Update below: Critics of Father Lawrence Biondi, the embattled president of Saint Louis University, say that the latest internal protest of the school's leadership is an unprecedented sign of frustration that the administration can't ignore.
SLU Students for No Confidence, a group which has been pushing for Biondi's resignation, has posted an angry letter that Mark Knuepfer, president of the SLU faculty senate, fired off in response to the news that Biondi and Thomas Brouster, chairman of the board of trustees, would not be attending the final faculty senate meeting of the year -- apparently breaking a commitment made through a formal agreement back in December.
"I hope that the President realizes that the University is far more important than his ego," Knuepfer writes. "It is clear that a graceful resignation would truly help solidify his legacy at St. Louis University; however, his blundering attempts to hold on to his eroding power base is making his exit less graceful and more disgraceful. There is a time for him to retire and it is now." Check out the full letter below.
See also: - SLU Board of Trustees Chairman Resigns: "I'm Not Being Pushed Out" - Prof. Matthew Hall Criticizes Lawrence Biondi; Trustees Call Him Immature Liar - SLU Administration Threatens Legal Action Over Professor's Survey
We left a message with Knuepfer to see if he wanted to comment further and also reached out to a university spokesman (update below) and Brouster, who we interviewed earlier this month when he announced his resignation as chair of the board.
Liz Ramsey, a spokeswoman for SLU Students for No Confidence, tells Daily RFT that this kind of harshly worded criticism from Knuepfer is unusual and a sign that tensions within SLU have reached new heights.
As we've chronicled here, Biondi has been battling a steady stream of controversies for months now, starting most prominently with an overwhelming no-confidence vote from faculty last year. There have been several high-profile resignations directly in protest of the president, and a recent survey reaffirmed this ongoing dissent.
One component of the criticism is that Biondi has stubbornly failed to even acknowledge that this intense backlash exists -- and his latest decision to skip out on a much-anticipated meeting seems to be fueling this.
Knuepfer writes, "President Biondi's last minute cancellation is not surprising as it represents yet another example in a series of missteps and errors in judgment on his part in the past several months, thereby adding momentum to the SLU community's campaign to replace him with a more suitable leader for the University. It is implausible that President Biondi is too busy to spend 30 minutes addressing the Faculty Senate."
The frequent critics of Biondi are quick to point out that the SLU administration's repeated efforts to avoid bad publicity always seem to backfire -- and only increase distrust and concerns over a lack of transparency.
Here's the letter in full:
A letter from the President of the Faculty Senate:
The Secretary of the Board of Trustees has informed me as President of the Faculty Senate by written communication that Board of Trustees Chair Thomas Brouster, Sr. and President Biondi will not have time to attend the final Faculty Senate meeting of the year as agreed upon in the Six Points approved by the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate in December, 2012.
In a letter dated April 26th the Board of Trustees provides several reasons for delaying the meeting. The reasons include the Board is busy seeking a new chair, is still contemplating the Climate Survey results and is preparing for the Board meeting on May 4th. This change in plans is particularly disappointing to those of us who have worked so hard to improve shared governance at St. Louis University this past academic year. Although this letter explains why Mr. Brouster will not be present, it does not address why the President cannot or will not attend the meeting on Tuesday, April 30.
President Biondi's last minute cancellation is not surprising as it represents yet another example in a series of missteps and errors in judgment on his part in the past several months, thereby adding momentum to the SLU community's campaign to replace him with a more suitable leader for the University. It is implausible that President Biondi is too busy to spend 30 minutes addressing the Faculty Senate; rather, it appears that President Biondi has decided that this appearance would not serve him well in his desperate attempts to remain at the helm of the University until 2018.
In conclusion, I hope that the President realizes that the University is far more important than his ego. It is clear that a graceful resignation would truly help solidify his legacy at St. Louis University; however, his blundering attempts to hold on to his eroding power base is making his exit less graceful and more disgraceful. There is a time for him to retire and it is now.
Mark Knuepfer President, Faculty Senate
Update, 3:10 p.m.: SLU spokesman Clayton Berry just sent Daily RFT this statement, explaining that the executive committee of the board of trustees is currently focused on finding a new chair to replace Brouster -- and is continuing to review a "climate survey" of students, faculty and staff. The statement also criticizes Knuepfer for a "disrespectful" and "personal attack."
On Friday, April 26, a letter was sent to the President of the Faculty Senate on behalf of the Executive Committee of the SLU Board of Trustees regarding the Senate's April 30 meeting.
In the letter, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees noted that it is currently focused on the nomination process for a recommendation to the Board for a new chair to succeed Mr. Brouster, who announced his resignation from the position earlier this month.
Given this unanticipated event -- as well as the Executive Committee's ongoing need to review the University climate survey of students, faculty and staff and discuss it with the Board -- the Executive Committee notified the Senate that Mr. Brouster and Father Biondi would not be able to attend the meeting as previously planned.
One of the six initiatives developed and endorsed by the Executive Committees of the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate is: "Representatives of the Board and the Administration will meet annually with the Senate to report on the state of the University." This was envisioned as a joint presentation to the Senate by both the Chairman of the Board and the President.
With a commitment to the six initiatives in mind, the Board of Trustees' Executive Committee said that it will seek to reschedule the presentation to the Senate at an early and mutually convenient time once the new Board leadership is in place.
In addition, some trustees have expressed concern over the statement that was issued by the President of the Faculty Senate regarding this matter. Moreover, any suggestion that this decision was made at any level other than the Board's Executive Committee is not only wrong, but also an insult to the work of the Executive Committee of the Board.
Furthermore, the personal attack against Father Biondi from the President of the Faculty Senate is disrespectful and shows the kind of unwarranted rhetoric that has been aimed at the president, the administration and now at the Board of Trustees.