ST. LOUIS — Saint Louis University's Faculty Senate overwhelmingly backed a no confidence resolution in the leadership of the schools longtime president, sending a clear message to trustees that they think it's time for a change at the top.
The Faculty Senate voted 51-4, with two abstentions on Tuesday to support the resolution against the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, who has led the school for a quarter century. The vote is the most extreme step the faculty can take and is essentially a demand that the trustees replace the 73-year-old Biondi.
Biondi angered many faculty members by not complying with their request to remove the Jesuit university's vice president of academic affairs, Manor Patankar, for proposing changes to the school's tenure system in August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Biondi's critics also say the university's national rankings and the growth of its endowment have declined in recent years.
"This is a moment of courage," political science professor Timothy Lomperis told fellow faculty members before the vote. "Do not be afraid of a world without Biondi."
Clayton Berry, a university spokesman, released a statement calling the vote "unjustified."
"The fact is, during the past 25 years, Father Biondi has led SLU through a remarkable era of progress, improving academics, increasing the size and quality of the student body, transforming the campus, and enhancing SLU's national and international reputation," Berry said.
Biondi sent a letter to faculty on Tuesday, before the vote, defending his legacy. Some faculty members said the letter swayed them to vote against the school president.
In the letter, Biondi characterized the recent work of some faculty members as presenting "a distorted view of the University in an attempt to divide the SLU community."
Law professor Doug Williams said the letter made it clear to him that there was little chance of solving the crisis through conversations with Biondi.
"I find it disheartening," Williams said. "It actually breaks my heart."
Berry said administrators have listened to concerns. He said they have established a committee to address those concerns, and noted that the board of trustees earlier expressed confidence in both Biondi and Patankar.
Senators expressed hope that Tuesday's vote would encourage trustees to take another look at faculty complaints.
Earlier in the day, about 200 protesters, mostly students, rallied against Biondi and Patankar. Some noted the respect they had for Biondi's overall accomplishments.
"At the beginning of his time, he did fantastic things for the university. The campus is beautiful. That's all Biondi," said Patricia Libby, a pre-law student from Belleville, Ill. "But there's too much focus on things that aren't academically pertinent."