Steven Harris, a professor at Saint Louis University, wanted to gauge faculty opinion on embattled president Father Lawrence Biondi. But as we reported earlier this month, when he began that process, counsel at SLU contacted him and threatened him with legal action -- for copyright infringement. (SLU had previously distributed a survey that neglected to focus on Biondi; Harris wanted a supplemental one about the president's leadership.)
"Is it time for Saint Louis University to choose a new president?"
Today, the results are in -- and they're not good for Biondi.
"The figures show a pretty overwhelming response on the part of the SLU faculty," Harris, a professor in the department of math and computer science, tells Daily RFT.
The results are up on his website. A total of 1,487 surveys were sent out (to full-time faculty on all campuses; also to some who are full-time SLU staff but only part-time as faculty, as could be identified). They received 834 replies.
Is it time for Saint Louis University to choose a new president?
-Yes: 607, 73.3% of respondents to this question
-No: 63, 7.6% of respondents to this question
-Don't know/no opinion: 158, 19.1% of respondents to this question
-(no answer: 6, .7% of respondents to other questions)
His results include details about how different schools responded to the question, with nearly 90 percent from north campus wanting Biondi out,and around 60 percent on the medical campus answering yes.
"That's a ten-to-one margin," Harris says of those who want a new president versus those who want Biondi to stay.
The results aren't all that surprising.
SLU has battled a string of controversies for months now, with faculty members last year overwhelmingly voting no-confidence in Biondi, who has faced a handful of high-profile resignations in protest of his leadership.
Harris and other critics wanted to have another clear statement of dissent through this survey in advance of a Board of Trustees meeting next month in which some hope they will vote to remove the president.
And what about the legal threats?
Harris says that when he decided to do a one-question survey, it seemed obvious that there could no longer possibly be any copyright infringement concerns, though he and others argued it was all along a wrongful attempt to suppress free speech.
And, as Harris points out, he got what he wanted -- another opportunity to take the pulse of faculty confidence in Biondi -- and the university officials got exactly what they were trying to avoid: bad publicity.
"It was a typical move," Harris says of the legal threats, adding, "They picked the wrong person to bully."
Daily RFT left a message with a SLU spokesman, and we will update if we hear back.