AAUP survey: ‘Is it time for a new President?’

A supplementary survey was sent out to university faculty by the Saint Louis University chapter of the American Association of University Professors on April 2 as an attempt to provide a direct inquiry into the faculty’s opinion regarding the continued existence of President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. in his role.

The survey consisted of three questions: is it time for Saint Louis University to choose a new president, at which campus do you work, and would you like to make any other comments? It was drafted by AAUP President Steven Harris as a response to the earlier official university-wide climate assessment survey.

The official university survey was prepared by the newly formed Climate Assessment Committee and administered by third-party organization Psychological Associates with the aim of assessing the perceptions of members of the community on the general topics of community, climate and voice.

Members of the faculty and student body responded negatively to the official university survey, claiming that the usage of the broad term “the University” in it’s questions failed to get at the core of the no confidence issue – specifically Biondi’s position as university president.

The Climate Assessment Committee is comprised of faculty, student, staff and administrative representatives and is meant to act as a collaborative body for gauging university-wide opinion. The committee is chaired by Faculty Senate President Mark Knuepfer and Board of Trustees member Pat Sly.

The committee intends to present the findings of their first survey to the Board of Trustees on their May 4 meeting in order to give them pertinent information on the state of the University’s mentality.

“The task force had representation from all constituencies including the presidents of SGA and the SAC [Staff Advisory Council] and the survey that was distributed was the result of that highly collaborative effort,” Ellen Harshman, interim vice president of academic affairs, said.

Harris’ brief survey is an abbreviated rendition of what was originally an eight-question survey.

“I spoke with colleagues… and we said to ourselves, ‘what’s not in the senate climate committee survey… what do we think is important to have the faculty voice articulated,’” Harris said.

According to an April 1 Post-Dispatch article, the AAUP announced on March 27 that it was considering preparing a supplementary survey that would use questions from the University version, but replacing “the University” with “the president.”

This was followed by a warning from William Kauffman, SLU’s general counsel and the secretary to the Board of Trustees, the next day.

“He had sent me a letter advising me that any survey I submitted which is derivative of the University survey would be an infringement on the University’s copyright and could result in legal action to protect that copyright,” Harris said.

He then met with Kauffman on April 1 to show him the questions he intended to ask in the hopes of getting parts of his survey approved for distribution. According to Harris, Kauffman claimed that the only way to avoid the survey being considered a potentially derivative work was to contract an outside firm that has never seen the University survey and let them develop the questions.

The University has made no official statement concerning the supplementary survey, nor the conversation between Harris and Kauffman. However, by Harris’ count the administration has made it clear that they don’t support the AAUP’s efforts.

“I’m pretty sure the administration is against this,” Harris said. “Otherwise the general counsel wouldn’t have gone to such extraordinary lengths to try to stop it…

“One does not anticipate that the University will be in the position of trying to forestall research and dissemination of information…That’s totally in violation of the faculty manual.”

Harris expects to have results back from the supplementary survey well in advance of his AAUP presentation at the  April 30 faculty senate meeting.