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Critics react to SLU President Rev. Lawrence Biondi's retirement

11:01 PM, May 5, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Father Biondi Resigns

Fr. Lawrence Biondi

St. Louis (KSDK) - He has been one of the most controversial figures in all of St. Louis over the last year or more. The Reverend Lawrence Biondi is stepping down as President of St. Louis University.

Some of those who spent the past several months calling for Biondi to step down say they were surprised by the news.

For the past few years frustration has started to gather among students and faculty - fed up, they have said, with an atmosphere of fear and disrespect on the SLU campus.

And while two of the leaders of the effort to force Biondi to step down say they respect what he has done over his 25 years as President, they also call his resignation a victory for the future of the University.

"When we heard the announcement we didn't believe it," said Liz Ramsey a Saint Louis University Law student. "We have put out messages thanking him for his service to the University but we are really thrilled that he's come to the conclusion that it's time to move on," said Ramsey who helped organize student protest against Biondi.

"Nobody that I know has disputed the immense contributions that man has made to our university...It's a legacy that he should be justly proud of," says SLU Associate Professor of Sociology Kathryn Kuhn.

"It's now time to move on from the bricks and mortar phase and the planting of flowers and buying of art into building the academics and returning to the core values of the Jesuit mission," says Kuhn.

According to the University, in his time as President Father Biondi oversaw a near doubling of the student enrollment and more than doubled the size of the campus.

Beyond a statement released over the weekend, neither the Reverend nor the University is commenting publicly about his decision, so far.

Saturday: Biondi makes surprise announcement

St. Louis University President Rev. Larry Biondi says he's retiring after 25 years of service.

He made the announcement Saturday night at his anniversary celebration in front of a crowd of about 800 alumni and supporters. The black tie event at Chaifetz Arena raised  $1.4 million in gifts and sponsorships for student scholarships and academic programs.

The university released a statement late Saturday announcing the change of leadership.

"Just as I helped lead SLU's transformation when I arrived here more than 25 years ago, I know it is now time for the next transformation to begin," Father Biondi said. "And, so, with the blessing of our Board of Trustees, I have decided it is time for a transition in leadership for Saint Louis University - time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. This fall, the Board will launch a search for my successor. I will be here as long as they need me, and will do everything I can to make the transition to our next president as smooth as possible."

Father Biondi continued: "As I approach my 75th birthday, I know I am ready for new challenges - challenges that might include heeding the call of our General Superior in Rome, Father Nicolas, who has asked Jesuits around the world to focus on care for the poor, the marginalized, the uneducated and immigrants. Right now, I remain open to how God is calling me to serve others in ways, yet to be discerned."

Saturday's announcement comes after a rough year for Rev. Biondi that included two "no confidence" votes.

Students and faculty are upset with him over what they call a failed plan to revamp the school's tenure system - and for poor communication.

Many protested outside Saturday's anniversary celebration.

Reaction on campus late Saturday was mostly positive. Many students praised Rev. Biondi for his leadership and contributions to the university.

News Release from St. Louis University

ST. LOUIS - On Saturday, May 4, Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., told the University's Board of Trustees of his intention to retire from his position and to work with the Board on the search process for a new president, which will begin in the fall.

At a gala Saturday night celebrating his 25 years of leadership, Father Biondi announced his intentions to a crowd of more than 800 alumni, supporters and community leaders. The event in Chaifetz Arena received approximately $1.4 million in gifts and sponsorships for student scholarships and academic initiatives.

"Just as I helped lead SLU's transformation when I arrived here more than 25 years ago, I know it is now time for the next transformation to begin," Father Biondi said. "And, so, with the blessing of our Board of Trustees, I have decided it is time for a transition in leadership for Saint Louis University - time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. This fall, the Board will launch a search for my successor. I will be here as long as they need me, and will do everything I can to make the transition to our next president as smooth as possible."

Father Biondi continued: "As I approach my 75th birthday, I know I am ready for new challenges - challenges that might include heeding the call of our General Superior in Rome, Father Nicolas, who has asked Jesuits around the world to focus on care for the poor, the marginalized, the uneducated and immigrants. Right now, I remain open to how God is calling me to serve others in ways, yet to be discerned."

At its meeting Saturday morning, the Saint Louis University Board of Trustees elected J. Joe Adorjan to serve as chairman of the SLU Board. Adorjan succeeds Thomas H. Brouster, Sr., who in April announced his plans to step down as chairman. The Board also elected trustee Patrick J. Sly as vice chairman.

