Monday, January 13, 2014

To The Presidential Search Committee...Hear Us, Trust Us.

Allison Walter

Especially this past year, Saint Louis University has undergone a significant organizational shift. These changes have impacted the jobs of faculty, the education of students, and the future of this educational institution. As stakeholders in the university, the students and faculty deserve to express our opinions in the selection process of a new University President. I believe this is a justice issue because every action of a Christian university should work to further its mission, and the president is the person who sets that trajectory. 

As an interested student, my goal with the following documentary has been to encourage students and faculty to remain conscious of their continued role in shaping Saint Louis University for the future, to encourage these same groups to articulate what it is they expect from their university, and to reveal to those in authority the vital opinions of their stakeholders. I believe that the support of the people is important for leadership to be effective, and this documentary is a step toward ensuring that support is available for the new University President.

Beginning as the capstone project for my communication major, this project grew to be an act of advocacy. This documentary intends to convey what the students, faculty, and staff of Saint Louis University believe to be important in our next president. These stakeholder groups hope to help shape the future of Saint Louis University, and I hope to provide the Presidential Search Committee with a uniquely grassroots perspective to which those in authority may not have easy access. The purpose is that the Presidential Search Committee may view the documentary and take our values into genuine consideration.

The primary audience for this project is the Presidential Search Committee members with a secondary audience of the Saint Louis University community. I, Allison Walter, identified, selected, and interviewed all of the participants. I also videotaped and edited all of the footage as well as produced the final video. The individuals interviewed for this project agreed to do so in order to support my creative academic project. It is important to note that none of the participants were seeking an opportunity to promote or convey any particular communication to the search committee. The participants were responding to my questions.

Click here to watch the documentary:

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Open Letter on Spousal Benefits

There are many reasons to be proud of being a Billiken.  Not the least of them has been its open and progressive tradition.  In the coming year, SLU will be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Father Heithaus’ call to integrate the university.  This was another of the important firsts to which our university lays claim.  This tradition is one of the things that attracted me to SLU as prospective faculty member and was the answer I gave to many when they questioned me on why I was going to work for a Catholic University.  In my 11th year of teaching here at SLU, I have unfortunately experienced firsthand that SLU is abandoning this tradition. 

In October I celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary.  I was married under a chuppah by a Rabbi (yes I am Jewish) in Massachusetts, I can show you both the wedding certificate and ketubbah.  When I returned to SLU I asked to have my husband added to my health insurance but was denied.  I was told that we weren’t married.  We have lived with that insult for four years, but things have changed.  This summer the Supreme Court struck down key features of DOMA which allowed our marriage to be recognized by the federal government.  In September, the Department of Labor sent out guidance that employers should base determinations of spouse on state of celebration instead of state of domicile.  In plain language, that means it doesn’t matter that Missouri continues to deny recognition as long as my marriage is legal in Massachusetts (which it is).  With these changes I again asked HR to extend coverage to my husband.  Again I was told that I wasn’t really married.  When I continued to press I was told that they had looked further into the matter and that SLU was not mandated to do so.
Was Father Heithaus mandated to initiate integration of SLU?  Have we turned our backs on social justice and caring for the whole person?  I fear we have.  My husband now tells me that he does not feel welcome on campus.  I can’t tell him otherwise and only wonder what I will tell the daughter we are expecting. 
I would also add that this position is inconsistent with more recently espoused goals to be the finest Catholic and a top-50 university.  For those of you who are thinking, but SLU is Catholic and the Church does not officially recognize same-sex marriage, I would point to the Jesuit institutions that do provide these benefits.  Of the 7 Jesuit universities recognized by US News and World Report as national universities, SLU is the only one that does not provide these benefits.  Overall, the majority of Jesuit universities do extend benefits to same sex spouses and/or domestic partners.  While it is true that many of these schools are in marriage equality states, several of these schools extended these benefits before being mandated.  Within the Midwest this includes both Marquette and Loyola Chicago. 
Looking beyond the Jesuits, here in the Saint Louis area, Washington University, Webster University, University of Missouri Saint Louis (UMSL), and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville all provide these benefits.  UMSL faculty and staff started receiving benefits this year when the Curators approved benefits for all 4 schools in the UM system, which also includes Columbia, Kansas City, and Rolla (now Science & Technology).  Other public universities in Missouri that provide these benefits include Truman, Missouri State, and my husband’s alma mater Central Missouri.

