj Patankar, following a previous vote by the Faculty Senate expressing no confidence in the vice president’s leadership. The vote taken most recently by the Faculty Senate, however, is to express no confidence in the totality of Biondi’s leadership.

“A vote of no confidence is a statement of fact, not a charge,” Faculty Senate President Mark Kneupfer said in a letter sent to the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Oct. 31. “As since, it is more than the sum of the particulars that can be set forth in its support.”

The letter sent to the Board served to both explain to the trustees why the vote passed and to call on the Board to remove Biondi and Patankar from their respective offices.

“No forward movement of the University is possible under such conditions, and the longer it takes to resolve the crisis, the harder it will be for the University to recover.
The present discontent on campus must not be mistaken for the disaffection of a few,” the letter stated.

The letter continued on to state that this discontent concerns SLU and its mission as a whole.

“The vocal protests and discourse are a thoughtful and earnest attempt by many students and faculty to find a way forward that leads to a university strengthened in its dedication to teaching, research and service–a beacon for the Jesuit ideals of the pursuit of truth for the glory of God and the service of humanity in the spirit of the Gospels,” the letter stated.

There was more than one voice heard on the matter on SLU’s campus on Tuesday. That afternoon, approximately 200 students and 20 faculty members gathered in the Quad to participate in a sit-in protest to not only show their support for the decisions of the faculty, but also express their own lack of confidence in Biondi.

“We had a sit-in protest to show not only the administration but also student government that there is a large student voice. We’re ready to move on this issue,” Colin Pajda, a representative of the student groups, SLU Students for No Confidence, said. “We had a short march as well to show the faculty that we support what they’re doing and we want to be a part of it.”

The people who participated in the protest wore red armbands and carried signs featuring statements of support for the faculty. Some protestors carried signs with statements critical of the administration.

After the demonstration in the Quad, the group marched to the front of Dubourg Hall, which houses the offices of many of SLU’s administrators.

“[Biondi] says it is a small number of students and faculty upset about this, but this is really a campus-wide event,” Pajda said. “The campus is worried about it.”

The same afternoon, Biondi and the vice presidents of the University sent a letter to students, faculty and staff sharing his own thoughts on the situation.

“Some members of the faculty have presented a distorted view of the University in an attempt to divide our SLU community, which has lead to significant disagreements among the faculty ranks in the colleges and schools as well as between the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Council of the College of Arts and Sciences,” Biondi stated in his letter. “The information presented during the so-called teach-ins and on social media has done nothing but harm our University. It is one thing to have honest disagreements; it is quite another to degrade this institution that we all care about so deeply.”

The letter featured slides and details exhibiting the ways the University has been progressing and reaffirmed Biondi’s own confidence in Patankar.

“The administration believes the vote of no confidence is unjustified,” Clayton Berry, assistant vice president for communications, said. “Father Biondi has dedicated the past 25 years of his life to moving SLU forward, and he has been very successful.”

Berry said that Biondi’s success hasn’t been limited to new buildings or campus improvements, but also includes major enhancemants to academics and research.

“The progress at SLU is not just what you see walking through the quad. It is also in the classroom and the lab,” he said. “Despite what has been suggested, SLU is a where people can express their opinions. SLU is a large and diverse community and not everyone’s voice was heard [at the demonstration.]”

The faculty is currently making plans as to where to go next, including how they will communicate with Patankar and Biondi moving forward and making an effort to reach out to the Board of Trustees.