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? 

We came up with about twenty topics, including the Jesuit mission, transparency on academic, financial, and human resource issues, genuine representation for staff and adjunct faculty, increased attention to future financial planning (especially scholarships for undergraduate students), greater flow of information across the entire SLU community, and above all, mutual concern and respect.

From that list of issues [please see section labeled THEMES FOR DISCUSSION] we broke out into small groups to focus on specific topics, which we categorized under four headings: 

PROCESS: topics dealing with deliberation or governance – how do we want to talk with one another? What should be the structures of power, of representation, of justice? How should the various SLU communities interact with one another?  [Please see section labeled PROCESS.]

PEOPLE:  those who participated in this group focused on “the people in the buildings”--that is, all the issues that touch on the daily lives of students, staff, faculty, and administrators. Those topics included justice and representation for staff, as well as for adjunct faculty; campus safety issues; the current emphasis of bureaucracy over human needs; the make-up of the Board of Trustees; and HR issues. [Please see section labeled PEOPLE.]

ACADEMICS:  the members of the Academics group focused on the meaning of the Core Curriculum in supporting the Jesuit Mission, and vice versa; global outreach; financial issues, particularly in supporting research; the need for a University Research Council (to be run exclusively by faculty); and library resources. [See section labeled ACADEMICS.]

FINANCE: this group emphasized a need for better accountability and transparency, and focused particularly on the President’s Opportunity Fund; the upcoming bicentennial as the ideal time for a major capital campaign; and above all, the need for greater clarity and more information. [See section labeled FINANCE.]

After the small group discussions wrapped up, we came together again to share our ideas and concerns. Although we all agreed on the need for respect, transparency, and free communication, we all felt that the dialogue had just begun. Many more such conversations will be of vital importance as we continue to imagine the next century at SLU. At the end of the meeting, participants agreed to keep the conversation alive throughout the summer, and to make plans to meet and converse regularly.


Equity issues (justice for all members of the community)

Process (how do we talk to each other? How do we communicate across colleges and disciplines? How do we communicate with administrators, with members of the Board of Trustees?)

Board of Trustees: membership, communication, influence

Transparency in planning & finance

Jesuit mission

Saint Louis University’s Global outreach

Mutual concern and respect

Focus on academics instead of buildings or bureaucracy

Building on prior planning, such as benchmarking (i.e., let’s not forget progress we have already made in identifying benchmark institutions that can serve as models for SLU.)

Focus on people--faculty, staff, and students--the whole person

Increased student involvement in all areas of SLU governance and planning

Emphasis on Core Curriculum as reflective of Jesuit mission

Shared governance and decentralized authority

Bicentennial capital campaign

Building a strong Senate

Need for an active, empowered representative body for staff

Need for an active, empowered representative body for non-tenure-track faculty (especially for the Madrid Campus, where faculty have no tenure and no rank.)


The Process group talked about governance and deliberation: how do we create an ethical  framework for justice and accountability? --how do we talk to one another?  Some wanted tighter restraints on governing structures; others worried that future administrators might be hamstrung by rigid controls. There was general agreement that SLU would need an interim period of calm reflection before finalizing plans for the future or selecting a new President. All agreed that a University-wide Parliament would open discussions and serve as a representative body for the whole community, and that such a body should have a real say (that is, the ability to check or balance administrative decisions) over the University’s future. The President should be deeply engaged in constituency concerns.

Second, this group agreed that the University needed a new charter, which must be public.
Some of the structures we envisioned would include people from all constituencies:

            An expanded Faculty Senate
            Must include adjunct faculty
            Student Senate  (already exists in form of SGA)
            Alumni Senate -  there is a need to engage alumni more directly
            Staff Senate. The current SAC is not an elected or deliberative body

--all of which feed into Trustees, for both information to, and for membership in the Board.

Most agreed that the current structure & selection of Board members has enabled the President to behave in ways that perpetuate the climate of fear. Question: What similar / comparable structures of Trustee bodies exist at other private universities?  For example, see Brown for alumni participation in selecting Trustees, from among wide variety of people; see Duke for many Trustees coming from University constituencies.

Each of these representative bodies needs more power and strength, but we also have to strengthen the interactions between bodies

We have good structures on paper (the AAUP has praised SLU’s faculty handbook) but their spirit, even their letter, have been constantly violated. Question: are structures on paper adequate if they can be routinely dismissed / violated?

Need to reform the Board of Trustees before selecting new President. Question: what President of any worth would come to a University exhibiting present dysfunction?

Question: if power is diffused (i.e., new representative bodies, more representation on the Board of Trustees, etc.) would that also weaken or diffuse decision processes?

Suggestion: An impeachment process for University President:  University Parliament can impeach, Trustees sit as jury

An energized faculty can accomplish things even in given structures. (example: removal of Patankar)

We need a community that communes: informal congregation of all constituencies. Suggestion: a town hall-style conversation; open communication among all members of the SLU community (various forms of ice cream socials or sorbet courses proposed; could be done online through a wiki function.)

