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Saint Louis University: More Faculty Protest As Theology Dept. Chair Jay Hammond Resigns

Categories: Education, News

biondi 3.jpg
via
Lawrence Biondi
More trouble this week for Father Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University -- with another high-profile resignation from someone who says that "trust at SLU has been shattered."

Jay Hammond, the chair of the Department of Theological Studies, has resigned in protest of Biondi's leadership -- and the tenured faculty of the department voted unanimously not to fill the chair's position, as a show of solidarity. A former SLU student sent Daily RFT Hammond's official letter of resignation and lengthy explanation, on view below, which offer an insight into the boiling tensions at the institution.

Part of his explanation is that he was troubled by the private comments of his companions who, he writes, "used words like, embarrassing, evil, sinful, arrogant, bully, and subverting SLU's mission to describe Fr. Biondi's style of leadership."

How significant is this latest controversy?

Today's news comes two months after faculty members made public a lengthy report they submitted to the university's board of trustees that urged the committee to fire Biondi. That report, also on view below, said that both the reputation and financial health of SLU have been badly damaged under Biondi's leadership over the last several years. And in October, faculty of the University's College of Arts & Sciences and the Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to censure Biondi with the high-profile no-confidence vote.

SLU protests.jpeg
via Facebook

This latest resignation comes six months after the dean of the law school resigned in protest.

Hammond's resignation letter, submitted February 12 to Dr. Ellen Harshman and Fr. Mike Barber, says:

With this letter I submit my resignation as chair of the Department of Theological Studies effective February 28. Since the Board of Trustees has decided to ignore the Faculty Senate's vote of no confidence in Fr. Biondi I am unable, in good conscience, to continue my service as an administrator at SLU. I do not have confidence in his leadership, so I must resign because the silent majority perpetuates the illusion of Fr. Biondi's effective leadership. I look forward to returning to teaching and research within the DTS.

As I depart, I offer a prayer for SLU: "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; courage to change the things we can; and wisdom to know the difference." Now is not the time for serenity. May the Spirit fill the SLU community with courage and wisdom as it collectively yearns for change.

Hammond (who Daily RFT has reached out to for comment this morning) also penned a more than 1,400-word explanation of his resignation that a former student ended up receiving via e-mail and sent our way.

jay hammond, slu.jpg
via
Jay Hammond
In this letter, dated February 19, he says that his resignation comes in the aftermath of a February 9 SLU Borad of Trustee meeting. He says he wants to make clear that he loves SLU, where he graduated three times and met his wife. He writes, "[T]his is my dream job, because SLU is in many, many ways my home."

Still, he says there are three main reasons why he cannot continue as chair.

In one section he references Rosa Parks as inspiration and writes, "I unequivocally said 'no' to Fr. Biondi's abusive leadership style that fosters a culture of fear; a fear that subverts SLU's mission," adding, "Fear still grips the SLU community. It still grips me. Yet, Rosa convinced me that fear, as powerful as it is, is ultimately not a suitable excuse for inaction."

Continue for more details on Hammond's resignation and the full letters.

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21 comments
bambamcv
bambamcv

I implore the Jesuits to transfer Biondi under obedience.  He has done wonderful things.  But the ends do not justify the means.  Religious are not meant to remain in one job for 25 years.  It is time for a change, if for no other reason than to avoid scandal, and in the interest of Christian Charity.  I also ask that the governance of my Alma Mater be reformed so that those who hire and fire the President are not beholden to him.  Enron was a dozen years ago.  Why does a cutting edge, top research University still have crony governance?

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

Sounds like the department chair was a position in search for a purpose. "essential paperwork will be handled by the existing associate chair" - apparently the real work needing to be done can be shared by others, making the chair position expendable.

That the Board has confidence in Fr. Bondi speaks well of him. If those serving the university do not agree, they should seek employment at other universities and positions. Their lack of courage to leave tells me more that they value security over their convictions.

James Madison
James Madison

It does not matter what I think, or you think. Saint Louis U is a private organization and well able to make their own decisions.

Christian Knobloch
Christian Knobloch

Somebody just needs to gut that entire institution. Start over. It's an absolute mess.

parkerk
parkerk

@JamesMadison Mr. Madison, essential paperwork ensures that student needs are not impacted by the chair's resignation. That is a small fraction of the work done by the chair of a department. The administrative life of the university would grind to a halt in the absence of department chairs. The fact that faculty have stepped up to fill the gap, in support of the chair's decision, speaks to their solidarity with him. But it will mean that their lives in the classroom and in their research and publishing will become more difficult. 

