Thursday, February 21, 2013

Letter to Mr. Thomas Brouster, chairman of SLU's Board of Trustees, from the president of the SLU chapter of the AAUP

Because the Heithaus Haven is  "an open and public space for dialogue, with focus on how our institution’s internal norms, practices, and structures embody (or fail to embody) its core values," the contributing editors wish to provide readers an opportunity to consider the message conveyed to Mr. Thomas Brouster, chair of the SLU Board of Trustees, by the president of SLU's Association of American University Professors (AAUP) chapter. His concern that there has been a breakdown in shared governance speaks to many aspects of the SLU mission statement, and provides an opportunity to reflect on how a modern university's structural values intersect with the gospel call to give voice to those who feel pushed to the margins of society.

The Heithaus Haven would welcome a response to this open letter from Mr. Brouster, or another trustee. This would help further the goals of this blog site, and encourage the open exchange intended by the contributing editors.

Update (02.23.2013):  Steven Harris has received a reply from Thomas Brouster. Please see Steven's comment below.

Mr. Thomas Brouster
Chairman, Board of Trustees of Saint Louis University

February 18, 2013

Dear Mr. Brouster,

I am writing to you as the president of the SLU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, concerning the actions of the Board of Trustees of SLU on Feb. 9.

The AAUP chapter has instructed me to convey to you our profound disappointment in the response of the Board to the report presented to it by the President-Elect of the Faculty Senate, Dr. Jane Turner.

On a personal level, the treatment accorded Dr. Turner was inconsiderate of the norms of academic freedom, in that she was required to present her indictment of the University president in his intimidating presence; he still holds the power to deprive her of her job.

But far more disturbing than personal issues was the vitiation of shared governance that is presented by the letter of Feb. 11 that you and the University president transmitted to the University community. Even though in that very letter, you invoke the principles of shared governance, claiming that the Board will "work in collaboration with the elected representatives of the Faculty Senate, Student Government Association and Staff Advisory Committee", this letter makes a mockery of such aspirations by making no reference at all to the central driving issue that is the root of the crisis facing the University: the utter lack of confidence in the University president, as presented by each of the three great deliberative and representative bodies of the University--the Faculty Senate, the Arts & Sciences Faculty Council, and the Student Government Association.

This is not something that the Board of Trustees should feel at liberty to ignore:  As laid out in the AAUP's 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities (commended to all institutions by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges), "The president should have the confidence of the board and the faculty."  This must, of course, be addressed with appropriate time and finesse, to properly manage the University's image and to take account of myriad important details; bringing such an issue to conclusion is a matter of months, not weeks.   But when confronted with the evidence that this is still the central issue troubling the entire University community, it is insupportable that the Board wholly ignore the issue, without even deigning to acknowledge its existence, in its public pronouncement.

You prominently state in your letter to the University community, quoting from the Faculty Manual, "The Faculty Senate is the principal organ and voice of the faculty in matters of University-wide concern, and it is the primary means by which the faculty members of the University participate in governance of the University as a whole."  You cannot then decline even to mention the principal message of the Faculty Senate without being seen as contemptuous of the principle you claim to enshrine.  Indeed, that is what is being read from the Board's official letter: contempt for the Faculty Senate, for the faculty, and for the students.

If there is reason to reject the near-unanimous will of the University community, let it be given voice. The principle of reasoned discourse holds within the University; actions taken (or withheld) without demonstrable reason are seen as personal whim and are universally castigated.

The Senate, the A&S Council, and the SGA acted from within the depths of profound regard for the future of the University.  The AAUP Chapter expects no less from the Board of Trustees.


Steven Harris
President, SLU Chapter of the AAUP


  1. The AAUP's 1966 statement says that "The president should have the confidence of the board and the faculty." This is in part recognition of the fact that the real work of a university occurs in its classrooms, labs, and libraries; and a great deal of that work is done by faculty. Ideally, the president supports this work, but he or she does not in any real sense direct it. For a university to function, then, faculty need to accept that they are being led in the right direction. If the SLU Board continues to have confidence in the president after the faculty have clearly and repeatedly said that they do not, one has to wonder what they have confidence in the president to do. A president without the support of the faculty cannot lead.

    1. I would highly recommend that the Board be asked to consider the way they, the SLU Administration and Fr. Biondi devalue SLU whenever they use derogatory terms to describe faculty. By appearing to hold the faculty in contempt, they are bringing disgrace to SLU and harming the future value of my daughter's' educational achievements as a student there.

  2. AAUP President Harris's letter seems to me right in every respect--in its respectful tone, its use of the sort of reasoned argumentation required for true shared governance, and its characterization of problems with the approach taken by the leaders of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 9.

    At some point, grappling with the Board's very real fiduciary responsibilities can't be avoided, and those responsibilities require caring for a great research university more than for any individual man, however influential and accomplished he may be. It is surprising to see such an over-personalization of decision making when the prime concern should be the well-being of the entire university.

    In my more than 35 years of teaching at five well regarded colleges and universities, I have not seen leading figures of a board act in this way. The best trustees around the country listen closely and respectfully to representatives of the faculty and the students as well as to administrators, and the focus of their deliberations is on the common good.

    I hope that the leaders of this board will take the time to look into the way the very best boards at top-tier universities operate. We have many people of talent and good will among our trustees. In setting the tone and agenda of the board as a governing body, however, their leaders are currently operating without sufficient thought, experience, openness, and expertise to address in a fully professional way the situation they find themselves in.

    Donald Stump (English), Faculty Senator

  3. I have had a reply from Tom Brouster, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He strongly rejects the charge of hypocrisy, saying he is, indeed, working on the concerns of the faculty with full seriousness. In particular, he is aware that the current situation with the University president is untenable in the long run, and he is not just hoping things will die down over the summer. He says the reason this situation was not addressed in his Feb. 11 letter was not to play this down, but to avoid his words being scrutinized and interpreted badly. I advised him that the absence of such reference was itself being scrutinized and interpreted.


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