The Complex Legacy of Father Lawrence Biondi
A miraculous transformation. A vicious battle. How will SLU’s longtime president be remembered?
Photography by AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
On May 4, Saint Louis University tricks out Chaifetz Arena like a ballroom, bleachers hidden behind curtains of SLU blue and not a whiff of basketball sweat in the air. Black-tied benefactors walk through a curtain of light, the fleur-de-lis emblem shimmering in their silvered or foiled-blond hair, and join the guest of honor, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, for cocktails.
The fall semester was rough for him, with letters being leaked, alumni waving protest banners behind him at a Billikens basketball game, no-confidence votes coming from both faculty and student governing bodies, the new law dean bailing, and the chair of theological studies stepping down on moral grounds.
But tonight’s not the time to think about any of that. This is a celebration.
Granted, it’s hard to miss the students and profs in bright orange T-shirts who’ve gathered behind the arena. They’re calling their party The Alternative Gala—tickets $1 instead of $1,000—and making impassioned speeches demanding Biondi’s resignation.
Longtime trustee Joe Adorjan sees them and clamps off a spurt of rage. His friend endured a firestorm of criticism all fall and winter, lit, in his opinion, by a few insurgents on the faculty and fanned by media. Now this? What an insult.
Biondi’s inside, hugging people, thanking donors. There’s a lovely dinner. After the dessert flight is cleared and glowing tribute has been paid to his accomplishments over the past 25 years, he steps to the podium. All eyes turn, and the benefactors wait, half-smiles already on many of their faces, for him to talk about the transformation of their beloved university.
Only the trustees know what’s coming next.
Biondi’s not talking to reporters, but his accomplishments are easy to piece together. Over the course of a quarter-century, he has more than doubled Saint Louis University’s acreage and increased both the number and quality of its faculty and students. Along the way, he’s stabilized a huge swath of the city, made the Grand Center arts district possible, and extended SLU’s influence throughout the city and the world.
“Father has raised more money and spent more money than his last several predecessors combined,” says Mayor Francis Slay. “Those who remember the SLU at which he arrived and examine the one from which he will retire know the truth: Larry Biondi is one of America’s greatest college presidents.”
So why do so many of his faculty, staff, alumni, and students want him gone?
From the outside, it looks like a clash over tenure and an unpopular academic vice president. That’s way too simple. A few ill-conceived proposals and a stubborn refusal to betray a man who’d done his bidding? Those are just struck matches. The kindling’s been stacking up for years, dry and brittle and some of it drenched in gasoline. Still, people keep hoping Biondi will douse the fire himself. Instead, his response turns even the mildest intellectuals on campus into revolutionaries.
“He is one of the most singularly complex people I have ever met,” remarks a former administrator. “He is a man of walking contradictions.” A visionary who micromanages. A linguist who’s never learned to soften his words. A priest who’s an aggressive CEO. A pragmatist who wields power over thousands of idealistic intellectuals.
Biondi used every one of those contradictions to push Saint Louis University into a new century, a new identity. Now they’ve started to work against him.
THE EARLY YEARS
Born in 1938, Larry toddles into childhood with rapid-fire Italian zinging above his head. His parents, Hugo and Albertina Biondi, have come to this country from Lucca, a walled city in Tuscany. They rent a tall, narrow multifamily redbrick on Chicago’s West Side, north of Oak Park, in a neighborhood lively with Italian, Irish, German, and Polish immigrant families. Hugo finds work as a chef, and Albertina makes a home for him and their three children: baby Larry, a brother 11 years older, and a sister in the middle.
Full of energy, Larry does whatever he can to confirm his sister’s fond assessment of him as a brat. He teases tirelessly—and no doubt gets teased, too, when he shows up for first grade unable to speak fluent English and has to be held back.
The following year, he joins a lot of other Italian-American kids at the massive brick edifice of St. Peter Canisius, named for a Jesuit. St. Peter is a bastion of immigrant piety in a city where Italians still face angry prejudice. School, church, and the tight braid of his traditional Italian home life give Larry refuge—but no illusions.
At St. Ignatius College Prep, named for the Jesuits’ founder, he finds himself fascinated by the Greek and Latin requirements. Language, his first obstacle, turns out to be his gift.
After his senior-year retreat, he startles his family by announcing that he intends to become a Jesuit. The following September, at age 19, he enters the Society of Jesus. There are 73 in his class, such a bumper crop of vocations that the Chicago-Detroit Province has to split them into three groups. Whoever’s with Biondi gets a daily dose of banter. He strikes them as “Italian—flamboyant, a lot of gestures, enthused about a lot of things,” says a fellow Jesuit, now the Rev. James Arimond. One novice makes up a song about Biondi; it ends with “Musso-li-ni.”
Arimond stays in secondary education and presumes Biondi will spend his life teaching French. He does start off that way, teaching French and Latin at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati before ordination. The kids like Mr. Biondi a lot—he’s funny, and he understands the real world.
He is ordained in 1970. He earns a master’s degree in linguistics at Georgetown University, teaches for a while at Loyola University Chicago, then returns to Georgetown for a Ph.D. in its new sociolinguistics program. The director, Roger Shuy, is thrilled to have a Jesuit student as an ambassador, especially one who knows “how to pull the strings” of university bureaucracy.
Sociolinguistics is housed apart from the rest of the linguistics department, and its bearded, tieless profs mingle easily with their grad students, setting few boundaries. Faculty and staff in the program bring their personal problems to Biondi. He never shows up with problems of his own, though. Shuy knows him as “self-sufficient…a stickler for getting the data, getting facts, getting it right.” If he doesn’t have the facts, he searches them out.
Because Biondi has a “predisposition for the underdog,” Shuy decides it was sociolinguistics’ “real-world context” that drew him—researching the experience of minority children in the inner city, for example. Biondi writes a dissertation titled The linguistic development and socialization of Italian-American children in Boston’s North End.
Ph.D. in hand, he returns to Loyola and becomes chairperson of modern languages, then dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He fathers his faculty, baptizing and marrying and bringing in Italian deli food for the convocations.
One of his mentors is Loyola’s president, the Rev. Raymond Baumhart. During Baumhart’s 23-year tenure, Loyola becomes the largest Jesuit university in the nation.
