Saint Louis University: Administration Threatens Legal Action Over Professor's Survey

biondi 3.jpg
President Lawrence Biondi
Here's one way to pretty much guarantee negative publicity, courtesy of Saint Louis University officials.

SLU's legal counsel, in an apparent attempt to stop a faculty survey on the embattled university president Father Lawrence Biondi, has threatened legal action against the professor drafting the survey. On what grounds?

Copyright infringement.

"I was absolutely shocked," Steven Harris, a professor in the department of math and computer science, tells Daily RFT. "This is...the same sort of harassment and climate of fear that we've all been talking about."

What is SLU doing now?

See also:
- Prof. Matthew Hall Criticizes Lawrence Biondi; Trustees Call Him Immature Liar
- SLU Theology Chair Jay Hammond On Lawrence Biondi: "He Creates a Culture of Fear"
- Dean Tom Keefe Resigns Over Offensive Remarks: "If I Was Them, I'd Fire Me"

As a quick recap, SLU has been embroiled in controversy for months now, since faculty members last year overwhelmingly voted no-confidence in Biondi, who has faced a string of high-profile resignations in direct protest of his leadership.

For the most part, Biondi has been silent on the growing dissent -- and publicly, top administrators and the board of trustees have essentially ignored the no-confidence vote. (Though in private, some board members have personally attacked those speaking out against Biondi.)

Those critical of the president, including a contingent of students, are hoping that the board of trustees will vote to remove Biondi in an upcoming May meeting.

trustees do what's right 1.jpg
via Facebook

Last week, faculty members received a survey that was intended to help the board of trustees gauge the climate on campus; it irked critics, however, in part because it only had one question that even references the president, who they say is the main source of contention in the first place.

"The intent of the climate survey is not merely to assess the climate of the university, but also to aid the trustees on what to do [at]...the May 4 meeting," Harris, president of the SLU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, tells Daily RFT. "Where are the questions on Biondi?"

So he started drafting a supplemental survey that included some additional questions specifically on Biondi.

That's when he got a harshly worded letter directly from SLU's legal counsel threatening legal action.

Continue for the full letter from SLU legal counsel and more response from critics.

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JamesMadison topcommenter

A professor ought to know not to include questions from a previous survey or a simple re-wording of the question. Copyright should be the least of the professor's concern. I worry more about plagiarism charges - a nail in any academic's coffin.

If the good professor has reworded his survey to avoid copyright and plagiarism issues, and the good professor constructed the survey not on the SLU's clock or printers, go for it. I'm sure some SLU Law professor will gladly take the case if sued. Or does the good professor realize he did infringe and copy questions and fears the judgment of any lawsuit?

To the RFT, it would have been useful to list the original SLU survey to compare to the survey the professor wrote. Methinks the similarities might be plain and obvious to the most casual of readers? Perhaps not. Regardless, the good professor only needs to modify his survey to make certain his is an unique and original work.

If the professors cannot honor these basic principles, what are they teaching their students?

SLU was once great. I do not know if the problem is the leader or the faculty these days. I do know the disrespect shown Father Bondi is not helpful. While some argue Father Bondi has not shown respect to others, obedience is a central tenet of the organization. 


They ought to distribute the survey to people who USED to be faculty at SLU but left in the past few years.  Those voices have much to say too.


Grow a pair? Really? I don't know that I'd use the moniker 'SLUalum2001' to post a diatribe built upon a base of 'facts' that are not really facts. Not exactly good advertising for the quality of a SLU education. SLU's rankings have almost nothing to do with 'educational quality'; if memory serves, 'educational quality' constitutes something like 8% of the ranking. And since you repeatedly reference teaching but not research--which in some departments is the primary criterion faculty are evaluated on--it seems to me that you really don't know much about what's been going on. Biondi is a great leader, but being successful at Monopoly using other people's money doesn't guarantee that someone is also a great leader for all the other things that happen at a University. Here's the bottom line: the faculty contract with the university explicitly forbids 'retaliation'. But it happens all the time. Think Bill Kaufman's warnings to Steve Harris were the first time anything like this had happened at SLU? Please. The list of people who have been retaliated against is long and Harris isn't at the top of it. It IS possible that the university will survive if someone else is president. Biondi's continued leadership is becoming detrimental to the university. He should have stepped away on his own terms, but since there's no indication that the kind of stuff that originally caused this crisis is going to abate anytime soon, it is clearly time for the faculty to renew their push for new leadership.


Here's another easy solution for the Faculty: grow a pair, and grow up!  I chuckled when I saw the photo of what's presumably a faculty member carrying a sign that says "We [heart] our students".  Really?  Then stop acting like babies, accept the concessions recently made by the University as progress, and actually focus more time on EDUCATING the students.  Among their complaints is that the University is dropping in the national rankings.  As a proud SLU alum, I get why that's important.  But rankings are largely -- not solely, but largely -- based on educational quality and standards.  Unless things in the classroom have changed that greatly over the past ten years, quality of education lies with and in the faculty.  So I would suggest they thank their lucky stars that they are even employed, shut up, and teach dammit!!  Proud to be a Billiken... and proud of Father B!!


Here's an easy solution for the Faculty: go to, come up with your own template of questions, avoid copyright infringement. The school is thrashing around in water... but it's an easy fix that takes 2 seconds.


@SLUalum2001 How do you attract and retain quality faculty when you offer no tenure, while that is the norm elsewhere? If I'm a top-notch professor, I'm going where I can find security and support to continue to grow. SLU - and I'm an alum as well - is currently just operating as pure business trying to cut costs and increase the already meaty margins they have. They are trying to rely on 'name brand' to continue to run this racket... but they have little cache outside the STL region as it is anyways. Would be foolish to keep dragging themselves through the dirt.

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