A push against overconfidence

A 35-2 vote against Saint Louis University’s President, Father Biondi, last week has sent murmurs of doomsday for the school’s future rippling through the local community.

The vote, largely in response to Biondi’s public support for a plan that would force tenured faculty to reapply for their tenure every six years, culminates a number of rifts between faculty and the university’s president in recent years. Quoted by the Associated Press, one professor went so far as to label the school “a place of tyranny” under Biondi’s leadership.

While administrative affairs, particularly those at SLU, may seem unimportant to us, the events currently unfolding fewer than five miles down the road should make us realize the importance of remaining invested in the larger picture of Washington University. The vote has cast doubt on the foundation of an establishment with more than 8,000 undergraduates whose futures depend on the university’s continued reputation, not to mention the rest of the St. Louis community that benefits from the university’s presence as a research institution. While Wash. U. is not currently undergoing such a crisis, Wash. U., like SLU, is a private research institution and a community staple. And the events only miles down the road should remind us to remain invested in Wash. U., the institution, not just Wash. U., the school.

There are many reasons for us to be proud of being students at Wash. U., the institution. Our endowment, at around $5 billion, makes us one of the most financially stable of any university in the country. The $2.2 billion fundraising campaign currently underway will ensure that we continue to grow and improve for many years to come, and the University’s seal on our diplomas will retain its value as we leave and more forward with our lives. Without an effective administration, Wash. U. would not have been able to build up such an impressive reputation.

Our faculty includes Nobel Laureates and academics who are world leaders in their respective areas. Our medical school is one of the best in the country and its research is routinely cited by prominent publications such as the NY Times. The next dean of Arts & Sciences is coming off of an eight-year stint as the first female elected to vice president of the National Academy of Sciences. We may not be hosting a presidential debate this year, but we will be hosting former president Bill Clinton’s CGI U program that will bring together 1,200 of the most public-service-oriented students in the country. Furthermore, Chancellor Wrighton was recently quoted as having a 96 percent approval rating in a study cited by Forbes.com, a stark contrast to the way Biondi has been received.

This comparison to SLU should not leave us complacent and thinking that our university is secure from conflict that could potentially devalue the institution. Few students have been spared the pervasive conversation—among students and faculty alike—about the worrisome state of the humanities at a school that seems to put almost all of its effort into the STEM fields.

Even smaller concerns can make people come to question the value of their alma mater. In 2011 when Student Union voted to fund an appearance by teen mom and celebrity Bristol Palin, our website hosted comments from community members saying they were ashamed to be associated with the University. The discontent even made its way to the Chancellor’s ears.

Simply standing by the University when it does something questionable isn’t a solution. But if we don’t recognize that we are part of Wash. U. and contribute to its reputation, we should accept the risk that one day, it may not be there.

  • shevek

    I heard two stories this morning on the local public radio station about the near unanimous vote of no confidence in SLU’s Father Biondi (though he still has the support of the Trustees), with NO MENTION of the reason cited in this Student Life editorial: his public support for reapplication for tenure. Now that’s so subversive we cannot even discuss it. Call the cops! Last year, just before the commencement of Occupy STL, I had to walk through a dragnet of three or four WUPD cars as I flyered the Wash U power center, the January-Busch-Brookings corridor. I dodged them and rushed through January Hall, right past a huge framed photo taken some years ago in my Theories of Religion class, of a student holding a copy of William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. I remember that student! Then I dashed through Busch Hall, almost all of whose denizens signed the solidarity pledge during the 2005 living wage campaign in solidarity with the service workers and the lecturers. I bet they had their fingers crossed! Who called the cops, I wonder?

    This incident occurred shortly after a meeting with a friend on the left who knows Father Biondi personally, to discuss the flyer whose text is posted in my comment string below and the detailed reform proposal. My friend suggested that the SLU President might be persuaded to support this if he thought it was his idea. Perhaps it was! He can have the credit. Now let’s have some PUBLIC discussion of the substantive issues.

    This morning I also heard a followup story, about a sit-in by students protesting his plan to cut the Urban Studies program. Though I may support recertification of tenure as a first step towards comprehensive reform of lecturer’s policy, I support urban studies at SLU and at Wash U. All too often these programs are cut for ideological reasons, as the once premier Sociology Department and its successor, Social Thought and Analysis, was phased out at Wash U. Please let’s bring it back. What kind of world class university does not even have a Sociology Department?

    I found it interesting that no mention was made in the followup story about the tenure reapplication plan, only the sit-in by Urban Studies students concerned about the value of their degree. If I knew nothing else about this, I would be calling for Biondi’s resignation too, in quite a knee jerk fashion. After all, I have often heard he is a tyrant, though I don’t believe I have ever met him. It seems to me the press coverage is biased.

    PPS to my comment string below: the “Lecturers Need a Teaching Track, Adjuncts Need a Union” flyer was the one I distributed in January and Busch Halls in mid-September 2011. The version with my open letter to Wrighton, including the invitation to our Occupy/Union rally in Occupied Kiener Plaza, was mailed to Chancellor Wrighton, the Wash U deans, and many of the deans of local colleges, including SLU, along with my CV, reform proposal, and letter of availability to teach. I know they got the message, because a couple of Wash U deans approached me, shook my hand, and one of them said to the other, “Dr. Bauer was here on the very first day of Occupy STL.” The other said he had my papers and was working on them. Where are they now?