By saying that it is not mandated, SLU is turning its back on its history, mission, and strategy.  The time has come for SLU to be true to itself and do the right thing.  I want to be able to give my family the support and security they deserve.  I want to feel welcome on campus and to be a proud Billiken again.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Next SLU President

Last spring, the Heithaus Haven hosted a Town Hall meeting on "The Next SLU President."  In addition to conversation about desired qualities and characteristics of our next president, Ken Parker arranged for the meeting to include a dialogue with two distinguished and renowned Jesuits - Fr. Joseph Tetlow and Fr. John Padberg.  Thanks to the efforts of Tomas O'Sullivan, we have a detailed record of the conversation to share:

Minutes of the
Townhall Meeting on the Next SLU President

3:00pm-5:00pm: Friday, May 10, 2013

Carlo Auditorium, Tegeler Hall, Saint Louis University

Attendance: c. 40-45
including students, staff, faculty, alumni, & Jesuits

Facilitator:          Bonnie Wilson (Department of Economics, John Cook School of Business)
Recorder:           Tom├ís O’Sullivan (Department of Theological Studies, College of Arts and Sciences)


The meeting opened with a welcome to all participants from the facilitator on behalf of the contributing editors of the Heithaus Haven. She suggested we are gathered to share, to learn from one another, and to begin to discern the qualities and characteristics of our next president. Out of respect for the fact that we are gathered in a Catholic, Jesuit institution, she invited all, whether Jesuit or not, whether Catholic or not, to join in silence for an opening prayer.

The prayer offered thanksgiving for the Jesuits, who share their mission with us; for the administrators and benefactors of the university; for Fr. Biondi as he discerns his new role; for Mr. Adorjan and the trustees as they embark on the task of finding a new president; for our students, currently in the midst of their exams; and for the least among us; and asked for the blessing of being gracious to others and of knowing ourselves.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First Friday Mass and Speaker Series

Fr. Chris Collins, S.J., Director of the SLU Catholic Studies Program and professor in the Theological Studies Department, has organized a "First Friday Mass and Speaker Series" for our SLU community.  The series begins this Friday, September 6, 2013, at 8:00 am, in Our Lady's Chapel in lower College Church. 

On the first Friday of each month, join alumni and friends of Saint Louis University for mass at 8:00 a.m., followed by pastries, coffee, and a brief presentation and discussion led by SLU faculty. Presentations will be from a variety of academic disciplines reflecting on research and writing pertaining to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.  The schedule for the fall semester is:

Friday, September 6, 2013  Our Lady’s Chapel in lower College Church, Catholic Studies: Finding God in All Academic Disciplines, Fr. Michael Barber, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Friday, October 4, 2013       Mass and breakfast in Jesuit Hall, The Archaeology of Catholic St. Louis, Dr. Tom Finan, History Department
Friday, November 1, 2013   All Saints’ Day, Mass and breakfast in Jesuit Hall, Tribute to Fr. John Kavanaugh and the Dignity of the Human Person, Dr. Eleonore Stump, Philosophy

Friday, December 6, 2013   Our Lady’s Chapel in lower College Church, God Became Man so that Man Might Become God, Fr. David Meconi, SJ, Theological Studies

Monday, August 26, 2013

Practical Proposals for Transforming Jesuit Higher Education at Saint Louis University

 by Claude Pavur, S.J.

Under the charge of the highest legislative body in the Society, Jesuits are told to assist, even as individuals, in guiding the university to its proper objectives.*  Toward this end, I have drawn up some proposals that I hope will help promote the thinking, planning, and restructuring that seems necessary at this time. The proximate stimulus for this set of reflections was Fr. John Padberg’s talk of March 25, 2013, “The Meaning and Purpose of the University,” a large-scale overview that left me wondering about practical details and the next specific steps.

1. An explicitly revised, stated understanding about the nature and details of the Society’s role in the administration of the University. The Board of Trustees could explicitly renegotiate the working (but not the legal) understandings of the idea of “separate incorporation” announced at Saint Louis University in January of 1967. It is very likely that some kind of meaningful, directive supervision by the Society was envisioned by Jesuit universities and colleges in the original intention to have Jesuit presidents. Even where this no longer holds, the spirit of the original charter could be seriously compromised if there is virtually no vital line of supervision to deal with mission-critical details in a timely way. For the sake of authentic partnership with the Society and for the sake of the identity and effectiveness of the institution, the Board could rethink and formally recognize ways in which the Jesuit order, even apart from any given President and Jesuit board members, must be given a definite moral weight and even structured practical involvement in mission-critical matters. The Board could work out in partnership with the Society to the satisfaction of both parties ways to achieve the “periodic evaluation and accountability to the Society” that are called for by Decree 17 of GC 34.* The envisioned arrangement will give the university an added level of oversight that will help prevent any deformation or mismanagement of the mission.

2. Restructuring the understanding of the presidency.  The Board could explicitly distribute authority in the university and craft an understanding of the presidency in such a way that the scope of the office would lie midway between the two extremes of quasi-dictatorial power on the one hand and purely ceremonial functionality on the other. The Board might set a base term-limit that could be extended for compelling reasons under a strong consensus of Board and University sectors. Such an arrangement would help to keep the president accountable to the wider university community without removing the authority necessary for leadership with respect to mission.