Universities are not corporations, but complex educational organizations that require a different style of leadership. At a Catholic Jesuit university, it also demands that leadership exemplify gospel values. Sadly, our president has become a countersign of those core values. It is not a question of Fr. Biondi's "style," as some trustees have called it, but a misplaced understanding of what leadership in our context should be. The fact that the Board of Trustees has confidence in Fr. Biondi says more about their failure to understand the mission and core values of Saint Louis University, than the commitment of faculty and students, who have continued to press the trustees for over six months to provide new leadership that reflects our values. Faculty are not simply employees--they are mentors and guides for students who come to the university to be formed by the values of this institution. Students and faculty form a community. If the leader ceases to reflect the values of that community, the leader should be removed. It is the Board of Trustees who have failed this community of learning, not the dedicated faculty and students of Saint Louis University.

Kenneth Parker, Associate Professor of Historical Theology

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@parkerk , sir, "essential" work will be done according to the article. That leaves non-essential work. Non-essential by definition does not need to be performed. If the article is wrong, it is wrong. I can only base my opinion on the facts delivered by an impartial journalist, as flawed as this process might be.

SLU is defined by the Board. That is their function. If SLU has elected poor trustees, that was the failure of those electing them.

I do have to chuckle at your attempt to hold faculty as some exalted role beyond mere employees. You show disdain for employees of corporations as drones removed from gospel teachings, and task masters when given leadership roles. That may have been your unique experience in the corporate world, but it is far removed from reality. Corporations value their employees as their greatest asset. Leaders mentor other employees to someday replace themselves. And we have a Board (of Directors) that determine the path we should all take, including upper management and the corporations top leaders. Despite what some might think, Satan need not apply for these positions.

As a Catholic Jesuit university, one might expect some respect for the authority of those placed in superior positions. Priests lead over the congregation. Bishops over them, Archbishops, and Cardinals over them, The Pope over them - who is elected by a Board of sorts. When a leader is placed in charge, the subordinates must follow or appeal to that Board. Protesting is simply not an option. The rule is structured and final.

Change in leadership can be a problem for some who invested in past leaders. It is also difficult for those with the mentality saying, "But we always done it this way." When a strict disciplinarian replaces a lax leader, the change is even more difficult. It is not the fault of the leader. 

It is not the position of faculty to steer the universal boat. One hand is on the helm. The captain of an aircraft carrier cannot respond to navigation coming from a cook in the mess. We each have our assigned roles onboard the ship. 

The Board of Trustees have spoken. The appeals are over. I have more respect for those that decide to leave, then those that try to change the leader of their ship. In the Navy, it is called a mutiny. A Board is convened to decide whether the mutineers were justified or to be hung. The Trustees have renewed their faith in their leader.

We should all stop to pray on guidance. Jesus did not resist the rule of the Romans, as unjust and unwise was their leadership.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@pinonfoxes, so now the learned from SLU have attempted to smear and name-call anyone with an opposing view. Sock-puppet? Serves little purpose beyond this matter? I've registered this profile (a play on my middle name and my mother's maiden name) back in Aug 2012. I must have keen insight to have started a profile months before the matter came to public light, and I must be sly as a fox to have posted and replied on many topics prior to this one in the intervening months. For if what you say is true, I must thank-you for recognizing it, since that "fact" escaped even me.

Let's be quite clear in this matter. I do not have a stake in the debate, but I do find the method of the opposition unbecoming of the Catholic and Jesuit principles. You may believe Fr. Bondi is not acting according to those principles. Fine. Think that. But that does not give you the right to act contrary to them as well. 

I find a total lack of respect for the authority Fr. Bondi has been given. Given to him not by the current Board of Trustees, but by those elected to the Board prior to Fr. Bondi taking the position. The Catholic faith requires obedience to those in authority. 

It is time for Fr. Bondi's flock to either accept his authority and obey, or to leave the flock and face whatever wolves may be lurking in the blocks beyond SLU's campus.

While I am not affiliated with SLU or Fr. Bondi in any way, I would never recommend SLU to anyone given the faculty and student behavior in this matter. Was Fr. Bondi responsible for those misbehaving? No. Those misbehaving are adults who made a decision to misbehave rather than acting as adults and faithful, obedient Catholics. If this were Wash U or Mizzou, not a problem. But this is SLU, and that alone should mean something to every Catholic. 