    This took place at our big November 17 rally and march, shortly before an Occupier friend who is a worker and student at Wash U was explicitly threatened with termination if she brought Occupy STL to Wash U, and before an email was allegedly sent to all Wash U staff members by a high official in the Administration proclaiming association with the Occupy/Union alliance grounds for termination. So much for freedom of speech and peaceable assembly for the redress of our many grievances.

    Jerome Bauer, under the transparent pseudonym shevek

    • shevek

      PS: So now I guess I must be a national security threat for touching the academic third rail. Call the riot squad! Perhaps they are surveilling Father Biondi now too, after he touched the same electrified rail I touched. “We have a tradition here that faculty do not criticize the administration and vice versa. Dr. Bauer did both.” Yes I did and will continue to do so. Father Biondi’s alleged tyranny and suppression of free speech and free press is old hat. I have heard all about it from my friends and colleagues on the left and right for years. Why is it such an issue now? Why is the reason cited in this Student Life editorial still not mentioned in this morning’s radio story? They cite vague concerns over faculty and student retention. Why not get to the point, the pride and privilege of the Lords and Ladies of Tenure? The only way they will ever stop treating Leturers and Adjuncts as second or third class servants is the prospect of having to start over as one.

      We must acknowledge that caste war and class war exists, even in the academy, and we must choose sides and pick our battles. I side with the servile caste and the working class. Which side are you on?

      I have been holding that third rail tight since 2003, and I’m still here. Chancellor Wrighton, why not give it a try? You don’t need all of those 96/100 approval points, do you?

  • Richard

    If by sitting at home eating donuts you mean doing ground breaking research and writing books or journals, then you are right tenured professors do those things. Many actually complain that the university administration pushes these things too much, to the detriment of the classroom.
    Of course I am not a tenured professor myself, but my sister, brother in law, and father in law all are and my father serves as an adjunct.
    Perhaps the previous commenter has more experience in this sort if thing, but based on his right wing talking points, I doubt it.

  • shevek

    So it’s finally begun, at SLU first: the kneecapping of the tenure caste. Let Wrighton follow Father Biondi’s example. Oh how the Professors squeal! No power without accountability. Academic freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all. Next steps: cut their pay, cut tuition, raise pay and benefits for Lecturers and Adjuncts, and let’s have a real teaching track and a practice track too. University tenure was supposed to ensure academic freedom, but those few who exercise that right, by teaching controversial courses for example, all too often find themselves marginalized and terminated or retired on a pretext, while the rest sit on their laurels or engage in vicious academic turf warfare, even going so far as to abuse the security apparatus for petty personal vendettas. I could name names and so could most of you. Chancellor Wrighton, you must fire ‘em, or retire ‘em, don’t rehire ‘em. Student Life, please renew your support for a reformed Lecturers’ Policy and the Professor of the Practice proposal.

    Here once again is the flyer I handed out last year at Occupy St Louis, along with my open letter , “Chancellor Wrighton is Right On When He Stands With Labor,” also widely circulated on the internet. Please let’s have recertification, if not every six years, at least every ten years, for everybody. Let’s have second and third chances for everybody, more opportunities for lateral mobility, and tenure tracks for everybody. Let’s have fairer and better administered grievance procedures. Let’s not exempt endowed chairs and distinguished service professors. There must be a better way to correct expensive hiring mistakes than eliminating a program or trumping up charges.

    Lecturers need a teaching track,
    Adjuncts need a union
    LECTURER’S POLICY REFORM 1) a real teaching track in an autonomous college 2) better grievance procedures and appeal process 3) sabbatical and medical leave
    FAIRER DEALS FOR ADJUNCTS 1) $8,000 for a 3cr class 2) inter-school collective bargaining 3) health care
    ‎4. Library privileges at all local colleges between adjunct jobs. 5. An end to “reasonable assurance” fraud to deny us unemployment compensation benefits between jobs. 6, Retention of courtesy titles at all local colleges. 7. Break the code of silence over faculty salaries, benefits, or lack of benefits, to educate the public.
    FOUR TRACK THREE TIER TENURE REFORM PROPOSAL for discussion: Seven year tenure for everybody, may be repeated three times, after 21 years of service tenure is permanent, those denied tenure may change tracks and try again; TEACHING TRACK from Lecturer to tenured Senior Lecturer, second tier from Senior Lecturer or previous tenured rank to Professorial Lecturer, third tier from Professorial Lecturer or previous tenured rank to Professor; PRACTICE TRACK for contracted adjunct lecturers, artists, and community builders, first tier from Adjunct Lecturer or Assistant Professor of the Practice to Senior Lecturer or Associate Professor of the Practice, second tier from previous tenured rank to Professor of the Practice, third tier from previous tenured rank to Professor of the Practice; RESEARCH TRACK, first tier Assistant Professor to Associate Professor, second tier from Associate Professor or previous tenured rank to Professor, third tier from Professor or previous tenured rank to Professor; ADMINISTRATIVE TRACK, first tier from Assistant Dean to Associate Dean, second tier from Associate Dean or previous tenured rank to Dean, third tier from Dean or previous tenured rank to Dean. Faster promotion to Vice Chancellor or Distinguished Service Professor may be possible. Faculty hired away from other schools at tenure, or holders of endowed chairs may be ranked University Professor or Distinguished Service Professor, with permanent tenure. This proposal is fair and balanced and will keep us all on our toes, working hard and dreaming up new ways to serve the university community.

