Biondi fields SGA’s questions


Kristen Miano / Editor in Chief Lawrence Biondi, S.J., spoke with SGA on April 24, giving his responses to senators’ questions.

Kristen Miano / Editor in Chief Lawrence Biondi, S.J., spoke with SGA on April 24, giving his responses to senators’ questions.

Kristen Miano / Editor in Chief
Lawrence Biondi, S.J., spoke with SGA on April 24, giving his responses to senators’ questions.

Lawrence Biondi, S.J., president of Saint Louis University, gave a special business presentation to the Student Government Association during their April 24 meeting. The purpose of his presentation was to answer questions the senators might have had about the state of the University and address any other concerns they might raise.

Biondi requested before he began that faculty members at the meeting leave the senate chambers, as the presentation was meant only for students and SGA.

Questions from senators had been collected the week prior to the meeting and were chosen at random by SGA President Blake Exline to ensure that every senator had a fair chance of getting their question asked.

The first question posed to Biondi regarded the state of the Pevely project. Biondi had announced the purchase of the Pevely Dairy Complex in his August 2011 message to the SLU community. The University received permission from the city of St. Louis to knock down three of the buildings, as well as the Pevely smokestack, but there was a vote by the city to retain the final building in the complex. According to Biondi, the plan for Pevely was to turn the site into an ambulatory care center with parking space, but the plans have since been stalled.

“We’re in a limbo stage,” Biondi said. “We have a challenge ahead of us, especially with the state of health care in this country. No confidence votes are minor compared to the state of health care in the United States.”

The next question asked Biondi to address the no confidence votes of the fall semester and to comment on the unrest that still exists on campus.

Biondi stated the University was following a strategic plan, including things like strengthening the school’s Catholic identity, increasing resources for faculty and students and increasing the University’s prestige.

Another part of the plan included taking a look at faculty development.

“There were questions, ‘What do you do with faculty who have been here for 20 or 30 years who have not been doing the research in their fields?’” Biondi said. “How can we help faculty think outside the box and offer programs and academic courses to help the students in our future and the students currently?”

Biondi said that when the strategic plan documents were released, there was a “perceived threat” that the school wanted to do away with tenure. Though the plan was still being developed, it was requested by the College of Arts and Sciences faculty that they be removed. Biondi said he called a meeting with the deans and vice presidents to reiterate the documents had been withdrawn for further evaluation.

“There was thought that Patankar, because he created the document, they though he should be let go,” Biondi said. “I didn’t think there was sufficient reason for this.”

When Patankar was invited by the deans to meet with department chairs, Biondi said the chairs would not meet with him.

“I think in an academic institution, we can debate, we can dialogue, we can talk. That’s the whole purpose of an intellectual community,” Biondi said. “I was taken aback that they did not want to even sit and talk with the vice president.”

As the situation escalated, Biondi said what he calls “SLUmor bombs” began to drop, particularly ones regarding the endowment and rankings. He said that holding faculty accountable was necessary at SLU.

“We can’t immunize our faculty. Most of our faculty are doing very, very well,” Biondi said. “This got out of control. I think some of you were manipulated by the faculty. Especially when there is a demonstration on the mall. Isn’t it curious that some of the students are related to the faculty member who is giving them a grade? Is there some kind of conflict of interest?”
Biondi said shared governance at SLU has always been in place, as student and faculty voices are always taken into account, but not every proposal can be accepted.

“Shared governance is voicing your ideas and opinions and letting discussions take place. Just because we reject some ideas does not mean there is no shared governance,” Biondi said. “There is no climate of fear. I’ve asked every faculty member on various committees if they feel as though they can’t speak their mind and they say ‘no.’”

The final question asked why student concerns, such as program changes and faculty turnover, were not being taken as seriously as other issues on campus. Biondi stated that there are structures in place throughout campus to assist students in day-to-day concerns. He also reiterated the importance of an open and vocal student body. Biondi also asked SGA continue to reach out and assist students in the SLU community.