The voices of a small set of Saint Louis University students have been broadcast through our governing body, our newspaper and have reached notoriety in national media. For the sake of tempering their language, we would like to begin a more balanced discussion. With this commentary, we hope to inspire more measured dialogue from all parties.
Let us begin by making it clear that, at its heart, the faculty’s contention with SLU’s leadership is not a student conflict. Our professors do not need us to advocate on their behalf. The tenure-threatening policy draft was revoked just as the professors desired. However, if they still have qualms, they have a representative body of their own. There is no reason to put students in the midst of a faculty-administration skirmish because it is not in our interest to complicate and sensationalize the issue.
Whatever the end goal of our professors might be, we are naïve if we trumpet their cause. The professors’ access to the student body is used as bargaining power for their own purposes. We should not so happily adopt the stereotype of the revolting youth on their behalf. If we have our own agenda, then let it be thoughtfully developed and made known. As things currently stand, we are not approaching the conflict adeptly because we have not yet identified our own concerns.
While we cannot speak to our professor’s complaints, there are very few of our so-called grievances that hold under scrutiny. Firstly, let us address rankings: A few weeks ago, university rankings suddenly dominated student concerns about Fr. Lawrence Biondi’s competency. Yet rankings are widely recognized as a flawed scale that cannot truly measure an education. We can agree because, as students, we know that grades and standardized tests do not account for the true worth of our intellect. What is more, we do not attend a college for its ranking, but for how it will help us grow. The value of a SLU education resides in our treasured community and in the values of balance and reason graced to us by our Jesuit roots. That is why SLU has a significance to its alumni that goes beyond competition with other universities’ graduates.
Furthermore, our grievances only date to mid-August at the earliest, and our student leaders already proclaim that they “will not be attending any meeting in which the President or Vice President of Academic Affairs are presiding.” This rash timeline does not suggest that our student leaders are any more willing to partake in polite discussion than their supposed opponents. By leaping to incendiary reactionism as a means of conflict resolution, we are choosing the low road. It is difficult to fathom why our student leaders are undermining their own arguments thus. Nor why our faculty does not vote “no confidence” in the student body, for the little we seem to have learned from them. Fire is not fought with fire, and you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
In raising this clamor, we only harm the microcosm we claim to champion. Sensationalism as we have exhibited forfeits our position as a respectable entity at the bargaining table, and this has been noticed by the world beyond St. Louis. If rankings are what we cherish, then we had best focus on our contributions to our University’s reputation rather than tearing down its leader. We the students have never had a climate of fear at SLU, and again, it is disappointing that our student leaders have not distinguished between our student interests and those of the faculty. Let us make a commitment to civilize our discourse, focus our rhetoric and choose our battles wisely.