I beg you to pray on this, and seek counsel from your parish priest

pinonfoxes
pinonfoxes

@Wonderkittykat Of course he has some personal stake in defending Biondi and the Board. James Madison has a sock puppet profile which serves little purpose beyond this matter.

 Biondi hand-picks the Board members who then decide to please him, or not. Many have great respect for his efforts in revitalizing the city, and some also fear his vindictive power to ruin others who defy him. None could possibly think he is not now bringing grave harm to SLU. 

The University is on the verge of acquiring pariah status among those in the wider national academic community. The national rankings have slipped, the board and president publicly have described the faculty as racists and liars, and the student body witnesses this absolute disrespect for their professors. The students who express dismay at the denigration of the faculty, and at the decline in SLU's reputation, are treated with contempt as well.

I do not for a minute believe that anyone who has no knowledge of SLU beyond this one article would expend so much effort nearly parroting the harsh and untenable philosophy of Biondi's leadership, one which holds teachers in contempt, and who acts contrary to acceptable Jesuit principles.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@Wonderkittykat, You stated, "Also, if you had read the responses of the board members to other faculty who have resigned you would see the board is made up of very unprofessional, vitriolic, greedy men who are possibly getting paid for their silence."

You called them unprofessional, vitriolic, and greedy. You only stated a possibility of their receiving pay for silence, but called it the norm. Beyond that, you are saying all members of the Board must be part of the conspiracy for that to work. I do believe libel could be applied for the declarative statement.

You seem to think the entire Board is corrupt, but now leave some wiggle room. There are honorable men and women who serve as Board members all across the country. I find your conspiracy theory laughable that the SLU Board of Trustees is devoid of one good soul.

Once again, I am replying to the information the RFT has provided. I am not seeking to perform my own investigative reporting. That is not my chosen profession. If you wish other facts to be presented, petition the RFT to write a better article. Do not blame me for responding to what is presented here.

I have not belittled faculty, nor the student body as a whole. Only some of the latter. Reading comprehension is required to follow along in this debate.

You also seem to think I am jumping to defend Fr. Bondi's actions. I am not. Let me repeat that for you, I am not defending Fr. Bondi's actions. I am calling into question the disrespect, rejection to authority and obedience within the Church. @homunculus seems to understand the plain words I've used. I would ask you read my words again without the hate and prejudice you have shown.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@homunculus , the father-child analogy was simply a play on words to Father Bondi's title. Those of the Catholic faith must adhere to the teachings of their Superiors within the Church. 

I ask is that the faculty not whip the student body into a frenzy. The young minds are easily manipulated. Some are reasoned, some are not. It is the latter half that is most alarming in the matter.

Above all, respect must be given to those in the Church hierarchy. Some will counter that they need to earn it, and I will offer that they have by their title and by the Superiors in the Church.

Wonderkittykat
Wonderkittykat

@JamesMadison Well if you are basing your entire opinion off of this one article and deeming to say that we are wrong even though you have absolutely no idea what the full story is then I dont see any point in your responses. You are entitled to an opinion, of course, but I would urge you to look into the matter thoroughly before belittling and attacking the faculty and students. Also, there is nothing misguided about loyalty to a faculty who prove themselves worthy and truly further young people's educaion and careers through their dedication. Lastly, libel occurs when a party makes a false claim about another party. I believe you can find the technical definition in your dictionary. I said it was possible, not that it was fact. I actually dont know one way or the other if that is the problem. My point was to show that it is naive to imply that the board always has everyone's best interest at heart. Anyone with even a passing familarity with politics and beaurocracy knows that corruption is the norm unfortunately. Since you have made it clear that you have no affiliation with SLU and are not privvy to all the details of this story I am dumbfouded at your defensive, dismissive and condescending responses to the faculty and others who are looking for answers from the board. Its very odd. Luckily your opinion doesnt factor in to the final outcome, however, so you can continue your assault until the cows come home. Enjoy.

homunculus
homunculus

@JamesMadison I am happy to report that my faith in the system is not completely gone!

And I certainly agree that private institutions should not be bound by the same expectations and traditions as are observed in public governance: they are entitled to set their own goals and pursue them as they see fit.

It is, however, these very goals and their pursuit which many in the SLU community have pointed to as a root cause of their "misbehavior" (including, indeed, Dr. Hammond, in his explanation of his resignation). I recall that you and 
@parkerkdiscussed the mission statement of the university (http://www.slu.edu/x5021.xml) above. However, I would like to quote some elements that seem to me to be relevant to our discussion.