September 30, 1987. Black-gowned dignitaries from 125 colleges and universities file into the crimson and gilded ivory of Powell Hall. Onstage, with the giant seal of Universitas Sancti Ludovici suspended behind him, Biondi ducks his head to receive the chain of office, then takes hold of the new presidential mace he designed himself. Ornamental, but with enough heft in its handcrafted bronze to qualify as a medieval weapon, the short staff is inscribed with the name of every SLU president—including Biondi—beneath a fleur-de-lis; a cauldron and two wolves from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s family coat of arms; the seal of the university; and a cross.
In his inaugural address, he says it will be an honor to lead “the oldest seat of higher learning from the banks of the Mississippi to the shores of the Pacific, from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande.” As he describes SLU’s historic firsts, people sit up a little straighter, smoothing the rumpled chevrons on their academic gowns. Biondi vows “to be a force for unity, cooperation, mutual understanding, and yes, collegiality.” He describes his vision for the future: “The building boom of the ’80s is all but concluded. Most of the major facilities are in place, and our aim now must be to fill them with the very best professors and the most gifted and dedicated students.”
Then he walks down the aisle, eyes fixed straight ahead, lips pressed together, the mace held like a bat in his arms. The gold-tasseled white tam covers his bald spot; his sideburns are still black, his olive skin tanned and smooth. Just a few hours earlier, he was picnicking with students on the campus’ single grassy patch, thanking them for their gift of scuba gear “in case the mall floods.”
Biondi timed his August 1987 arrival at Saint Louis University for the feast day of his patron saint, St. Lawrence—a martyr who was roasted on a spit. He uses the story as a joke about St. Louis’ humidity. Later, it will seem…apt.
By Christmas, he’s lined Grand Boulevard with cheerfully tacky candy canes that make an allée between the medical and main campuses—and a promise that his presidency will be impossible to ignore. (At the time, I was editor of SLU’s alumni magazine; my six years at the university spanned the end of the Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald’s presidency and the beginning of Biondi’s. I left, on good terms, at the end of ’89, to become managing editor of an early incarnation of St. Louis Magazine.)
In our occasional interactions, I find Biondi smart, engaging, exasperating, and inspiring. Unlike his predecessor, Father Fitz—a methodical, unassuming classics scholar—Biondi is presidential. He has his office redecorated, replaces Fitz’s tomes with rows of binders, and covers his big desk with piles of reports so he can multitask during conversations. There’s a forthrightness about him—not syrupy charm, but the charisma that kicks in when boyish fun is combined with a powerful will. Narrowed, his eyes can pierce, but he has a quick, almost conspiratorial grin. It relaxes his face for a second, and it’s far more persuasive than his formal smile, a squiggly horizontal line just one degree away from a smirk.
He had pronounced the building boom over. But the more he sees the sorry state of the campus and the surrounding city, the more clearly he envisions what it could be. Some of his earliest decisions are, quite literally, brilliant. He strips drywall partitions and fluorescent lights from the grand old balconied library in DuBourg Hall. He stands in late-night traffic in the middle of Grand and Lindell boulevards and directs the illumination of St. Francis Xavier College Church, turning it into a beacon of SLU’s Catholicism and midtown’s rebirth.
His taste in decor swings between old-world Italian and kitsch, but he has an architect’s eye, and he obsesses over all that is visible. He wants a single university emblem, and when his coordinating council waffles, he chooses the final version himself—ignoring warnings that the fleur-de-lis looks like a court jester’s cap. He puts up gates—ignoring taunts about the pillars’ phallic shape. He wangles city permission to close the section of Spring Avenue that cuts right through campus, and to span Grand Boulevard with arches that bear the university’s name.
Biondi gives the campus boundaries that make it safer, more recognizable, and, finally, collegiate. He turns its scrum of buildings and asphalt into a cohesive campus overflowing with flowers, fountains, and sculpture. Before its face-lift, SLU was a comfortably frumpy place that had outlived its ambition. Nobody ever dreamed this much transformation was even possible. But Biondi keeps reiterating his dream to make SLU the finest Catholic university in the nation.
He makes an appointment with Mayor Vince Schoemehl and presents a passionate description of everything he wants to build, change, and improve around the university. When he leaves, Schoemehl looks at his aides and grins. “If Rome wasn’t built in a day, it wasn’t his fault.”
In 1991, Biondi takes Adorjan, who’s just starting the first of three board chairmanships, up to the roof of Jesuit Hall. They stand in the breeze, surveying the main campus, and Biondi’s eyes light on a bank at the corner of Grand and Lindell. We’ve got to get ahold of that piece of property, he tells Adorjan. SLU needs to develop the east side of its campus.
Adorjan laughs. He’s used to power—in his day job at Emerson Electric, he’s channeled the legendary CEO Chuck Knight. But oust a bank?
A few years later, the bank will be gone. A decade later, SLU will own 24 buildings east of Grand.
Biondi’s vision, will, and raw competitiveness galvanize those around him. The vision takes root. And other urban Jesuit universities take note.
A former classmate, the Rev. Robert Wild, becomes president of Marquette University. “Go down to St. Louis and see what’s been done,” he tells his staff. His old classmate has “that bella figura,” he says, “that Italian sense of elegance and style.” He laughs at reports of the statues: “It was the same at Loyola. He’d go to Haiti and buy this art… He likes physicality, the earthiness of it.”
Students nickname Biondi’s picks “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi,” “The Three Jugs,” and “Sluts in the Sand.” One prof describes the sculptures scattered around campus as “looking like something you hide your keys under,” and another adds, “Well, you wouldn’t put good art outside; it might get stolen.” But Biondi just keeps going. As the campus takes shape, he introduces touches of whimsy, like the “árboles locos” (crazy trees) that a few groundskeepers grumble about as they drag them out to the quad. They are palm trees, clumped around two wading pools to add a touch of beach. Students laugh—but hang out there. Law prof Michael Wolff pronounces the palm trees “a stroke of genius. Everybody’s got a damn pool.”
It’s 1997, and developer Steve Trampe wants to save the Continental Life Building. For 20 years, more than a dozen people have tried and failed. An exhibit in New York once pointed out that this was St. Louis’ Empire State Building, and dead pigeons hung from its windows. But now Missouri is getting historic tax credits. The renovation will probably still lose money, but not much, and Trampe’s willing to take it on. He’s been told he can’t do it without Biondi, who’s considered midtown’s developer. “If Father doesn’t support it, why should we?” people will ask.
