February 20, 2015

A Clarification of Proposed University Artwork

Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,

I write today to address concerns regarding the proposed artwork that was one of the 13 Clock Tower Accords.

Let me start by saying that there has been considerable misinformation and confusion regarding this artwork, and I have heard from many of our friends of the University who have expressed their strong opinions regarding reports from various media sources and blogs.

So, I want to clarify the record: Contrary to some reports, it was never our intention to – nor will we – commission artwork that would be anti-police or would honor the Ferguson protesters. Those reports are just wrong.

What we envisioned with the artwork was a way to honor our shared Jesuit values that promote inclusion rather than division. Our commitment to open dialogue and discussion of difficult issues has not wavered. As we engage in dialogue, let us focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. One common thread running through all of the communications I have received is a commitment to SLU's mission. If we can unite around that, we will find common ground on how to recognize the dedication of a great University to diversity and inclusion.

At Saint Louis University, we are proud to be the first historically white institution of higher education in a former slave state to formally admit African American students. There have been many significant people and events that have impacted inclusion on our campus in the 71 years since Father Claude Heithaus' courageous homily laid the groundwork for the integration of SLU.

Some community members who have contacted me have suggested that the artwork depict a timeline of key milestones in the University's civil rights history. I welcome your thoughts about such a timeline or other ways to commemorate SLU's history of inclusion.

It is important to note that we are not alone in promoting dialogue and inclusion in the St. Louis region. A myriad of companies, foundations, universities and non-profits have stepped forward to address the issues our region faces. SLU has formed many new partnerships because of the work they have begun.

While the issue of the artwork has generated a lot of discussion, there is so much more taking place on our campus. Groups of administrators, faculty, staff and students are actively working to develop our strategic plan to guide SLU's future. A separate committee is reviewing our operations to find ways we can be more effective and efficient. A new residence hall will soon rise out of the ground along Laclede Avenue. We have been interviewing four strong candidates to be our next provost. And last weekend, we welcomed 600 visitors from across the country - prospective students and their families - for the first of two Presidential Scholar events. There are many other major initiatives underway across the University that will move SLU forward in the months and years ahead.

In the coming days and weeks, I hope to talk with as many of you as possible about all that is going on at SLU. I promise to listen and to share my thoughts with you.

I thank you for your passion and your devotion to Saint Louis University.


Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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