Last week Saint Louis University’s Board of Trustees released a statement announcing its intent to hire a consulting firm to survey the SLU community in regards to “issues that have led to the recent faculty and student resolutions.” This is the board’s first public step in addressing the current situation on campus, but the exact nature of that step remains unclear. Indeed, it isn’t even clear that this step is in the right direction.
An email announced that the board “is aware of the actions taken by the University Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association.” While the representative bodies of the university’s two largest constituencies probably appreciate the board’s “awareness,” it seems likely that they were looking for something more along the lines of “recognition.”
By hiring an external consulting firm to gauge the opinions of the university community, the board is effectively sidestepping SGA and the Faculty Senate. What is the purpose of these bodies if they aren’t recognized as representing their constituents? Moreover, the board has not demonstrated any awareness of the public demonstrations of discontent by students and faculty outside of those governing bodies.
The sense that the board is ignoring both SGA and the Faculty Senate is exacerbated by the fact that in hiring a consulting firm, they are “acting upon the recommendation from Fr. Biondi.” That is, Lawrence Biondi, S.J., president of the university. As in, the man in whom SGA and the Faculty Senate both just voted no confidence.
The board’s decision is in many ways indicative of the lack of shared governance that SGA and the Faculty Senate have perceived at SLU. These two bodies, each composed of dozens of representatives, both voted with overwhelming majorities to take the most drastic measure in their power to try and effect change at SLU, and all this served to make the board “aware.” Biondi makes a recommendation and the board acts.
At any rate, the board has made a decision and the SLU community must deal with the consequences of that decision. What will this consulting firm look like? And how will their survey be conducted? Whatever form this investigation takes, hopefully it will paint a complete and representative picture of the opinions of the SLU community to the board. If significant changes are to be made at this university, it would be best to have input from the entire SLU community before they are made; hopefully, these were the thoughts of the board members when they decided on this course of action.
If it turns out that this survey misrepresents the opinions of the SLU community, or if the board chooses to place as little weight on the results of the survey as it seems to have placed on the resolutions of SGA and the Faculty Senate, SLU may be in for a prolonged struggle over governance. The board doesn’t need a survey to know that no one wants that.
The board has taken a step. Where that step takes SLU remains to be seen. The futures of students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni alike are affected by every move. We ask the board: move quickly so that SLU may move past these controversies, but tread softly because you tread on the future of this university.