He walks into Biondi’s office holding only a sheet of preliminary numbers, no fancy presentation. Surely Biondi will care—the ragged landmark ruins the background of any campus photo taken from the south. “I’ll work hard on this,” Trampe tells him, “but you’ve got to be a part of it or there’s no point in me wasting any time.”
“What do you need?” Biondi asks. He’s obviously already checked Trampe’s bona fides.
“You need to make a soft loan of $1.5 million.”
“Are you sure you can do this?”
“I really think I can.”
The meeting’s over in 20 minutes. Trampe walks away dazed—what other university or partner would step forward that clearly and that quickly? He starts making calls, and sure enough, the first question everyone asks is, “Have you seen Father?” He puts together a complex $28 million financing package.
The elegant new Continental opens its doors in 2002.
Between dolphin fountains and palm trees, Biondi brazens out huge changes: selling the university hospital (despite the objections of the Vatican). Bringing Parks College over to St. Louis (dealing a blow to Cahokia, Ill.). Building Chaifetz Arena and its parking garage (and thereby encroaching on what was, informally, Harris-Stowe State University’s territory).
Biondi grows skilled at working with St. Louis’ business community and city officials. Alderman Velma Bailey isn’t cooperative, so Biondi backs Mike McMillan, a 25-year-old SLU grad with an obviously bright future (he’s now president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis). They work together on “about 15 different pieces of legislation,” according to McMillan, vacating streets and alleys so SLU could expand, then doing a district tax-increment financing and blighting bill for Chaifetz Arena.
Biondi gets rid of crime-ridden Laclede Town, wrests crumbling properties from small-business owners on the campus edges, sweeps away urban grit. He buys buildings on Washington Avenue and extends security patrols well east of campus; restaurants like Pappy’s Smokehouse, Triumph Grill, and The Fountain on Locust soon dot the area.
Rumblings come from members of the faculty and staff: Is all of this jazzy real estate a necessary investment? Shouldn’t they be spending more money on academics? “No money, no mission,” Biondi likes to say—but they’re not sure this is really SLU’s mission.
One senior professor shrugs off the naysayers: “The Jesuit mission always had quite a bit to do with real estate. The Jesuits wanted to win, which meant getting well-connected to the people with power and leadership ability. That’s part of the vision, that we shouldn’t be a plastic bubble dropped down in the middle of St. Louis. We should be a positive presence affecting the city.”
At the end of Biondi’s quarter-century, Lawrence Group CEO Steve Smith will describe Biondi as “one of the giants in the history of our city, catalyst for the complete rebirth of midtown St. Louis. Thousands of acres of our city—from Vandeventer to Compton and from Highway 40 to Delmar—would be completely different without his imprint.”
Biondi’s accomplishments dazzle outsiders. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch names him one of its Most Influential Citizens of the 20th Century and Citizen of the Year, the St. Louis Business Journal lists him as one of 10 “legends” whose influence ripples beyond the region, and Italy makes him a cavaliere in its Order of Merit (essentially, a knight).
But on campus, his nickname is Father Beyond-Me, and faculty and staff occasionally leave encounters with him shaking their heads.
He moves fast, in a space used to the ponderous pace of a gravid elephant. He works against stereotype. And it throws people off.
“I had never met a priest like him in my entire life,” a former employee says, chuckling. “I would walk into his office and basically he would say, ‘What the f—k do you want?’” The employee eventually learns to tease back. “He delighted in making people feel a little bit uncomfortable,” a former administrator says. “It seemed more playful than mean. Still, if I had to name a feeling I had when working with him, it would be mildly intimidated.”
Biondi’s always loved to tease, but now he has power—and that makes it different. He’s impossible to read; people can never tell when he’s joking or what detail he’ll pounce on. When the Department of Theological Studies invites him to a presentation to prove they’re not as mediocre as he seems to think, his questions afterward are “all over the map,” says the current chair, James Ginther, “not incoherent, but probing to find out what we could answer and what we couldn’t. It’s like playing chess with a street fighter.”
Because St. Louisans tend to give priests a certain deference, some accuse Biondi of “using the collar” in his secular dealings. But he’s more likely to remove his collar for effect. In his years as vice president for finance, Rob Altholz learns that when Biondi pulls out the stiff white tab and unbuttons the top button of his shirt, the conversation’s about to get “even more real.”
Biondi wears golf shirts, tracksuits, and sneakers without socks whenever he can get away with it. “Call me Larry,” he urges friends, and their tongues stick, and they slip back into “Father.” “He wears his Catholicism lightly,” one former administrator puts it. He’s been a priest for more than 40 years; he feels no need to prove it.
But most members of the university community never see him in that role. Those close to him seek him out to marry, baptize, bury, and give spiritual direction, just as he did in his younger days. But the lion’s share of his time is spent running the university. On one occasion, he raises eyebrows by inserting part of another Jesuit university president’s homily into his own. The outrage is temporary; it turns out, the two men swap material regularly. But what Biondi has cribbed is an eloquent passage about the intellectual restlessness that drives a university. His faculty wants to believe he holds those ideals himself.
In 1997, Biondi tells the Post-Dispatch, “I’m not a milquetoast… Any criticism of the university is a criticism of me because I’m the CEO.” But some of his faculty, staff, and students have begun to demand proof that he wants SLU to be more than a corporation, that he wants it to follow the Jesuit values, honoring human dignity and seeking God in every instance.
Instead, Biondi shows his tough side in public and keeps his kindnesses private. “I believe that, despite a reputation to the contrary, Father is a modest man,” says Mayor Slay. “To disguise the concern and generosity that opened thousands of doors for a generation of SLU students, Father would rather be known as the man who slams the doors in his own office.”
You have to dig to hear the stories: How he makes sure there will be healthcare benefits for a longtime employee who has to be let go. How he quietly saves another one’s job by inventing a new project for him. How he finds out a young African-American student worker is having a difficult time financially and makes sure he can stay at the university.
In Biondi’s first three years, of the 42 faculty hired, six are African-American and 17 are women. In the early ’90s, Biondi becomes one of the first college presidents to establish a “living wage” for full-time staff. In 2000, he is detained by police for protesting alongside students outside what’s then called the U.S. Army School of the Americas, a Georgia institution that’s linked to human-rights violations in Latin America. He gives second chances, agreeing to the hire of a professor with a felony conviction and lending his support to a prison program. He establishes the Casa de Salud clinic to care for immigrants—a favorite cause—and refugees. He walks into the office of Kathy Hagedorn, his vice president for human resources for almost 20 years, and asks whether there’s a way to find a job for Rose, who works at the Shell station, or mentions somebody on the grounds crew he thinks would be promotable.
