St. Louis University President Father Lawrence Biondi Announces Plan to Step Down

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"I know it is now time for the next transformation to begin," St. Louis University President Fr. Lawrence Biondi has said, according to a university press release. According to the Post-Dispatch, St. Louis University President Fr. Lawrence Biondi announced tonight his intention to step down from the post he's held for 25 years. The announcement came at a gala celebrating his quarter century of service. Biondi has recently come under accelerating criticism for his handling of academic affairs at the university. This past August, nextSTL was first report the resignation of SLU Law School Dean Annette Clark. She didn't go quietly, making public her grievences in a letter that pulled no punches. Faculty and students have held no-confidence votes in Biondi's leadership in recent months. According to St. Louis Public Radio, a recent campus survey found near 70 percent of faculty wanted Biondi to step down.

Biondi has also drawn the ire of an increasing number of preservationists in St. Louis with his push to demolish numerous buildings without plans to replace them. The most public example has been the Pevely Dairy complex. This site first reported that SLU would pass on the Pevely site for its claimed ambulatory care center. In order to receive city approval for demolition, Biondi had testified that the school was ready to break ground and financing was in place. Seventeenth Ward Alderman later stated that he was led to believe that development was imminent more than a year ago.

{President Biondi explains transition planning beginning at 14:00}

The university released the following statement:

Leadership Changes at Saint Louis University Announced
Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., to Retire After 25-Year Tenure
ST. LOUIS — On Saturday, May 4, Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., told the University’s Board of Trustees of his intention to retire from his position and to work with the Board on the search process for a new president, which will begin in the fall. 

At a gala Saturday night celebrating his 25 years of leadership, Father Biondi announced his intentions to a crowd of more than 800 alumni, supporters and community leaders. The event in Chaifetz Arena received approximately $1.4 million in gifts and sponsorships for student scholarships and academic initiatives. 

“Just as I helped lead SLU’s transformation when I arrived here more than 25 years ago, I know it is now time for the next transformation to begin,” Father Biondi said. “And, so, with the blessing of our Board of Trustees, I have decided it is time for a transition in leadership for Saint Louis University — time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. This fall, the Board will launch a search for my successor. I will be here as long as they need me, and will do everything I can to make the transition to our next president as smooth as possible.” 

Father Biondi continued: “As I approach my 75th birthday, I know I am ready for new challenges — challenges that might include heeding the call of our General Superior in Rome, Father Nicolas, who has asked Jesuits around the world to focus on care for the poor, the marginalized, the uneducated and immigrants. Right now, I remain open to how God is calling me to serve others in ways, yet to be discerned.” 

At its meeting Saturday morning, the Saint Louis University Board of Trustees elected J. Joe Adorjan to serve as chairman of the SLU Board. Adorjan succeeds Thomas H. Brouster, Sr., who in April announced his plans to step down as chairman. The Board also elected trustee Patrick J. Sly as vice chairman. Adorjan has been a trustee at Saint Louis University for 25 years. He has served two previous terms as Board chairman (1991-1997 and 1999- 2005) and most recently served on the Board’s Executive Committee and chaired the Clinical Affairs Committee. 

Adorjan is a two-time graduate of SLU, having received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University. He is the chairman of Adven Capital Partners in Clayton, Mo. Sly joined the SLU Board of Trustees in 2003, and is currently a member of the Board’s Executive Committee and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board. 

Also a SLU graduate, Sly received his MBA from the University. He is the executive vice president of Emerson and business leader of Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions. He also oversees the Emerson Charitable Trust, as well as the company’s community giving activities. 

Adorjan said Saturday that he was honored to have been elected to the position of Board chairman by his fellow trustees. “I am committed to working with Father Biondi and all University stakeholders to continue to advance this great institution,” Adorjan said. “With Pat Sly as vice chairman, I am very confident that we have a strong leadership team in place to advise Father Biondi and the Board of Trustees as we move forward.”

Details about transition plans and search processes will be communicated to the University community in the weeks ahead. Neither the University nor the Board of Trustees will have additional comment at this time. 

