In an unprecedented move, the faculty of Saint Louis University has voted "no confidence" in University President Father Lawrence Biondi.
The Faculty Senate voted 51-4 with 2 abstaining.
The vote is just the latest in long history of discord between the administration and faculty. During his 25 years as president, Biondi has faced criticism for spending millions of dollars in campus building projects, sometimes at the expense of what professors viewed as more pressing academic needs.
More recently, in 2009 Biondi eliminated the position of Provost brought in Manoj Patankar as the Vice President of Academic Affairs. Almost immediately Patankar came under criticism for a decision to dismantle the Graduate School. The decision was made without consulting the Faculty Senate. The Senate then demanded Patankar's removal, a request which Biondi denied.
Earlier this summer Patankar proposed a system of metrics-based criteria for review of tenured professors, again ignoring the input of the Faculty Senate. The plan was viewed by faculty as a plot to make it easier to fire tenured professors.
“It’s the end for us, it’s enough," Political Science professor Timothy Lomperis said. "We have had enough of the Biondi era and I don’t think this movement will go away until that is guaranteed.”
The issue of tenure review has since been tabled, but that has done little to halt the growing chorus of calls for Patankar to be fired and now for Biondi to step down.
Students weigh in
Earlier in the day several hundred students staged a sit-in in support of faculty. Many students also point to the elimination of certain departments and degrees, over the objection of students and faculty.
Sophomore Rebecca Killian in student in the Urban Studies program, which is slated for closure.
“I feel like it has totally crippled the worth of my degree,” Killian said. “I mean, much of my faculty in my program fled and a lot of students have been saying that this is turning into a business-oriented university, which is not what I came here for, and it's not what a lot of other students came here for.”
Father Biondi has not responded to repeated requests for comment from St. Louis Public Radio.
A statement from SLU's communications department said the vote by the Faculty Senate was unjustified.
"In light of all that Father Biondi has done — and continues to do — to move Saint Louis University forward, there should be concern that the university’s faculty senate would take such a vote against a highly respected and accomplished leader," Assistant VP for Communication Clayton Berry said.
"Moreover, the university listened to faculty concerns about draft faculty evaluation policies and responded by withdrawing them from consideration. Additionally, as endorsed by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the Student Government Association and the administration, a Blue Ribbon Committee has been formed to work through remaining shared governance issues."
A great man
Father Ted Vitali is the Chair of SLU’s Philosophy Department. He says Biondi has done an enormous amount of good for SLU, but the time has come for him to step down.
“To my mind this is a tragedy, because he is a truly great man, and a great leader," Vitali said. "But things have gone in a direction and judgment at this point appears to be that he has placed his legacy at risk.”
It is unclear how the vote of no confidence will be handled by SLU's Board of Trustees. As recently as Sept. 24, a letter from the Chairman of the Board reaffirmed the board's support of Father Biondi.
A letter to faculty from Biondi was sent out about one hour before the vote. In the letter Biondi says:
"Some members of the faculty have presented a distorted view of the university, in an attempt to divide our SLU Community."
"Moreover the information presented in 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."
Follow Adam Allington on Twitter: @aallington