There are Faculty Senate meetings where he gets a standing ovation.
In his inaugural address, Biondi described himself as “a strong proponent of communication, but not the communication of edicts and dictation. Nothing short of two-way communication is appropriate in a university setting.”
A quarter-century later, a former administrator will say, “Convincing him of the value of meeting face-to-face with students or faculty—even in an open forum setting once a year—just wasn’t possible. It wasn’t a priority for him.”
“I’ve never even shaken hands with him,” says a young faculty member, “and my students talk about him like it’s a sighting of the abominable snowman. ‘I think I saw him once on a golf cart, but I’m not sure; it was dark.’”
Yet Annie Hinkel, a student worker in Biondi’s office from 2008 to 2010, feels entirely comfortable with him. Early in her job, he laughs when she floors the golf cart and nearly runs him over, and when she loses a beloved family member, he questions her gently, urging her to open up. So when a friend says she’d love to meet him, Annie tells Biondi, and he says, “Have her come by, grab some lunch, and we’ll have lunch with her.”
In situations like this, he can be warm and approachable. Administrators he’s worked with closely are surprised how fond of him they’ve become. But most people see only the tough facade. They watch Biondi hold grudges, surround himself with a trusted inner circle, and avoid interactions that he can’t predict.
The conflicts increase after Alice Hayes leaves her position as executive vice president and provost. “If Alice had stayed, none of this would have happened,” people grumble.
“Don’t ever say that to him,” she says with a nervous laugh. Therein lies her secret: She is tactful. And she understands Biondi. She was his boss at Loyola, the calm and capable VP for academic affairs when he was a young dean brimming with ideas for the entire university. She even knows the neighborhood where he grew up: “It’s a place that will toughen you.”
Biondi hands Hayes huge goals and doesn’t say how to get there; she makes it happen. He doesn’t look over her shoulder at the budgets, as far as she can tell, or compulsively review individual salaries. She serves as the buffer, translating his wishes to the faculty and vice versa. She sees her role as giving Biondi honest advice, but she never disagrees with him publicly. She gives him her loyalty, and in return, he relaxes with her. She can see that he does, always, what he thinks is right—and that he nearly always does it impetuously. He’s not satisfied if he thinks people can do better; he demands the extraordinary. She finds the firings difficult; she’s usually the one who has to relay the bad news.
Hayes leaves to become president of the University of San Diego in 1995. Biondi—so popular and gregarious before that mace weighted his hands—begins to isolate himself. He doesn’t stroll the quad the way Father Fitz did, nor does he seek out many professors’ company. He’s moved away from the Jesuit community, living on his own on the upper floor of a house on campus. Maybe he just wants a dog; he’s longed for one since he was a kid. Still, his brother Jesuits are puzzled and a little hurt. The solitary side of this man is hard to fathom. “He’s a big hugger,” Altholz says. “He lives with gusto. But he’s fundamentally kind of a shy guy.”
The charisma doesn’t vanish, but Biondi starts to dole it out more selectively, perhaps hoarding his energy for all that he still burns to do. He leans hard on Kathleen Brady, his vice president for facilities services, and Bridget Fletcher, his assistant—neither of whom have a strong connection to academics. He builds a board of trustees who share his vision—and have far more knowledge of business than of academe. He charges into battle when a little deft diplomacy would do the trick; he doesn’t hesitate to do battle with popular, well-loved professors and administrators, and resentment builds.
A string of provosts follows Hayes. First is the Rev. Michael Garanzini, a smart, funny psychology prof who uses a therapy dog to calm children and handles grown-ups with the same gentleness. “He’ll be university president someday,” SLU faculty predict. But he and Biondi clash, and then he’s gone. (He is now president of Loyola University Chicago.) Next comes Richard Breslin, who is removed and winds up suing (unsuccessfully) for lost wages. Then come four reasonably calm years with Sandy Johnson, followed by seven with Joe Weixlmann, which go OK until 2009, when he clashes with Biondi and is gone, replaced by Manoj Patankar.
Biondi’s office is at one end of DuBourg Hall’s second floor, and the hallway’s soon dubbed “The Bowling Alley” because so many heads roll down, bumping along the carpet seams. Some of SLU’s vice presidents do last decades. But in the past five years, seven vice presidencies and nine deanships have turned over at least twice, some of them four or five times.
“Interim has become a standard title,” quips Kenneth Parker, associate professor of theological studies. Phil Lyons, former associate vice president for student development, thinks there was a point around 2007 when “all but one of the colleges had an interim dean.”
(In June 2013, SLU has an interim vice pre-sident for academic affairs, an interim vice president of human resources, an interim dean of the business school, an interim dean of professional studies, an interim dean of education and public service, an interim dean of health sciences, an interim director of the Center for Sustainability, and an interim university librarian. In July, asked whether he thinks Biondi will leave, Ginther says, “I don’t think they have anybody to act as interim!”)
During Biondi’s tenure, power swirls to the center. The board of trustees tops 50, its executive committee doubles in size, and the selection of nominees ceases to be regulated. The required proportion of Jesuit trustees decreases from one-fourth of the board to one-ninth. (As of August 2013, there are seven Jesuits on the board. One is the president of John Carroll University and another is a physician who was once an assistant dean. The others are a spiritual director, a pastor, a retreat director, and two administrators for the Jesuits’ Missouri Province. The lay members of the board are primarily business leaders, 11 of whom have SLU buildings named after them.) The tenor of meetings is cooperative and congenial: “I’ve been on the board for 11 years,” says Dr. Frank O’Donnell, former chair of ophthalmology at SLU and now CEO of both a venture-capital firm and a pharmaceutical firm, “and I’ve never seen Biondi get crosswise with anybody.”
Biondi centralizes power over employees, too. He reviews every contract personally—roughly 4,500 of them, every year. And when the contracts come out (usually several months late), people take their content just as personally.
“If there’s any criticism I could level at Biondi that’s not subjective,” says a senior faculty member, “it’s that he has been completely incapable of hiring middle managers he could trust.” Others speculate that he hasn’t wanted to delegate power too widely, because it would slow down progress.