This statement declares the university's mission to be "the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity," makes reference to being "guided by the spiritual and intellectual ideals of the Society of Jesus," and declares an intent to "nurtur[e] within its community an understanding of and commitment to the promotion of faith and justice in the spirit of the Gospels."

I do not believe it is unreasonable to expect that members who have declared their dedication to such goals might extend a courtesy even when it is not required.

The mission statement also declares that "the University ... creates a sense of community that facilitates their [students', faculty's and staff's] development as men and women for others."

This is why I will admit to finding the image of a misbehaving child in your final paragraph rather troubling. (I also admit to assuming you are thinking of a young - not an adult - child in this comparison; it is possible I am incorrect).

A community which seeks to foster its constituents' development "as men and women" is, I feel, not best served by relationships modeled after those between a parent and a young child. It should be expected that men and women will deal with strife and disagreement - even profound disagreement - in a reasoned and respectful (and yes, courteous!) manner which seeks an equitable solution to the dispute.

And, in such situations, authority has - as you point out - a crucial role to play. But there can be times when men and women respect authority through profound and honest, even vocal, disagreement rather than through unquestioning compliance.

Perhaps this is such a time; perhaps not. But approaching the situation as an example of childish misbehavior is surely counterproductive to the stated mission of the university: at the very least, the maintenance of such a relationship-model could encourage faculty and students to (continue to?) behave in a childish manner: to live down to father's expectations. Perhaps childish misbehavior ought never be debated; but misbehavior that is not understood is very likely to be repeated, unless the underlying issues are resolved.

In any case, it is clear we stand on different sides of this debate - I have written more than enough already, and I am happy to agree to disagree.

You have stated that you are someone who is not affiliated with SLU. I therefore wish to express my thanks for your interest and concern in the university, and for raising important points regarding questions of authority and obedience. I agree that these are important principles that need to be considered with regard to the on-going turmoil at SLU; I suspect, however, that we might disagree on the best manner in which those principles ought to be applied!

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@homunculus, we agree that the Board is not The Court. Traditions of The Court do not encumber the Board. Each member of the Board has surely seen the report. Anyone of the Board members could be sought out and hand delivered the report. If you have any doubts to that, your faith in the system is completely gone. Were it I in that situation, I would surely distance myself as quickly as possible.

In public corporations, the shareholders can petition at the annual shareholders meeting. In public governance, certain laws and traditions are honored. In private institutions, the members can decide what they wish to do or not do. Appeasing your sense of polite social behavior to extend a courtesy is not required.

A misbehaving child seeks attention from his Father. The Father can either debate the misbehavior, ignore the misbehavior, or discipline the child. Father Bondi is ignoring it for the moment. I suspect strict discipline is next. Misbehavior ought never be debated.

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@Wonderkittykat , I am not affiliated with SLU or its Board in any way. I simply made a comment to a RFT article. Do not blame me for lacking facts not presented in the article. Start another thread about the lack of journalistic inquiry if you so desire. 

Student loyalty to professors is common, and often misguided. You accuse the Board of Trustees of being bought (libelous without proof), yet cannot we say the same for you needing to receive good grades and recommendations from your professors? I would assume you would be outraged but such an accusation, or at least I would hope so. Still, you have no second thoughts of doing the same to another, which you happen to disagree on the best path forward.

Perhaps you did not learn as much as you thought in your years at SLU.

I have not uttered a word on whether Fr. Bondi is correct or whether the faculty and those whom grades are depended upon the faculty are correct. Even a casual reading of my words, without prejudice, would indicate I am taking about authority to make decisions. Fr. Bondi has the authority vested in him by the Board of Trustees.

If you disagree with the Board, fine. The Board does not report to you. Do not think the Board must jump through loops at your pleasure.

And thank-you for acknowledging that I am shooting down the points raised by those so vehemently against the authority of Fr. Bondi. Keep in mind, this is a newspaper the circulates throughout the area, not a campus student paper. Views expressed here are for a wider audience. If the faculty and students did not wish to have SLU's business in a local newspaper, they certainly went about protesting Fr. Bondi in a poorly conceived manner.

homunculus
homunculus

@JamesMadison wrote "sometimes no response is the response." Agreed.

But even when the Supreme Court declines to hear a case, it issues a short statement that 
certiorari has been denied, thereby providing some acknowledgement that the case was presented. Failure to do so would result in confusion, and hinder effective organization.

Surely the same courtesy could be expected from SLU's Board of Trustees.

