Avis Meyer outlasts St. Louis U. adversary

Though he has announced his retirement, Prof. Avis Meyer will still advise student journalists putting out the U. News at St. Louis University. But for a four-year stretch earlier this decade, he was barred from the newsroom by SLU President Rev. Lawrence Biondi, who apparently saw Meyer as his nemesis.

After 43 years of teaching journalism and writing courses, Meyer will teach part-time in an emeritus role and continue to mentor students. During his newsroom exile students met with him privately for his writing and headlines advice.

Biondi, 78, is retired and reportedly has been transferred to Chicago by the Jesuits. He was lauded by his board of directors, alumni and St. Louis civic leaders as a builder for the university over his 25-year presidency and for helping to preserve the mid-city area around the campus on Grand Avenue.

But many of the school’s professors rose up against him a few years ago for the way he treated faculty and subordinates. One member of the Faculty Senate called Meyer “Exhibit A” among those who Biondi targeted.

Meyer said he usually was blamed whenever Biondi saw something objectionable in the U. News. Meyer said he never proposed articles for the students to write, including one that disclosed Biondi once delivered a personal-story homily that was very similar to one given by a priest in California.

Meyer, 73, was never officially named newspaper adviser, but fulfilled that role by invitation from students for a number of years. Meyer worked part time as a copy editor at the Post-Dispatch for 23 years. He can name in chronological order the names of 41 past student editors he has worked with. He knows where many are living and working today as they stay in touch with him. The current editor, Paul Brunkhorst, was not around for the Meyer-Biondi jousting, but once told Meyer, “He’s gone. You’re still here.”

Administrators suggested Meyer’s name not be listed as adviser in the paper, but editors left it there. A few other professors were appointed as advisers to the paper, but they either weren’t accepted by the staff or decided not to continue. When it looked as if the paper might be pushed off campus, Meyer sought to preserve the name by getting it documented with the Missouri Secretary of State. This was a mistake by Meyer, and a costly one. Biondi hired a big downtown law firm to sue Meyer over copyright infringement. The litigation drained Meyer of more than $100,000 in legal fees and U. News ran a cartoon calling it a frivolous lawsuit. A spokesman for Biondi criticized Meyer saying he thinks he “owns the newspaper.”

Meyer, who saw his salary largely frozen, has tenure and said this was the reason he was not fired. But tenure doesn’t protect against plagiarism. He learned that someone in the administration was checking in the library on his dissertation about well-known authors who had started as newspaper writers. The apparent search for plagiarism was fruitless as Meyer had attributed key elements in his footnotes.

Meyer is a film buff. He also loves old cars (he’s had 40). He has a 1949 Buick Roadmaster and recently bought a seven-year-old Mercedes Benz listed for $145,000 new. He paid about one-fourth of that. “That V-12 is the most beautiful sedan I’ve ever seen,’’ he said. “It’s my retirement gift to myself.”

Asked how he felt about the Biondi years, he responded, “There was once resentment and anxiety. Now it’s relief.”

Editor’s note:  Meyer’s retirement party will be held on Tuesday, April 30, 2016.

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