“One of the reasons they get things done so quickly is, if you have Father Biondi’s ear and blessing, there isn’t a thing on that campus you can’t get done immediately,” says Lyons. “All authority at that institution emanates from Father Biondi. It was interesting to see the law and medical schools grapple with that reality. This is a man who went up against the pope and won.” (Biondi brought in an extra $100 million when he sold the university hospital to Tenet Healthcare Corporation, a for-profit, non-Catholic system.)
Biondi’s behavior can be “arrogant, high-handed, and at the edges of civility,” notes a senior professor. “But that said, he does indeed have better judgment than most of the people he boots out of the way.”
Still, turnover this rapid is new to SLU, where many faculty and staff are alumni, and many stay their entire careers, settling for lower salaries to be part of the Jesuit mission.
In 1999, the Faculty Senate veers away from its first no-confidence vote in Biondi (as it will again in 2009) and negotiates a document on shared governance. In 2002, theology prof Ken Parker serves on a committee charged with assessing the progress. It reports “a pervasive atmosphere of fear” and claims that, far from progress, there’s been regression.
Biondi never stops wanting to make SLU the finest Catholic university in the country, but others recoil—does he really think SLU could topple Notre Dame? So he decides to shoot, first, for the top 50 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. By the late ’90s, with the entire campus now looking like an admissions brochure, it’s time to turn to academics.
The faculty has been waiting for this phase for a decade. They love the grand transformation of the campuses, but critics can’t help seeing each new statue, fountain, and blade of grass as a lost opportunity to strengthen programs, library holdings, and the quality of teaching and research. Granted, Biondi has helped rebuild the English, philosophy, and theological-studies departments; he’s pushed for stronger research at the medical school. But it’s time for something dramatic.
Enter Project SLU2000. Biondi persuades the board to take $100 million from the endowment and invest it in academics and technology, adding full-ride Presidential Scholarships to lure the brightest students, adding faculty to decrease class sizes, and improving faculty salaries and research opportunities. For two years, everybody’s exhilarated.
It isn’t practical to keep raiding the endowment, though, and Biondi can’t keep raising tuition. He tries for revenue streams by building Chaifetz Arena and an amazing biomedical research building (grant money often being tied to the amount of lab space). But the stock market’s shake-up in the early 2000s caused a serious setback for the endowment.
He starts talking publicly about “deadwood” and pushing for more productive faculty. He’s frustrated by the notion of keeping slackers on salary. Always impatient, he grows more so. He seems to lose his taste for the quick, teasing, thrust-and-parry sorts of arguments he once enjoyed. “At an earlier moment, it might have been, ‘I know what I’m doing, and you guys have got to let me show you why,’” a senior professor says. “More and more, it’s, ‘Why the hell do I have to show you? Just get it done.’”
“One thing he values above everything else: loyalty,” says a close observer. “If he perceives, rightly or wrongly, that someone is disloyal, he’ll get rid of that person. He would, in his earlier years, listen and then make a decision. But once he’d made it, if you were not completely behind him… In his later years, the listening stopped.”
Biondi has no time to waste: His quarter-century is ending, and SLU is not in the U.S. News & World Report Top 50. It’s sliding the opposite direction, from 77 in 2006 to 92 in 2013.
The irony is that before Biondi, nobody would have minded; rankings are often just a game. Some universities actually hire somebody to manage and massage the data they submit; others have been caught falsifying it. But now, the faculty throws that downward slide back at him as a sign of failure.
He taught them to dream big. Now he’s paying the price.
August 8, 2012: The first crisis is Annette Clark’s very public resignation as dean of the law school. She accuses Biondi of treating her “dismissively and with disrespect” and not consulting her on matters involving the law school (say, the fact that it was moving downtown). She also objects to him transferring money from the law-school building fund to the President’s Opportunity Fund on the interim dean’s last day, without the interim dean’s knowledge.
Biondi’s public response is that he was already planning to fire Clark—that very afternoon, in fact.
The law-school scandal proves to be a flash fire, extinguished when Michael Wolff, former chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, takes over as dean and pronounces the law school’s move visionary.
Another match is struck when Biondi’s trusted vice president of academic affairs, Patankar, drafts proposals that include new ways to standardize faculty evaluations and fire unproductive tenured professors. The American Association of University Professors says the proposals will “eviscerate” tenure.
Patankar is the kind of guy Biondi respects. He started life rough, rose fast, piled up concrete accomplishments. He is tough-minded, efficient, and dispassionate; never shows uncertainty; thinks in metrics and works by flowcharts. He has a mandate, which some suspect he overinterpreted, to improve faculty productivity.
So he puts forth a proposal that will, in essence, require every tenured professor to be up for tenure all over again every six years, with an elaborate reviewing infrastructure that strikes many faculty as baroque, wonky, and a colossal waste of time. A simple, sensible post-tenure review process wouldn’t be so objectionable, they say. But this one ignores the guidelines set forth by the American Association of University Professors and includes the option of immediate termination.
And it leaves that decision in the hands of the vice president for academic affairs and the president.
“I told Patankar, ‘I would never cede that power to you,’” says Mark Knuepfer, then president of the Faculty Senate. “Every year, he was cutting a couple of people that were up for tenure and overriding the decisions of the deans, department chairs, and rank-and-tenure committee.”
Alarmed, the senate releases the proposals to the faculty—who explode. Academic stars won’t even consider joining SLU’s faculty under these conditions, they predict, and the U.S. News & World Report ranking will slide even lower.
“There’s already a procedure in the faculty manual to dismiss unproductive tenured faculty,” one professor points out. “But it requires faculty to be involved. It’s a hearing. You have to do crazy things like produce evidence.”
Many on the faculty don’t trust Biondi to care deeply about academic freedom or intellectual pursuits. They’re convinced he doesn’t think you’re working hard if you’re spending years researching and writing a book.
(Biondi’s published four books: his Georgetown dissertation and three collections of papers he co-edited with scholars after conferences at Loyola.)
“I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal that he doesn’t ‘get’ academics,” says Lyons. “But he’s brought in some world-class faculty, and he pays them world-class salaries. He wants to see immediate results.”
So does SLU’s board. Adorjan outlines its goals: “One, development of online learning. Two, the issue of performance review. Those are extraordinarily sensitive issues to the faculty, and somehow it was construed as an attack on tenure.”