3. A standing structure to speak for the Society. The Board could formally write into its charter its expectations of the proper oversight by the Society and propose means by which the university can better hear the voice of the Society, even where there is not total consensus on issues at hand (e.g., What should the Core Curriculum include in light of the Jesuit character of the institution?). The Society should be capable of making competent, well-informed, well-grounded, well-deliberated judgments about Jesuit higher education in any of the directions, details, procedures, and contents that bear on the substance, quality, and reputation of Jesuit education. Some standing Jesuit structure could be created to study and debate the issues and then make its opinions known.

4. A faculty governing board with its own administrative powers. The faculty, particularly that which is engaged in teaching at the undergraduate level, could be corporately authorized (perhaps through its own administrative board, one that has its own discretionary budgetary powers and that is superior to all other academic governing bodies in the institution) to discern the educational needs of the students and to discover and enact the ways in which those needs can best be fulfilled in the context of the Jesuit tradition, its history, and its authentic development. Such a board could also work out explicit ways to consult with the Society about relevant issues, under that “periodic evaluation and accountability” mentioned by Decree 17 of GC 34.  This proposal would lead to a greater shared moral unity and purpose of the faculty and allow them to better fulfill the fiduciary responsibilities they have for educating the next generations.

5. Proper formation for leadership in Jesuit education. The university has the right to expect proper guidance from the Society.  It has the right to require of its leaders the background and training necessary for mission-critical matters, just as it has the right to require the proper training of its faculty. This is a very large question for the formational sector of the Society. The university could make its own leadership needs and expectations explicitly known to the Society so that the Society might adjust its formational programs in a properly collaborative spirit.

These five proposals or something along similar lines seem absolutely essential for a truly desirable and well-rounded transformation of Jesuit higher education at Saint Louis University (and probably elsewhere as well). These proposals aim not only at structured solutions for a more adequate sharing of power and oversight at the university but also at the responsible fulfillment of its mission as a Jesuit institution.

 * The text reads as follows:  “The complexity of a Jesuit university can call for new structures of government and control on the part of the Society in order to preserve its identity and at the same time allow it to relate effectively to the academic world and the society of which it is part, including the Church and the Society of Jesus. More specifically, in order for an institution to call itself Jesuit, periodic evaluation and accountability to the Society are necessary in order to judge whether or not its dynamics are being developed in line with the Jesuit mission. The Jesuits who work in these universities, both as a community and as individuals, must actively commit themselves to the institution, assisting in its orientation, so that it can achieve the objectives desired for it by the Society.”  (From Decree 17 of General Congregation 34, “Jesuits and University Life,” Number 9.) 

First composed, March 27, 2013; revised August 14 to 20, 2013.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Townhall Meeting on the Next SLU President

The contributing editors of the Heithaus Haven invite all to a Townhall meeting on the next SLU president.

Please join us:  Friday, 10 May 2013, 3:00-5:00 pm, Carlo Auditorium, Tegler Hall, Saint Louis University

The meeting will have as its frame of reference the mission statement of Saint Louis University. All are welcome.

Some things are known.  In particular, the leadership literature includes a very standard list of traits that are desirable in a leader. We surely want a president who has these standard traits: trustworthiness: the ability to exhibit that one is reliable and dependable; self-control: the ability to exhibit a calm demeanor; empathy, likability, adeptness in relationships: the ability to exhibit concern for others; creativity: the ability to overcome challenges and adapt to novel circumstances; focused clarity: the ability to multitask and return to task after interruption;persuasiveness: the ability to motivatate; effectiveness: the ability to execute and get things accomplished; honesty, etc.

Other things are unknown and must be discerned by our community.  Should the next president be a Jesuit?  Should we have a compressed search for a candidate that can lead us through the bicentennial in 2018?  Should we have a long search for a candidate who can lead the institution for a long period, perhaps 20+ years?

Please join us to help us consider these questions, and to offer questions of your own.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Not-So-Secret Strategic Conversation

Last week, members of the SLU community gathered at an open strategic planning session, to begin a conversation about the future.  Below is a report on the session, compiled by Silvana Siddali.  The Heithaus Haven is pleased to share this report and to provide a space for further dialogue and discernment.


On Wednesday, April 17, members of every SLU community—undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty, members of the Jesuit community, and administrators—met  to talk with each other about our hopes and dreams for SLU’s next century. We believe that we all have a stake in creating our future. 

The meeting began with a free-wheeling open call for important topics: what did people most want to discuss? What ideas would be particularly important as we contemplate the next century in SLU’s history?