‘Survey’ of a fraction of students purports to show support for Fred Pestello
ST. LOUIS – A show of support for Saint Louis University’s embattled president is no less important than ending slavery.
That’s according to a student senator who pushed a successful resolution in support of President Fred Pestello, who in his first year has faced criticism for appeasing protesters at the Jesuit school in the wake of the nearby Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown.
The senate appeared to do an end run around student opinion before the resolution passed, selectively circulating a “survey” that, on its face, looked like a “thank you letter” to Pestello, a critical senator told The College Fix.
The resolution expresses “the opinion of the student body” in support of Pestello and “his efforts to further the mission of Saint Louis University.”
According to the minutes, emailed to students, from a Feb. 26 senate meeting, emeritus senator Brittany Kendrick argued that the vote had the same urgency as the United States abolishing slavery with the 13th Amendment.
Fighting a group of senators who said the senate hadn’t adequately measured student opinion on the matter, Kendrick said tabling the resolution “would be like tabling the decision of whether or not to end slavery.”
No senator challenged Kendrick on her slavery comparison, according to the minutes.
But Senator Roland Clark, who like Kendrick is black, argued in favor of tabling because the senate hadn’t heard from a “fair amount” of students on their opinion: Tabling “does not mean that we do not care.” The Fix could not reach Clark for comment.
The resolution passed 24-5-5 after 90 minutes of debate. Kendrick declined to comment to The Fix regarding her statements.
‘It does have something to do with the Clock Tower Accords’
First-year President Pestello has faced criticism for the university’s controversial Clock Tower Accords.
That’s the moniker for the 13 demands agreed to by Pestello last October so that protesters, who staged a six-night sit-in as an extension of the Ferguson protests, would leave campus.
The news of an “accord” that promises a sculpture to capture “the spirit and importance” of the protests – which included the flying of an upside-down American flag and included rhetoric that many saw as anti-police – sparked backlash from some alumni, who threatened to withhold donations.
The resolution’s sponsors argued it had nothing to do with the accords, according to the minutes.
Senator Carson Jones, who was critical of the resolution’s timing and voted against it, argued that the only negativity toward Pestello has come from the accords: “It must have something to do with it.”
Even one senator who approved the resolution admitted the show of support for Pestello “does have something to do with the Clock Tower Accords.” Luella Loseille said the senate needs to support Pestello because he has taken the criticism “with grace and wisdom” and “some people are not seeing this.”
A survey or a thank-you letter?
Jones told The Fix the resolution was hastily pushed through the chamber, and the “survey” that purports to show student support for the resolution was first circulated just one week before its passage.
That letter was created by a fellow student and shared on social media by certain senators and with the university’s public health club, according to the meeting’s minutes.
Resolution sponsors told their colleagues the letter garnered 400-500 signatures, and may have reached 1,000 to 2,000 of the university’s 13,000 enrolled students.
It was intended to “show our tremendous support and gratitude for Dr. Pestello’s leadership” and to honor “his resilience, wisdom, and humility,” according to the text.
The bottom of the letter asked readers to select whether they agreed with the content of the letter, which Jones found confusing and misleading.
“I can’t come up with any reason why a document promoted and marketed as a thank you letter would have a spot for individuals to sign expressing disagreement,” he said. “One would think that anyone who disagrees with it would ignore the document and not even realize they could express dissent within it.”
Student opinion mixed over Pestello, negative towards the resolution
At least one of Jones’ constituents was put off by Kendrick’s slavery comparison, as shown by an email Jones shared on his Facebook page.
Senator Ethan Shavers, who also voted against the resolution, told The Fix he has “received very little input from my constituents” regarding Pestello, and it’s been “mixed.” Shavers said he and other senators “took issue with the wording and/or timing of [the] resolution.”
Both Jones and Shavers said they haven’t received negative feedback from constituents regarding their “no” votes.
Jones said his constituents had an “almost universally negative” response toward the resolution, even among those who support Pestello, because they “take issue with the rhetoric used to justify not reaching out to the student body” for public opinion.
College Fix reporter Nathan Rubbelke is a student at Saint Louis University.