Tenure isn’t the only sticking point. For faculty evaluation, Patankar has worked out a university-wide point system that will reward online and large classes. This strikes faculty as absurd, since their goal is small classes, and those punished by this point system would be the university’s most distinguished professors. “If somebody in the humanities published a book with Oxford University Press that had great reviews,” says one prof, “it would count the same as a scientific article in some half-assed journal.”
“The worst of it was the failure to understand what a university is,” says Eleonore Stump, the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy and one of SLU’s most acclaimed scholars. “None of us is in this business to work for points. The demeaning nature of that! Nobody works these kinds of hours for this kind of pay after years and years of study for anything other than love.”
As one observer puts it, “Biondi made a revolutionary out of mild, conservative Eleonore Stump—that is an accomplishment.” Stump calls Biondi greathearted; she says she still admires him. But, she adds, “when a person builds governing structures around himself which keep him from any real accountability ever and which enable him to go through his days and years surrounded only by those people who tell him what he wants to hear…he will develop habits of governing that are tyrannical.”
Biondi’s response? SLM waits three months for a chance to speak with him; in August, through a SLU spokesman, he declines.
Patankar’s proposals aren’t the only source of tension. Back in 2004, when Knuepfer was elected to the Faculty Senate, he asked if anyone knew whether they were paid fairly, and people looked at him blankly; they hadn’t known where to look up the averages. “So I figured out how to download the AAUP database,” he says. “We were one of the worst-paid Catholic schools in the country, and for the previous six years, we had consistently fallen behind. Since then, it’s been worse. We are now the lowest-paid Catholic Division I school in the country.”
In fall 2012, Knuepfer gives a presentation in which he notes that four people on SLU’s executive staff have gotten raises of 30 to 40 percent, while faculty salaries have risen, on average, less than 1 percent. “Father Biondi was not happy that people looked that up,” he says.
The movement inches toward the barricades.
On September 25, the Faculty Senate votes no confidence in Patankar, 50–3. Patankar pronounces the faculty response “hysterical” and insists the university needs a new “exit strategy” for unproductive faculty. This does not soothe the faculty. But Biondi assures the Faculty Senate that Patankar enjoys his full support.
“It was the perfect moment to say, ‘Oh, I guess I have misplaced my trust in Patankar; we will see that he is returned to the school of engineering,’” says a senior professor. “Instead, he said, in essence, ‘You clowns have got to stop complaining about my judgment and learn to work with this brilliant young man who speaks for me on every point.’”
And if Biondi would have simply removed Patankar? “This whole thing would have been over,” Knuepfer says firmly.
So why doesn’t he? Loyalty? Knowledge that Patankar is merely doing his and/or the board’s bidding? His famous competitive streak?
“Father Biondi is a priest,” says Adorjan. “He is dedicated to this issue of social justice, and the issue he had was, ‘Tell me what Manoj [Patankar] has done that I should fire him.’ Fundamentally, from a social-justice point of view, Manoj did what he was asked to do.” Adorjan does, however, regret Patankar’s methods. “If I were going to be critical, that’s not how you handle something like this. You slow it down. It’s feely-touchy.”
Groups of faculty begin meeting, setting up websites, strategizing ways to get the board to hear them. Their efforts feel, to them, like a long-awaited, finally courageous collaboration in the spirit of the university’s Jesuit mission and values. “And that’s the scandal,” a Jesuit observes. “It was the laypeople saying to the Jesuits, ‘Why aren’t you helping us out here? We just want a place that is just.’”
To Biondi loyalists, though, the opposition looks like a tiny group of insurgents grabbing one reason after another to tear down the president. It’s about tenure; no, it’s Patankar; no, it’s salaries; no, it’s the U.S. News & World Report rankings; no, it’s Biondi.
Over at Jesuit Hall, Biondi’s brethren agonize, draft after draft, over a letter that bears the signatures of 15 Jesuit faculty members. It is a masterpiece of diplomacy—jesuitical in the best sense of the word—that expresses solidarity with the lay faculty. Biondi asks if he can sign the letter, too. They say no.
On October 30, Biondi writes his own, much longer letter. The emailed missive pops up on people’s phones just minutes before Saint Louis University’s Faculty Senate meeting opens. “Look fast—race through!” the Rev. Theodore Vitali, chair of philosophy, urges the Senate secretary. “What does he say about Patankar? That’s the key to the whole thing.” She skims. Biondi is still staunchly supporting his vice president for academic affairs.
Phones pass from hand to hand, scattering the news through the auditorium as the meeting comes to order. The Faculty Senate president calls for reports from the various colleges. One by one, senators rise and express their school’s dissatisfaction. Vitali’s barely listening; his heart has sunk like a lead anchor. He talked to Biondi in September, tried to warn him that this was more than a skirmish. Why hasn’t Biondi just moved Patankar to vice president for international relations? That would’ve been brilliant—the war’s over, let’s go have a picnic.
Vitali and Biondi are paisans, bound by their Tuscan blood. They’ve known each other 24 years, had dinner many times. Biondi has let Vitali see a depth of compassion he rarely shows in public.
But now, Vitali’s worried about him: He’s made one bad judgment after another. He’s miscalculated. He’s listening to advisors who are misleading him, saying his faculty are a bunch of radicals.
Vitali stands. People angle their bodies so they can see him. Emotion shakes his voice as he admits he no longer has confidence in the president. He says he loves Biondi, and he’s saying this because he wants to stop him, before he does any more damage to himself and the university he’s transformed.
The Faculty Senate votes 51–4 to declare “no confidence” in the president. News cameras flash.
Biondi will see Vitali’s words as a betrayal. Their friendship is over.
And Biondi’s fall has begun.
The day after the Faculty Senate meeting, the Student Government Association passes a no-confidence motion, 38–0 with one abstention, for both Biondi and Patankar. Junior Andy Wilmes, a Presidential Scholar, tries to soften the decision into a polite request that Biondi leave at the end of the year. “A man who’s done so much for the university—he gave me a place to call home for the last three years—doesn’t deserve any tarnishing of his legacy,” he tells the other representatives. “Do we really know him well enough to say ‘no confidence’? A man who’s been here longer than I’ve been alive?” His amendment is voted down.
The next day, SGA president Blake Exline sends a letter to the board listing 24 grievances against Biondi and Patankar. “Respectfully, I expect the Board of Trustees to take action to restore the confidence of the student body,” he concludes.
