In a little over two weeks, another class will have completed their education at Saint Louis University. They’ll wear their funny hats as they walk up on stage and accept their slips of paper, and then they’ll go forth to live their lives in various corners of the globe. And a few months later, a new batch of budding Billikens will arrive to follow in their footsteps.
From the reductive perspective of an outsider, this cycle could seem mechanical, like an assembly line fashioning young minds. The newly credentialed alumni could walk out of Chaifetz and never look back, their transaction with the University completed. They could forget about their experiences here, forget about the struggles over the past year to make SLU the best it can be. But we who have been here cannot distance ourselves from SLU that easily or that callously.
Yes, we paid at the door, and yes, we received a service with an economic value. But SLU has been more than just a business for the thousands of us who’ve studied here, because we did more than just study. Many of us lived here, laughed here, learned lessons here that no class could encapsulate. We developed relationships with faculty, staff and fellow students that fundamentally changed us, some of which we will maintain to our dying days. We grew as human beings, mentally, physically and spiritually, to an extent that we may never fully comprehend. Even the most jaded graduate has bright memories of great times here at SLU. And every single one of us spent several precious years of our youth as a member of the SLU community.
And that is what SLU is: a community. It would be absurd to reduce this University to a corporation dealing out knowledge and housing arrangements. Buying your laptop from Best Buy didn’t alter you as a person. You didn’t spend four years interacting with the man at the car dealership (hopefully).
Businesses may be governed by the will of a single person—though there’s evidence that such arrangements are often counterproductive. Communities cannot be, especially communities of over 10,000 people of various needs, backgrounds and interests. This is what the no confidence controversy of the past year has been about: not tenure, not hiring procedures, not business decisions, not even basic professionalism and respect, though those factors are all important.
Fr. Lawrence Biondi, S.J., has transformed this University over the past 25 years, and many of his successes were likely facilitated by his apparently unilateral decision making power. But such a governance structure cannot be the basis for a fair and functional community. Perhaps the error of the SLU community in the past has been its acceptance of the benefits of having an ambitious and influential University president at the cost of the freedom to communally decide the direction of the University. If Fr. Biondi makes poor leadership decisions, as many argue he has already done, the SLU community finds itself with neither the aforementioned benefits nor the freedom to effect change. This is a problem that we cannot simply forget or ignore.
Summer is coming. Seniors are leaving. But they will remain connected to the SLU community, through relationships with the faculty that remain here, through precedents set for the students that follow them and through the reputation of the institution that granted them their degrees. It is important that recent graduates and summer-vacationing students alike remain informed of the situation at SLU.
Alumni, in particular, have a lot of power to decide the direction of the University. The alumni network is SLU’s greatest team of recruiters, its most effective Career Services Office and a major source of University funding. Alumni are the largest constituency of the SLU community, and it is they, along with faculty, staff and current students, that truly determine the success of the University.
So stay involved and stay informed. This is our University. This is our community. It is our responsibility to keep it moving in a positive direction. We are always Billikens, no matter how far we are from SLU in time or space.