We at The University News stand behind the Faculty Senate of Saint Louis University and believe that the faculty represent the best interests of the student body and the university as a whole.
Such a statement would be uncontroversial and innocuous at almost any other school. The fact that it is not so at SLU is just proof that there is something terribly wrong with this university.
After all, one of SLU’s stated missions is to teach, and so the relationships between students and instructors form the cornerstone of a healthy university community. As students, we see the faculty every day. They teach us, collaborate with us and mentor us. Without a faculty, this university is nothing but bricks and shrubs.
So when an overwhelming majority of faculty representatives express dissatisfaction with the direction taken by our administration, we listen. It would seem prudent that everyone involved with this university do the same. More than that, there should be firmly established avenues for both faculty and students to effect change when they perceive problems with the direction of the university.
It is not clear that these avenues exist at SLU, and this, more than anything else, is the issue at hand. The problems at SLU go beyond any single administrative decision; they dwell in the flawed structure of governance that renders faculty and students alike powerless and silenced.
The legitimate concerns of the faculty have been called petulant, selfish and hysterical and subsequently ignored. Mass demonstrations of dissatisfaction by the students have been treated with contempt. Whenever a student or faculty member has criticized the administration, the reaction of University leadership has been condescending and unprofessional to the point of insult. This is not what “shared governance” looks like. This is a culture of fear, where dissent is suppressed and dialogue is impossible.
Some might wish to see this university run like a machine, where students enter one side with their tuition and come out the other with a diploma. Some students might even prefer that, like a well-oiled engine, the workings of the university remain silent, out of sight and out of mind. This naïve view might prove costly. Education is an active experience, and students must act now to continue the forward progress of their university. For if the reputation of SLU declines, the value of our degrees falls with it.
Right now, the grinding gears of our university are being heard around the country, and the publicity is far from positive. The longer these controversies go on, the more damage SLU will sustain. University leaders claim that they’re acting in the best interests of the students, and no one would dispute that in the past 25 years under President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., this university has shown great progress in many metrics. But when administrative decisions are being lambasted around the country, it becomes difficult to see how obstinacy and a refusal to cooperate helps the students, the faculty or anyone else.
What SLU needs now is for its students to take charge of their education. As our representative body, we commend the Student Government Association for making a timely response in support of the Faculty Senate, and we hope SGA will continue to be proactive in working to resolve the governance issues at SLU.
Doubtless the days ahead will bring challenges, but we believe they can be surmounted with communication and earnest effort. And in the future, we hope that we will all still be proud to put our Saint Louis University diplomas on display.