On December 15, board members walk, flanked by campus security, past a line of 200 or so middle-aged professors and students holding placards. “This is pathetic,” one trustee is heard to mutter. It’s hard to know whether he’s referring to the frumpy, bespectacled professors singing hymns or the absurdity of armed guards protecting him against them.
At that meeting—held, by coincidence, on Biondi’s 74th birthday—the board goes against his express and vehement wishes and accepts Patankar’s resignation as vice president for academic affairs. He remains a professor of aviation.
The vote of no confidence against Biondi stands. That vote “was brought against Father Biondi in a very heightened emotional state,” says a professor who supports him, “and it happened so fast, there was no opportunity for a rational conversation. Someone who dedicated 25 years of 100 percent of his life to the institution, completely rebuilt it, and we, as a community, did not have the courtesy to give him due process?”
On February 12, Jay Hammond steps down as chair of theological studies. In his letter, he cites a culture of fear and says that in private, Biondi’s Jesuit brethren have “used words like embarrassing, evil, sinful, arrogant, bully, and subverting SLU’s mission.” Months later, he will tell me he had an even more compelling reason: his fourth-grader. “I was talking to my wife, and I said, ‘Larry Biondi is a bully.’ And my fourth-grader heard me and said, ‘Dad, do you really think Larry Biondi is a bully?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ And he said, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’”
Two weeks after Hammond steps down, Biondi writes a letter saying he’s “received advice from many corners,” and “while I do not agree with everything that has been said, my reflection leads me to see that it can’t be business as usual going forward… All of us, including me, must find new ways to move forward in more collaborative and conciliatory ways. As President, I should lead that effort, and I am.”
Biondi and the trustees commission a university-wide survey. Because it barely mentions Biondi, the College of Arts and Sciences designs its own survey. Then the AAUP chapter releases one that asks point-blank whether faculty members believe it’s time for a new president. The university counsel threatens a lawsuit for copyright infringement. The AAUP proceeds, and 73 percent of the survey respondents say yes, it’s time.
Pledging a new spirit of cooperation, Biondi and the chairman of the board promise to attend a Faculty Senate meeting once a year, beginning April 30. They cancel: Thomas Brouster has resigned as chair, and they’re busy searching for his replacement. They’ll reschedule as soon as there’s a new chair.
April 30, though, is the last meeting of the year. “Biondi couldn’t have come alone?” faculty ask. The decision, like every other presidential decision since August, is taken as emblematic.
The faculty’s actions pierce like a serpent’s tooth. All Biondi’s done for the university, and they don’t trust him yet? They aren’t grateful?
He’s given his lifeblood to this place.
Often, he works from 6 a.m. to midnight. He jots notes to himself incessantly, ideas for SLU’s future, reminders of things to check on.
He’s had some fun along the way. Sunbathing, shiny with olive oil, on board member Tony Novelly’s yacht; scuba diving in Grand Cayman when he relieved a parish priest there; fine wines and food and cigars; the unquestioning love of his golden retrievers, which he returned in full measure, even hiring students to drive them around campus in a golf cart, because they liked the ride.
But mainly, SLU has been his life. And to his pragmatic mind, the complaints have probably looked a wee bit trivial: students getting upset about parking fees and tuition hikes, faculty wanting higher salaries and the sinecure of tenure. Biondi’s longtime friends agree. “I don’t understand a lot of the things people bring up,” says the Rev. Paul Stark, vice president of mission and ministry. “His longer view is what’s made the university what it is now. It’s frustrating when people reduce what he’s done just to the buildings. It just seems to me to be, frankly, somewhat petty.”
Some of the fall’s rhetoric was a bit much: quotes from the Partisan Hymn. A litany of dismissed and hurt people who’d “suffered alone,” with the chorus, “Never again!” Sweeping allegations of fiscal irresponsibility. “You’d think we were near bankruptcy,” groans a senior faculty member. “It was unhelpful.”
Sure, certain faculty went overboard, another prof says. “Surprise, surprise. What happens when you keep things bottled up for 25 years?”
Some of what exploded was pure frustration. But the rebellion was nowhere near as abrupt or as specific as it seemed. “We all said, for years, ‘Only the faculty can do it, because they have tenure,’” says a former staff member. “And finally he pushed the tenure button.”
To outsiders, the swift and passionate response looked like pure self-interest. Political-science professor Timothy Lomperis disagrees. “Tenure is not just a vested interest of the professoriate. It is the only way to speak truth to power. We can speak our minds and not be incriminated.”
The battle was about loyalty as much as anything: The faculty felt betrayed when Biondi chose Patankar over them, and Biondi felt betrayed by their anger. But when the emotion cooled, big philosophical questions remained: How much is academic freedom worth? Should a university be run like a business? Where do Jesuit values fit in?
The faculty had the rhetoric on their side; Biondi stayed pretty quiet. But everyone—supporters and detractors alike—acknowledges how deeply he cares about SLU. “There is nothing you can label about Father Biondi that was for personal gain,” a professor says. “When he leaves the university, all he will take with him is his dog.”
At the May 4 gala, Biondi waits out all the praise, takes the mic, and proceeds, with his usual dry sarcasm, to roast himself. He mentions specializing in linguistics—“Yes, I actually did academic work, and I taught, did research, and published books!” He jokes about his Italian “taste in bronze nude statues” and his “colorful way with words” and notes that he’s been called Machiavellian and names less printable. He nails all of his critics’ stock complaints—but the room stays quiet. Nobody’s laughing the way they could have, before last fall. Biondi’s out there all by himself, the only one with enough chutzpah to confront the situation head-on.
He segues into accomplishments, rattling off almost two dozen new halls, centers, and parks by name, and reminding the crowd that nobody believed the men’s basketball team could be ranked one of the top 25 in the nation. He sketches, fast as a street artist, a vivid picture of transformation. And then he says, “I now know it is time for the next transformation to begin.”
The room goes pin-drop quiet.
“It is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life.”
Adorjan scans faces in the crowd. He knew this was coming, and he thought Biondi was choosing the wrong occasion for his announcement. But Biondi’s got his game back: His gut instinct was right. These people are his friends, and there’s a fond resignation on their faces, not the thunk of a ruined party.
He’s almost 75, they remind each other. Maybe it is time.
