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SLU's Biondi sues professor and wants him to pay for it.

When a college official doesn't like what is printed in the student newspaper it's easy to blame the faculty adviser. So it is with the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of St. Louis University, who for years has been targeting Professor Avis Meyer as his nemesis.

Biondi's latest salvo, with the help of a big downtown law firm, is to demand that Meyer pay $6,327 in legal fees the university incurred in a suit for damages threatened against Meyer. It was not filed.

Meyer has been told that he might avoid the legal bill if he agrees to never show his face again at the office of the University News. That initial demand was made by attorney Frank Janoski, of the Lewis, Rice, Fingersh law firm.

Students on the paper see it as coercion, or Biondi's style of Jesuit hardball.

"I'm not going to pay," said Meyer, who teaches journalism and other writing classes.

And he plans to keep advising the students, as he has done for 32 years, though he is now the unofficial adviser, or adviser emeritus, as he is listed in the paper. Meyer has said that if he was not a tenured professor he would probably have been fired by Biondi.

Biondi is apparently using money as his weapon against Meyer and the student journalists. The administration forced the newspaper last year to discontinue the $1,500 yearly stipend Meyer got as adviser, money that came from the paper's ad revenue. Last year the editor's year of free tuition was cut in half; she was so hurt she transferred to another university for her senior year. The newspaper couldn't print its usual summer issue this year because the university held back about 82,000 in ads with student information.

What is Biondi upset about? Probably the U. News articles about him through the years, including his dispute with former Archbishop Justin

Rigali over the sale of the university's hospital, having his picture appear 22 times in an alumni publication, hefty increases in parking fees, firing of two popular priests and various administrators, a 875 fee to graduate that was later rescinded, how a homily by Biondi was identical to one given by a priest in California and other stories he deems as negative.

Biondi declined comment. He deals with the newspaper only through subordinates. Earlier this year there were rumors the paper would be forced off campus. Meyer reacted by trying to save the name of the paper for the students by getting the name registered as a non-profit state corporation he set up. The paper still has its free office on campus.

Then, a new charter for the paper was drawn up by school officials that gives the administration the right to fire editors.

While Meyer was out of the country this summer he was sued by the university. He was not aware of the suit until he returned several weeks later. Janoski had drafted a 14-page trademark infringement lawsuit seeking punitive and treble damages, which he threatened to file in federal court unless Meyer relinquished control of the newspaper's name. Meyer did so to avoid students being caught up in litigation.

Janoski then sent Meyer a notice that the university demanded payment of 86,327 for its legal fees.

Janoski declined to answer questions, saying "the parties are in discussion."

Meanwhile, the university hired a young "official" adviser for the paper. Meyer, who is on sabbatical this term to write a book, still shows up each Thursday night to help the students put out the paper. He still has the respect and loyal following of the newspaper's editors and staffers, past and present. He has a shelf full of teaching awards, including one this year for mentoring.

Meyer has criticized Biondi publicly in the past for bullying tactics and trying to "kill the University News as a student voice."

St. Louis Magazine recently did a feature on Meyer in which he called Biondi "a super-weasel" for trying to intimidate him and the newspaper staff.

"He's done great things for the campus and terrible things to people. ... Biondi tends to blame me for the bad coverage he gets."
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Title Annotation:off the record; St. Louis University's Lawrence Biondi versus Avis Meyer
Author:Malone, Roy
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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