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.