    Initiative for Lecturer’s Policy Reform and Fairer Deals for Adjuncts
    Let Our Testimonials Not Be Flowers On Our Tombstones

    –Jerome Bauer, under the transparent pseudonym shevek

    • shevek

      Chancellor Wrighton is Right On When He Stands With Labor

      Open Letter to Chancellor Wrighton and the Washington University Community: Please Stand in Solidarity with Labor
      Dear Chancellor Wrighton,
      Every Labor Day I send a message to our Washington University Cooperative students, in which I remind them that in your 2004 Commencement Address you thanked the Student Worker Alliance for reminding us to treat our workers decently. I read in the 2007 Post-Dispatch article naming you Man of the Year that you took leadership and persuaded the Trustees not to have the 2005 Living Wage Sit-In participants arrested.
      I think its time we all remind you why you are still Chancellor: because 400 of us turned out to risk arrest in April 2005, to shield the occupied Admissions Office. Had we been few, the Trustees probably would have prevailed. We would have been arrested, and you would likely have fallen. Because we were many, none of this happened. Thank you for your leadership. It’s time you thank us for ours.
      Please take leadership once again, and support publicly the right of all our workers, including service employees, adjuncts, and lecturers, to organize freely on campus, without fear of harassment, intimidation, blacklisting, or termination. Please ensure that Washington University is in full compliance with the labor laws. Please join us as we march in solidarity with the workers of St Louis, this Friday, October 14, from Occupied Kiener Plaza in downtown St Louis, 3:30pm. The Trustees, administrators, faculty, student and alumni body, and general public are invited as well.
      This letter is entirely my own initiative, in the free and democratic spirit of Occupy Saint Louis. We are all leaders. So are you all, if you want to be. Please join the assembly, and let all our voices be heard.
      Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
      –Initiative for Lecturer’s Policy Reform and Fairer Deals for Adjuncts
      –Full Time Lecturer with Health Insurance, Washington University, 1999-2007
      –Contracted Adjunct Lecturer without Health Insurance, 2001–, Washington University, Fontbonne University, Columbia College in St Louis, Webster University, Saint Louis University, Lindenwood University, and Southwestern Illinois College.
      –Member At Large, American Federation of Teachers, Local 6270
      Let’s Have a Living Wage, Health Care, and Collective Bargaining for Adjunct Instructors and Lecturers

      • shevek

        PS. To my friends in the teacher’s unions: I don’t believe in scapegoating schoolteachers or taking away their benefits and job security. That having been said, I will listen to any reasonable reform proposal as long as people will listen to mine. It is especially important, for example, for teacher’s union supporters who support tenure in the public schools NOT to become kneejerk supporters of tenured faculty versus adjuncts and lecturers. I am told that teacher’s union people NEVER regard “the administration” as a potential ally, but in the university, we lecturers and adjuncts must often do so. Many of them are adjuncts anyway, especially the assistant deans. It is important not to monolithize any group or to over generalize about workplaces where we have never worked. It is also important for would be organizers not to support the elimination of any class of workers, e.g. adjuncts or lecturers or endowed chairs. We need fairer deals and workplace democracy for ALL workers.

  • Jolijt Tamanaha

    Tenured professors can get away with teaching for an hour twice a week and spending the rest of their time at home watching Family Guy and eating donuts. They have jobs that pay incredibly well and are guaranteed until retirement. Biondi’s support of the plan is a step towards holding professors accountable, which would improve SLU and, eventually, all of our nation’s universities. Of course the professors issued a vote of no confidence. If Biondi gets his way, every professor will have to prove that they’re worth their plushy salaries (which is what the vast majority of jobs require). The vote of no confidence has nothing to do with a fall in SLU’s reputation.

    Stud Life, your misguided attempt to connect this to a possible fall in WashU’s reputation is weird and haphazard. In fact, if WashU cares about students and the quality of our education, the administration will speak up in support of Biondi.

  • Emily Beck, alum

    As a WU alum who is currently an administrator at SLU, I find this editorial ridiculously dramatic.

    “Doomsday?” “The vote has cast doubt on the foundation of an establishment with more than 8,000 undergraduates whose futures depend on the university’s continued reputation, not to mention the rest of the St. Louis community that benefits from the university’s presence as a research institution.”

    Is the author’s opinion based on actual journalistic investigation or intentional sensationalism?

    SLU is a thriving place with much to offer–just like WU–and I have 5+ years of employement and education at WU as a basis of comparison.