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Biondi’s Five Tactics for Keeping Students Powerless

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As a senior, a student organization leader and a member of the Billiken community, I feel obligated to share the following observations about the administrative practices of Saint Louis University.  There is a prevailing myth on this campus that students are apathetic – a ridiculous notion that they lack any interest in acting for the betterment of themselves, their University, their community and their world.  This myth is based on an observation of inaction among the student body, but it is a misguided conclusion.  Inaction among the student body does not result from lack of interest or laziness.  It comes from powerlessness.  Students have been robbed of their voice on this campus.  From our first day as Billikens, we are systematically instructed to keep our heads down and go about our business.  We are not to make waves here.  We are not to speak up.  We are to remain silent.

This is not a product of a complex, faceless system.  It is a product of several well-constructed tactics of SLU President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. He will not admit to using these tactics, and they cannot be found in your student handbook.  Nevertheless, students will recognize them in their experiences here.

So here they are, Biondi’s Five Tactics for Keeping Students Powerless:

 

1. Bureaucracy

Over the years, students have organized and worked for change at SLU.  Somehow, in the process of navigating SLU’s maze of departments, administrative policies and endless paperwork, their passion dries up.  For student groups, organizing an event is a nightmare.  Before approaching administrators with an event, student leaders may spend weeks or even months planning it.  Paperwork with detailed information about the nature and purpose of the event must be submitted to multiple departments  months before the event is scheduled to take place.

Students are then quizzed about the content of the event and often asked to make adjustments – which disrupt its entire structure.  Whenever possible, student groups are pushed back to square one and forced to re-imagine the whole event – requiring weeks of planning and re-litigating the entire process.

Bureaucracy is not only a barrier to student groups; it is a hindrance for the entire student body.  It is the force behind the University’s yearly housing fiasco and the headache that is the class registration process.   Finding the right person in the right department to address an issue requires more research time than most students have time for and responses rarely address the issue in a timely manner.

Most problematic is that rules and policies are inconsistent and unreliable.  Often, they are subject to change without notification, at the whim of administrators.  When students become problematic for Biondi, all he has to do is enact a policy change to sweep their legs out from under them.  This tactic is frequently implemented as a “spring surprise,” ensuring that any backlash fades away over the summer months.

 

2. Avoidance

 

Bureaucracy alone is not enough to control students.  With enough passion and determination, a student may eventually succeed in untangling any bureaucratic nightmare.  Avoidance allows Biondi to shirk accountability.  When students have a concern or an issue they want addressed, they are never given an opportunity to meet with decision makers like Biondi; instead, they meet with their lackeys.  Lower-level administers have no power to address student needs because they have no power to change policies.  They are puppets with invisible strings.  They are instructed not to reveal their puppet-masters, and they communicate with students in one direction: top-down.   Their function is to stall and demoralize students.  Unable to express their concerns to decision makers, or even know who the decision makers are, students are left running around in circles, never gaining any traction.

 

3. Saying “NO” without ever actually saying “NO”

 

In the process of being jerked around by lower-level administrators, students are never explicitly told that they cannot do something.  They are told that there is something wrong with the way they are doing it, or they are asked to engage in a dialogue about how best to do it.   This way, Biondi cannot be accused of censoring or silencing students because he never does so explicitly.  Instead, he stalls them.  He forces them to justify what they are doing until it is too late for them to do it in the first place.  When students complain about this to anyone unfamiliar with Biondi’s tactics, the students are ignored because the issue is reduced to one of process rather than morality.

For example, Biondi did not originally ban the “Vagina Monologues” from campus; he merely encouraged Una to find a more constructive way of addressing the issue of sexual assault.

He said that the yearly performance was becoming “redundant,” suggesting that it would eventually be allowed on campus again if Una were willing to do something else for a few years.

This tactic allowed Biondi to portray Una as uncooperative when they protested the decision, drawing attention away from the reality that he did, in fact, ban the “Vagina Monologues”.

Perhaps the most infuriating use of this tactic occurs when censorship is masked as a concern for the well-being of the student or group.  Often, rather than telling a student group it cannot have an event on campus, Biondi’s lackeys will tell the group that they want to help make the event more effective.

The group’s leaders are isolated and pulled into meeting after meeting, in which there is vague discussion about how to make the event more fitting to the group’s mission.  Over time, the group attempts to adapt to these vague suggestions until the event, which looks nothing like its original design, fits Biondi’s arbitrary and hidden standards.

 

4. Control All Forms of Communication on Campus

 

A student may not hang a poster, hand out flyers, hold a meeting or even stand in the quad and make a speech without first going through a bureaucratic approval process.  If the content of the communication does not meet Biondi’s standards, his lackeys will inform students that it may not be distributed on campus.

Thus, any attempt to organize students to combat Biondi’s tactics is easily thwarted by his grasp over these crucial forms of communication.  While some media is still free from Biondi’s control (such as parts of The University News), he has made frequent and well-documented attempts to extend his reach over these pages through intimidation and even force .

 

5.  Hide Behind Dogma

 

Perhaps the most reprehensible tactic employed by Father Biondi is his frequent use of the University’s Jesuit Mission in order to justify censorship. After four years here, I have seen the Jesuit Mission used in two ways – marketing and silencing.  If it is not on a brochure, it is probably being used to shut down a student group or event.

Why does the Jesuit Mission require the silencing of students but never obligate the University to adopt environmentally friendly practices or hire union contractors?   It would seem that the power to write the scope and definition of SLU’s Jesuit Mission rests solely in the hands of its upper-level administrators.  A few individuals, faced with pressure from University donors and interest groups, have the power to decide the precise meaning of SLU’s foundational mission.   What is frequently perceived to be a divinely inspired mission is actually a contrived tool of administrators who are in the pockets of donors.