{Biondi received approval to demolish the Pevely Dairly site except for the corner building}

Chouteau near 39th Street
{the corner Pevely building is the only structure remaining}

SLU Law before_after_Chestnut
{the new SLU Law building downtown St. Louis, prior to renovation and as envisioned}

SLU law
{SLU Law under construction}

Fr. Biondi bio from the SLU website:

Born Dec. 15, 1938, in Chicago, Father Biondi attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools before entering the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus in 1957. He was ordained as a priest in 1970.

Father Biondi holds six degrees. His master's degree in linguistics (1966) and his doctorate in sociolinguistics (1975) were conferred by Georgetown University. He has three degrees from Loyola University Chicago and a licentiate in sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago. In addition, Father Biondi has pursued non-degree language studies in French, Italian, Polish, Russian and Spanish. He has published four books and holds a certificate from Harvard University's Institute for Educational Management. Before coming to Saint Louis University, Father Biondi was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago.

Widely considered one of the most influential people in the region, Father Biondi was named St. Louis' "Citizen of the Year" in 2005 by past recipients of the award sponsored by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Readers of the newspaper also tapped him as one of St. Louis' "Citizens of the Century" in 1999.

In 2006, the St. Louis Business Journal honored him as one of only 10 "legends" — individuals "who have gone beyond being influential to become legends in our region and beyond." And, in 2011, Father Biondi earned the John D. Levy Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) of St. Louis, which honors leaders who "have applied their leadership, creativity and commitment to service to make St. Louis a better place." In 2012, a local publication, the Ladue News, named him one of the year's "Top-10 Most Dynamic People in St. Louis."

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  • Sean G.

    I don’t know if you has seen this article over at The Beacon, but it is simply appalling:!/content/31183/biondi_legacy_part_one

    I hope that both the author’s and Biondi’s idea of being “good with buildings” doesn’t prove to be a legacy that others attempt to continue.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes, I’ve let The Beacon know what I thought of that piece. In short, I think because it’s now accepted that he was “bad with people”, that the urge is to counterbalance and say he was good with…with…buildings, yeah, he built a bunch of stuff. The whole thing read like a parody and I think is symptomatic of how a lot of St. Louis views the city and urban environments.

      • guest

        I think that the answer in part is that STL really doesn’t much value buildings in a major way, but rather values traditions, power, and relationships. Hence the “SLUH Mafia”; Biondi and the Jesuits; political dynasties; sprawl residents claiming ownership over the old neighborhoods where they or their parents grew up; and, the whole “high school question”. Against that gossipy drama, buildings are barely props.

  • samizdat

    Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    Not that I expect any other administrator to be any better, but at least SLU won’t likely find someone worse.

  • Daron Dierkes

    Seriously, I can’t be the only one that finds the new law school building to bear an unfortunate resemblance to the Teen Titans Tower. I just wish they could have made it less symetrical.

    • samizdat

      It’s got the ugliest “hat” that I’ve ever seen on a building…outside of a Drury Inn.

  • slustudent

    I would like to clarify that Father Biondi will be retiring, not resigning. Although it may not seem like it, there is a difference between the two.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Fair enough. Clearly he was pushed out, so what would be the best characterization? Pushed to resign? Forced into retirement? Stepping down? Stepping down it is, thanks.

      • slustudent

        My point in making the distinction is that he was not “pushed” or “forced.” He has simply reached the conclusion that he is getting old and it is time for him to “move on to the next phase of [his] life.” 25 years in a job is a long time for anyone and who is to say that he would not have made the exact same decision tonight had there not been the recent “no confidence” group and events surrounding it this year?

        • dylanized

          Technically, he wasn’t pushed out. But in the big picture, he most definitely was – and even stated he had wanted to serve until 2018.

        • rawest

          Clearly he wasn’t “pushed out” in any procedural or technical sense by the Board, but also I think it’s clear enough that he “reached the conclusion” based largely on the circumstances of the past year. Like others have pointed out, he had stated in the past that he intended to stay on longer than it now seems he will.

          • John R

            I wonder if he regrets anything, like not bringing the law school dean into the loop on the downtown move. What a self-inflicted, needless wound to his reputation and to the school. Anyway, is it ironic that his decision to move the school will lead to more vibrancy downtown while helping lead to the ouster of this urbanist-adverse president?

  • dylanized

    Anybody know when he came to STL / became president?

    • Alex Ihnen

      25 years ago

      • samizdat

        And now the area around the campus and “Grand” Center is a wasteland of parking lots, vacant lots, and parking garages.