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Beacon Back Story: One voice missing in Biondi retrospective

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Once the initial flurry of news and reaction over the Rev. Lawrence Biondi’s decision to step down as president of Saint Louis University was over, the natural next journalistic step was a look back at his career: What did he do right? What did he do wrong? How will his tenure be remembered?

Having covered the discord between the administration and the faculty at SLU for several months, I knew who would have something to say about Biondi, both pro and con, and I set out to write a story with as much balance and nuance as possible.

I was able to reach a variety of faculty members and others who had worked with Biondi not only on SLU’s academics but also on what may be his most lasting legacy, the renovation of the campus and the adjacent Grand Center neighborhood. You’ll be able to read the two-part result on the Beacon website next week.

Unfortunately, one voice is missing in all of this – Biondi himself. Last summer, as his 25th anniversary approached, before the no-confidence votes and the other actions that ended with his resignation, I contacted him to set up an interview. I reminded him that I was the higher education reporter at the Post-Dispatch when he was named to the SLU job, and I flew up to Chicago to talk with him in his office at Loyola University prior to his coming to St. Louis.

He emailed back in mid-August saying that he did remember me and would be happy to talk once the start-of-school rush was over. But a little while later, I got another email, from a university spokesman, saying that Biondi would not be able to do the interview “at this time.” I wrote back saying I was disappointed but held out hope that another time would come. It never has.

In the meantime, while the administration and trustees were reluctant to talk about the standoff with the faculty, professors were only too happy to fill the vacuum with their own views. When Biondi did appear recently before campus groups like the Student Government Association and the Faculty Senate, reporters weren’t allowed in to hear what he had to stay.

Before I set out to write his career retrospective, I asked once again, through the SLU communications office, if I could talk with Biondi to get his views on the questions I was trying to answer. Despite the pledge of the new chairman of the university’s board of trustees that communication would improve, I never heard back from him.

So this retrospective story, like so many others, was written without direct comment from Biondi. But the process to find his successor won’t even be starting until the fall, so the president will be around for several months at least, and the interview request is still open. SLU certainly knows where to find me.

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