It was with sadness Sunday when we read in the Post-Dispatch that the Rev. Lawrence Biondi planned to retire as president of St. Louis University after more than 25 years in the lead chair. If you have been following the St. Louis U. story for some time, it is obvious that he was forced to retire by a rebellious faculty and students who joined in the ouster movement, undoubtedly influenced by some of their instructors.
We have yet to meet a college or university president who had the undying love of the faculty, students and alums. We don’t know Father Biondi, but it is indeed unfortunate that he is being forced to leave under stormy circumstances since he was a leader of many accomplishments. Our views are from afar. But our campus observations are from near. With a wife, son and daughter-in-law who hold degrees from St. Louis U., we have nothing but respect for the institution. In fact, we know many graduates of SLU and the university can be proud of them.
Leaders who accomplish much usually are controversial. Any president of a university who serves for 25 years or more is bound to have made a few mistakes and developed a few enemies. We are sure he has had dictatorial streaks in his leadership style. But it can be argued that it was a successful style of management for the most part. A move was made to change the tenure program for faculty and that broke the leadership back of this leader, and led to a no-confidence vote by the faculty and students. They asked the trustees to remove Father Biondi.
Father Biondi is a Jesuit priest. The university is a Jesuit institution. The Jesuits have a solid reputation as educators. Yes, they have been controversial at times because of a strain of independent blood. During the months of controversy about Father Biondi, we didn’t hear or read anything negative about the academic quality of SLU. Father Biondi upheld the educational values of the university. That is the No. 1 goal of any college or university president, or should be.
Father Biondi’s tenure was good news for the city of St. Louis. The physical improvements that resulted under his leadership were nothing short of amazing. He gave new life to midtown St. Louis. His plans to move the law school downtown was met with great enthusiasm from downtown interests. He cared about the city and its future. He not only cared, he did something about it. That is obvious. The city will be losing a great friend when he departs.
The main campus 25 years ago was not attractive. Father Biondi transformed it into a campus befitting another setting where one finds campuses park-like and appealing. We look in wonderment every time we pass by because of what it was and what it is now.
The pride that Father Biondi instilled in the university can’t be fully measured. But the gains are there to see.
We hate to see any successful college or university president run off by the faculty and students. The students are too immature to make sensible judgments. Faculty members are too protective of their own turf and are independent.
His departure is unfortunate and disturbing.