Adorjan has been a trustee at Saint Louis University for 25 years. He has served two previous terms as Board chairman (1991-1997 and 1999- 2005) and most recently served on the Board's Executive Committee and chaired the Clinical Affairs Committee. Adorjan is a two-time graduate of SLU, having received his bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from the University. He is the chairman of Adven Capital Partners in Clayton, Mo.

Sly joined the SLU Board of Trustees in 2003, and is currently a member of the Board's Executive Committee and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board. Also a SLU graduate, Sly received his MBA from the University. He is the executive vice president of Emerson and business leader of Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions. He also oversees the Emerson Charitable Trust, as well as the company's community giving activities.

Adorjan said Saturday that he was honored to have been elected to the position of Board chairman by his fellow trustees.

"I am committed to working with Father Biondi and all University stakeholders to continue to advance this great institution," Adorjan said. "With Pat Sly as vice chairman, I am very confident that we have a strong leadership team in place to advise Father Biondi and the Board of Trustees as we move forward."

Details about transition plans and search processes will be communicated to the University community in the weeks ahead. Neither the University nor the Board of Trustees will have additional comment at this time.

About Father Biondi

Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., has led SLU through a remarkable era of progress and achievement since his inauguration in 1987. He is one of the longest serving presidents at an American Jesuit college or university.

In addition to modernizing the campus and helping revitalize the surrounding Midtown neighborhood, Father Biondi has committed vast University resources to academics, student scholarships and financial aid, faculty research, and state-of-the-art technology.

During his tenure, he has focused on recruiting the finest faculty and students, increasing the University's academic standards and achievements, and developing the University as a major research center.

Widely considered one of the most influential people in the region, Father Biondi has earned numerous honors, including the St. Louis Award (2001), the Leon R. Strauss Urban Pioneer Award (2001), the St. Louis Citizen of the Year Award (2005) and the John D. Levy Human Relations Award (2011). In 1999, readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch named him as one of St. Louis' "Citizens of the Century."

Highlights of Father Biondi's tenure include:
• The successful completion of fundraising and capital campaigns totaling more than $785 million.
• The investment of an estimated $850 million in improvements, enhancements and expansions.
• An increase in the size of SLU's Midtown campus from 113 acres with 62 buildings to 268 acres with 131 buildings.
• Completion of the $86 million Edward A. Doisy Research Center in 2007. The state-of-the-art, LEED-certified facility offers SLU's world-class researchers a world-class home.
• Construction of the $82 million on-campus Chaifetz Arena in 2008. The 10,600-seat, multipurpose facility has dramatically enhanced the student experience and is home to SLU's basketball teams.
• Completion of the Scott Law Center in downtown St. Louis, the Center for Global Citizenship, the Health Sciences Education Union, Medical Center Stadium, Hotel Ignacio, John and Lucy Cook Hall, McDonnell Douglas Hall, Doisy College of Health Sciences and the Center for Advanced Dental Education, the Henry Lay Center for Arts and Education in Louisiana, Mo., as well as the renovation and expansion of Busch Student Center, among many other projects.
• An increase of the University's endowment from $93 million in 1987 to $970 million (as of April 15, 2013).
• Classification of SLU as a research institution by the Carnegie Foundation.
• The top-100 ranking of 24 undergraduate and graduate academic programs by U.S News & World Report.
• The increase of full-time ranked faculty from 725 to 1,390.
• An increase in the number of endowed chairs and professorships at the University from 16 to 65, drawing and retaining the nation's leading professors in their respective fields.
• The decrease of the student-faculty ratio to 12-to-1 and reduction of the average class size to 24.4 students.
• The establishment of new academic, service, leadership and diversity scholarships. In 2012, SLU provided a record $339 million in aid to students.
• An increase in the total number of students from 9,869 to 13,981.
• An increase of the average ACT score of entering freshmen from 22.7 in 1987 to 27.2 in 2012.
• Recognition as a character-building college by The Templeton Guide: Colleges That Encourage Character Development.
• The establishment of the Center for World Health and Medicine, an innovative initiative dedicated to addressing critical health concerns in developing nations.
• The launch of the first Center for Sustainability at a Jesuit university.
• The expansion and enhancement of Saint Louis University's Madrid campus as the first foreign university to be recognized officially by Spain's Ministry of Higher Education.

About Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 14,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.



 

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