In the months after the gala, the shiny new law school opens downtown, and there are hints of yet another real-estate coup for midtown: a new shopping center a few blocks from SLU, with buzz that it might include a bikeway and an IKEA. It’s just one more example of “the tremendous positive impact of $1 billion of construction” that McMillan credits to Biondi.
Everybody waits for the tensions to ease. They don’t.
First, neither side yet trusts each other’s point of view. “Trustees, to them he’s this charming go-getter,” says a senior faculty member. “After listening to his retirement speech, I thought, ‘Is this the same man, or do I work with his evil twin Skippy?’”
Second, Biondi is still president. All he’s really said is that he will retire, date to be determined. People remember him saying he wanted to stay until the university’s 200th anniversary in 2018—can he still do that? “It is not coincidence that there does not appear to be an heir apparent,” an administrator says dryly.
Adorjan, who’s agreed to chair the board again, tells the St. Louis Beacon that the board’s determined not to rush the search. Faculty overwhelmingly want a Jesuit president, and only a handful seem qualified—plus who will come, under these circumstances?
“Letting him stay is the worst of both worlds,” a Jesuit observes. “You might as well let him stay in charge.” As for the future president, he adds, “I hope it’s not a Jesuit. He would have to spend most of his time listening to all the problems, because he would be family. A new president who’s not a Jesuit could come in and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But a Jesuit couldn’t move on without doing lots of healing.”
Many who love the university feel shell-shocked. The rhetoric’s gotten too strong, the attacks too personal. Dirty laundry’s been strung out for the world to see. And while some exult at the new transparency, others fear it has permanently damaged the university.
Adorjan’s still stung by “the attacks on the board of trustees, the attacks on Father Biondi.” He says many of the allegations are unfounded. Now he is trying to mesh his strengths—in knowing how to run a public corporation—with this odd creature, a businesslike ivory tower. He’s formed a task force to learn how other Jesuit universities handle communication with the faculty. Meanwhile, Ellen Harshman, the interim vice president for academic affairs, is working such miracles of diplomacy, faculty members say they feel heard for the first time in years.
Over at Jesuit Hall, there’s a careful silence when Biondi comes to dinner. “Nobody has brought the topic up,” a Jesuit says. “If he would, we would talk about it. But the guy deserves to come home and have some peace.”
Biondi spends much of the summer traveling, isn’t seen on campus. People wonder aloud: Where will he go next? This is not a man who’s measured out his life in coffee spoons—canisters of espresso, maybe.
At the gala, he said the Jesuit leader in Rome “has asked Jesuits around the world to focus on the care for the poor, care for the marginalized, the uneducated, and immigrants,” and his next challenges include listening carefully to that call. One envisions him building a city for immigrants, revamping the Vatican art collection, implementing healthcare reform nationwide.
If, that is, he can get over the bitterness.
In July, there’s a big whoosh, and the flames reignite. Biondi and the board have approved $13.4 million for salary increases. According to the Faculty Senate, 20 faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences receive raises significantly smaller than what’s been recommended by their chairs and dean. And 16 of the 20 either publicly or privately opposed Biondi. Statisticians on the faculty pronounce the odds of this being coincidence “less likely than winning the Powerball lottery two weeks in a row.” The news makes The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Biondi responds with a commentary in the Post: “Let’s be clear: Out of SLU’s more than 4,200 full-time faculty and staff, there are complaints from about 16 people, or just about one-third of 1 percent.” He emphasizes that all of the faculty members who complained had received raises, “although they may not have received what they desired or what they think they deserved… These recent complaints continue the saga of behavior from a small number of dissident faculty members, who obviously lack the stark reality that their profession, like any other, requires them to be accountable. The past year’s turmoil from these complainers has been self-inflicted, self-absorbed and self-serving, and not in the best interest of our students’ hopes and dreams.”
Then, in August, 10 days before the fall semester begins, Adorjan announces that Biondi will resign September 1, and the university counsel, Bill Kauffman, will take over as interim president. As president emeritus, Biondi will take a one-year sabbatical, during which he will continue to build support, nationally and internationally, for SLU.
Upon Biondi’s return, Adorjan writes to alumni, “we will mutually agree upon a University role and title for Father so that we can continue to benefit from his considerable University experience.”
So he’s not really leaving after all.
In the end, it all came down to management style. Biondi’s traits were there all along: the fierce, familial loyalty. The restless impatience that prefers doing to listening. The tough pragmatism that pushes until he gets his way. But years and power hardened those traits, and they started to rub against a university culture almost 180 degrees different.
“There is no question, strong leaders are sometimes difficult people,” says Adorjan. “To do what he’s done requires tough decisions.”
And some of those decisions backfired. Biondi’s personal review of contracts made people paranoid. The young Ivy League hotshots he lured to campus were bold enough to criticize him. His grand ambition to make U.S. News’ top 50 fired up a faculty who got frustrated, because they couldn’t reach the goal on a shoestring.
Still, he lasted more than 25 years in a job that most people endure for eight to 10. He broke the record of his Loyola mentor. He even broke the record of SLU’s beloved president Paul Reinert, whose shadow Biondi often had to sidestep in his early years on campus.
Trustee Frank O’Donnell, Biondi’s friend for 25 years, notes all the constituencies he’s had to serve, all the interests he’s had to balance. “To be president of a university—I think it’s more daunting than being the CEO of a conglomerate.”
As a CEO only, Biondi might have gotten better reviews. “If you look at the university like a business, he probably ran a pretty good business,” says Nick Sarcone, a former Student Government Association president who’s now a criminal-defense attorney. “The finest Catholic university in America? Getting to that point means more to him than the way in which he gets there. The ends don’t justify the means—that’s what they taught us, I thought.”
“It makes me sad that Father Biondi’s legacy is tarnished,” a longtime professor says. “That none of us knew how to help. He should have recognized that Manoj was in the wrong position and moved him. But Father is very loyal.”
And that’s the greatest irony of all: After all the rancor he caused by opposing beloved administrators and being willing to fire tenured deadwood, it was his loyal refusal to remove Patankar that finally skewered him.
“He used to ride his golf cart all over the place,” Vitali says. “I’ve seen him do that once since last fall. This place is no longer his.”
Vitali sighs. “He is a great man. We are really living, here at SLU, a personal tragedy. That’s the sad-ass truth. It’s Lear.”
Editor's Note: The profile has been amended to clarify that there were three surveys, not two, and the April 2013 survey was sent out by the campus AAUP chapter.