Caution: don't let the current crisis lead to a solution that weakens or debilitates handling of unforeseen situations  in the future (I,.e., a solution that overemphasizes control or restriction over imagination and vision)


This group stressed equity and representation among all University communities. Above all, emphasized the need for a meaningful staff representative body. The current SAC is not a deliberative group and is run by VP for HR  An effective staff representative body would:

            Allow for the free exchange of ideas
            allow for full participation
            would be safe and open (no fear of intimidation or loss of jobs)

Question: What are the real statistics on staff turn-over?
            i.e., sometimes individual jobs expand when staff leave and are not replaced, leaving existing personnel with greater burdens and no pay increase

We need more information on campus safety issues. We need more honest statistics reporting sexual assaults, for example.

An informed people are a safer people and a more productive people

This group also compared HR benefits to the stated University mission:

            The high-deductible health insurance proves costly for lower paid employees
            Vitality program very questionable
            Some HR programs are very demeaning, demonstrate lack of trust (demanding birth certificates, marriage certificates, even criticizing format of official documents before granting or denying benefits)
            Some HR functions are outsourced to a for-profit group

Adjunct faculty
            have poor connection to, and input in the rest of University
            need greater representation
            need better access to information and benefits
            are as deserving of faculty development as regular faculty

Paperwork, procedures and bureaucracy are currently emphasized over people; research and conference trips, e.g., sometimes delayed or even denied because of complicated / unworkable procedures

Communication: we need more communication with the Board (not secret / prohibited)
            The make-up of the Board of Trustees should include
                        staff members

Administrators are growing in number and, quite notably at SLU,  in salary. Result: over-bureaucratization to justify salaries; inequity in salary freezes; decreased attention to research and teaching.
            While this is a national trend, such a practice is not compatible with the Jesuit mission. If we truly care about the whole person we treat people with dignity and respect

ACADEMICS / Research

The Core Curriculum is central to the Jesuit Mission and vice versa. Observation: there are different cores for different colleges. Question:  is this a good thing?

This group also focused on adjunct faculty:
            underpaid, under appreciated
            they are needed in some programs to prevent too-large classes
            we need fewer, but they should be better paid/treated
SLU  must reinstate office of the Provost to attend to academics and the Jesuit mission (that is, the Provost must be more powerful and more influential than other VPs)
            Academics & mission ought to be seen as higher priority than other areas of University

Financial issues (in Academics)
            Departments now compete for resources, meaning, for majors. This competition feeds into the need for adjuncts
            Perhaps consider using numbers of adjunct faculty, rather than numbers of majors, as a measure for resources?

Research and teaching should potentiate each other.

We need a University Research Council, run exclusively by faculty to award internal grant money and to focus on support for research and scholarship.

We need a strong focus on greater library and research support across the entire University community.

All agreed that we need better accountability and greater transparency.

Board has not exercised oversight over President's Opportunity Fund, as it is required to:
            no checks and balances on POF
            not included under Operating Budget
            apparently takes everything beyond first million dollars each year

Information is power. Without transparency we cannot have meaningful input.

We need a capital campaign with significant campus involvement. This is crucial as we approach SLU’s bicentennial.

            Fundraising focus should be on academic scholarships for undergraduates.

Given alumni reluctance to donate, we will need a new President before we can have a credible campaign.

Quotations from attendees:

From Timothy J. Lomperis, Professor, Political Science:
”I had not expected such a deep, thorough, or concrete discussion. The set of notes emanating from this can serve as a solid archive for a more formal conference/process on a strategic plan, but there are some solid ideas/foundations here.

      Three things stuck out for me:
         1.)  There needs to be both a single campus voice (the university-wide "parliament"), as well as formal voice for the several constituencies of the SLU community, including the alumni.

         2.)  As a final source of authority on campus, the legitimacy of the Trustees as having the ability to be reflective/representative of the entire campus community will require a fundamental restructuring of the Board of Trustees so as to ensure that the sources of membership are multiple, rather than singular.

         3.) Finally, written in a new charter must be some provision for the removal from office of the President. Naturally, it should be a very high bar, but there still has to be a codified set of procedures to enable this. I very much like Don Stump's proposal of a process similar to the impeachment of elected officials in the U.S. Constitution.

        Not really parenthetically, I appreciated Christine's call for a focus on research. There should be, in my view, a single University Research Council comprised completely of faculty that will review an award all research grants from SLU university funds.

From Robert Cropf, Professor, Public Policy Studies:
One suggestion would be to continue the work of the break-out groups by forming committees to investigate further each of the topics (Process, Mission, Academics, etc.). Maybe call a final meeting of the year for the chapter to ask for committee volunteers, etc. Have recommendations from each committee ready by next fall.

From Steve Harris, President of the SLU AAUP Chapter:
“We should definitely continue these planning motions over the summer.”

For a full list of topics, please see the AAUP web page:

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