Wonderkittykat
Wonderkittykat

@JamesMadison Perhaps you are in some way related to the board? If you are not a part of this institution then you really have no idea what is happpening. This article barely touches the surface. As a student I have seen Fr. Biondi's leadership take a turn for the worse. And for you to say the faculty are nothing more than employees is sorely misguided. A university's rankings depend on stellar faculty. Students education is 90 percent in the hands of faculty. Students like myself who take their education seriously depend on faculty for much more than just a lecture. I graduated just this December and have already found employment with the best organization in my field because of the extra attention and professional experience I earned from the faculty there. Also, if you had read the responses of the board members to other faculty who have resigned you would see the board is made up of very unprofessional, vitriolic, greedy men who are possibly getting paid for their silence. Biondi is not taking care of crucial aspects of running a University. He is letting SLUs reputation slip further and further with no plans to repair it. All I'm saying is that you seem to be convinced that allll the students and alllll the faculty MUST be wrong if the handful of members that make up the board disagree with us. That is a very narrow minded opinion for a person who isnt involved. Perhaps more research on your part is needed before you so vehemently argue for Biondi, though I am very convinced you may have a reason for spending so much time shooting down the points of those of us who are directly involved.@JamesMadison @homunculus

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@homunculus, sometimes no response is the response. When the Supreme Court declines to hear a case, that in itself is a ruling. They did not ignore the case.

If Board of Trustee members felt action were necessary, a board meeting would be called on the matter. It is safe to assume each member of the Board of Trustees is well aware of the situation.

homunculus
homunculus

@JamesMadison @parkerk Gentlemen, I have read your comments with interest; and, while I respect the forthright opinions of @JamesMadison, I find myself in greater agreement with @parkerk.

I do wish to add one point of clarification. @JamesMadison writes: "You've made your call for change and were denied." It might be more accurate to say that the call for change was ignored; or (in a more neutral manner) has not yet been addressed. There has been no formal response from the Board of Trustees to the votes of No Confidence in President Biondi by both the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association (the official representative bodies of all faculty and students at Saint Louis University). The latest official communication - the February 11 letter of Mr. Brouster and Fr. Biondi - made no reference at all to this outstanding issue.

The events at SLU cannot yet be compared to a mutiny when the highest authorities - shall we compare them to the Department of Defense? - have yet to provide judgment and guidance regarding the "crew's" charges against their "captain."

JamesMadison
JamesMadison topcommenter

@parkerk, sir, and you have made that call for new leadership and were denied. Perhaps it is time for those unwilling to accept the authority over them to abandon ship. Two captains will lead to shipwreck no matter how wise the captains.

Whose image appears above that mission statement? You are disagreeing on whether Fr. Bondi is upholding that statement. I take it on faith he and the Board of Trustees believe he is honoring that mission statement fully. To that you may have an honest disagreement. But you must respect his authority to lead as he sees fit given the Trustees votes of confidence.

Each Board member has an obligation to the institution beyond whatever their loyalty to Fr. Bondi. To infer they can be bought or are captured to remain loyal is disdain for those members. Each is to act on their best abilities to provide guidance. 

You've made your call for change and were denied. Your choices remain: accept or reject. You may accept and pray for change. You may reject, and leave. But to remain and reject? That is troublesome.

Disrespect for the authority above you is mutiny. 

parkerk
parkerk

@JamesMadison @parkerk Mr. Madison, Saint Louis University is not defined by the Board of Trustees, but by a mission statement that has been accepted by all the stakeholders of the university community. It can be found here: 

http://www.slu.edu/x5021.xml

Because the Board of Trustees has been selected over the last 25 years by the president (there are no trustees elected by faculty, students, or alumni as at other universities), it has become a captured board, reflecting the president's values--values that in many respects are counter to those found in our mission statement.

My reference to employees was not an expression of disdain, but to make a distinction. Faculty have a unique role in university life, compared with other organizations. They must make decisions about teaching and research that reflect their knowledge and expertise. That is why universities function with a system of shared governance, that requires faculty involvement in crucial decisions about the structure and life of the institution. When shared governance is undermined, as it has been here, loss of confidence in leadership results. While there are layers of authority in any organization, even the most hierarchical organizations function best when the top leadership  acts to serve the best interest of all. Power is not an end in itself. Authority unwisely exercised can lead to shipwreck. 

In a university context, for faculty and students to call for new leadership when needed is not a mutiny, but an act of conscience and expression of the vitality of a mission driven community.

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