Biondi’s tactics are effective and powerful, but ultimately flawed.  Biondi’s objective is to rob students of their power, but his tactics do not achieve this.  Fundamentally, they only serve to make students unaware of their power.  Faced with such impressive obstructions to action, students are left with a sense that they cannot change things.  Sadly, Biondi has succeeded in creating a myth of apathy.

He does not have to make us powerless because he has succeeded in making us believe that we are powerless.  In my last days at SLU, I want to remind my fellow Billikens of one thing: We are not powerless.

We do not have to accept the status quo.  This University works for us, and we have an obligation to demand better.

Never surrender your power – your passion and your conviction.  Be persistent, be radical, be Billikens.

 

Thomas Bloom is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

 

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Father Biondi’s Five Tactics for Keeping Students Powerless « Bloom Blog

  2. SassyGayBilliken says:

    I commend Thomas for the bravery and courage to speak out and in such a public manner against the administration. The most unfortunate part of this commentary is that what he is saying is true. Having been involved with CSOs and trying to work with the administration on other objectives this is the reoccurring themes that always happen. Anyone who thinks differently I feel that they have not tried to bring about change to SLU or have not been involved in these processes. I respect those who have a different opinion, but it is hard to hide the truth when you have personally experienced these tactics.

    The unfortunate truth is the the Jesuit Mission is dead at SLU. It’s death has been brought about the administration using it as an elastic clause. They use it to benefit their own personal missions. Thomas showed that in his argumentation. I would further offer that the mission is elastic as we seemingly through it to the side in order to secure TIFF grants to build the arena. Unfortunately the students blindly passed the athletic initiative without taking into account that maybe we are all having to pay for these 1,000 tickets because the arena has been a flop as to what it was promised to be, and they are trying to find new ways to make money. Just a side thought.

    SLU’s administration has been an embarrassment for students, faculty, and staff. Those people are the ones who are living out the mission to its fullest. They are the ones who are challenging the status quo, who are giving their lives to betterment of the intellect, they are the ones forming. The administration simply wants us all to hush up, pay up, and move along. There have been tons of incidents from increase sexual assault cases on campus with the university never truly responding to them just waiting out until the controversy can die down and silencing those who wish to bring change, calling the activists and these individuals living out the mission on campus unprofessional names in meetings such as “b-tch” (this has been confirmed in an incident, but to protect the individual I will not relase their name. This close minded attitude is the death of the founding principles of SLU….to create free thinkers who challenge the status quo for the betterment of the community and most primarily in the bettering those who are oppressed.

    It’s odd to think that an institution that is suppose to be freeing the oppressed is using it’s power to silence the voices for the oppressed and therefore simply oppressing the students and going on with the status quo.

    My hat off to you Thomas. Stay strong.

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  3. Jason McCoy says:

    This information is incredibly important to hear. By all means, be pissed about this. This should inspire rage. However, you must remember. Our situation is not Biondi’s fault. It’s ours. Our lack of community and wealth of apathy is very much our fault. Big Businesses like SLU are all about externalizing costs. You must not mirror them by externalizing your passion and rage on some faceless man like Biondi. The minute your anger at Biondi paralyzes you to do nothing about our problems is the minute that he has won. Your struggle is here….everyday to unite everyone.

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  4. Another Commenter says:

    Using Biondi as a tyrant figure is just justification for one’s own lack of conviction. If indeed one loses passion among paper work, maybe they are not as maverick as they like to think of themselves.

    Similarly, I find “SassyGayBilliken” using the “Jesuit Mission” to hide behind something else. What, I’m not sure? Perhaps fear of powerlessness. Perhaps admitting that in long run each individual student is insignificant in terms of enacting change. Perhaps admitting that maybe the administration, paid professionals and those who have been at this longer than “next shiny object” college student, may in fact know certain situations better than we.

    It’s fashionable in college to be an activist. It’s fun and cool to stand and proclaim change. Empty rhetoric bears no responsibility. But perhaps instead of airing grievances in the newspaper, one might better enact bettering this huge injustice in a more constructive setting.

    And please be careful going to battle under the banner of “Jesuit Mission” when you don’t know what the Jesuits value, their way of proceeding, or how they are involved behind the scenes. Biondi is the lightening rod for your own existential frustrations, and in constantly throwing bolts at him, you are hitting other Jesuits who silently fulfill their vocation.

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    • “But perhaps instead of airing grievances in the newspaper, one might better enact bettering this huge injustice in a more constructive setting.”

      Point Number 3 proven.

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  5. Another Commenter says:

    the paranoia in this article and from a lot of the comments is bordering on Glenn Beck-ian.

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  6. KeepingUsPowerless says:

    I really do commend you Thomas for putting yourself out there. I really agree with what you are saying and the things Biondi and his Jack-Booted thugs are inexcusable. When something negative happens here at SLU, it’s covered over immedietly. The School is a Bully.

    It’s one fresh coat of paint day in and day out and there are a lot of students that don’t want to address the issue because they are afraid they will lose scholarship money and are afraid of the administration or student conduct.

    Biondi and the other administrators here at SLU make sure that you run scared, they try their best.

    It is time that students start sticking up for themselves and our rights. Afterall, we are the ones who’s tuition dollars keep the lights on and keep Biondi in his diamonds. flowers, and furs. What is to keep us from rising up against the administration in a constructive way? We are being kept down with invisible force. Does it seem that the student government avoids things all together?

    What can we do SLU?

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