Letter of Introduction “to” SXU President, Dr. Keith Elder

April 26, 2024

EXPLANATORY NOTE: I started this piece on April 18, 2024 with an intention of writing a letter of introduction to SXU’s new president, Dr. Keith Elder. I hoped I might, in the last weeks of the semester, finally, reach out to him, and possibly kick off a productive and collaborative relationship, one where I might be viewed as a willing partner in the betterment of the university. Readers of my blog will know of the criticism I’ve posted about SXU’s former president, Dr. Laurie Joyner, and of my disagreements with many of the administrative decisions that have been made in connection with her vision for the university.

As I wrote, I found myself reflecting on my career at SXU. I also found myself embroiled in many confusing and consequential matters, including, but not limited to, the following: discussions of the revisions to the faculty handbook; intense heart-to-hearts with students in various states of end-of-semester crises; obsessive observations of world historical events involving politics, democracy, genocide, and governance; family remembrances of long-lost loved ones and our efforts to communicate essences and legacies to bereaved children; and various other “meaning of life” reflections that made my original rhetorical purpose—writing a letter—at once more confused, more problematic, and more relevant.

The upshot is I’ve decided to still write Dr. Elder, but instead of sending him the letter, I’ve come to feel it’s more appropriate to use the project as a continued form of “bearing witness” that I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog—in this case, bearing witness, first of all, to all the people cited in the letter (my students, my family members, my colleagues) and second, to any onlooker in the world who might happen upon this blog. The ultimate audience, as the last line will show, is God, and so my letter, were I to judge its final form rhetorically, comes closest to the genre of prayer. Whatever it is, here it is:


April 18, 2024

Dear Dr. Elder,

Welcome to SXU! I hope your first months at the university have not been too overwhelming. We haven’t yet met, so I hope I might take this opportunity to introduce myself.

Perhaps first of all I should direct you to the profile published yesterday in the Xavierite by one of my students, Barbara Lunsford. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet myself, but knowing Barbara, I’m confident she captured truthful, relevant information in probably more interesting ways than I could relay.

I’ve been at SXU for the past 28 years, the bulk of my career, obviously. I’ve felt blessed by the opportunity to mature as an academic in the special environment of SXU. The institution has changed over the 28 years of my time here. So, a theme of my message would be characterizing the nature of the changes, and pointing, I hope, towards the directions I would ask us to maintain or pivot away from.

I’m writing this letter in L-213, the English 120 Composition Lab. The writing, conducted with my class, is being completed in an activity called “SSW,” a weekly routine. Some backstory: When I first arrived at SXU in 1996, this room was actually the university bookstore—something hard to imagine now, given the size of the space. Though small for a bookstore, the room is comfortable for a writing lab, with desks/computers set up around the perimeter, and a big open space (with one meeting table) in the center of the room. I find it easy to walk around the room and conference with students throughout our workshop sessions. I bring this up to spotlight some of the evolution—and permanence—of L-213, the writing program, and the university.

The writing I’m doing now is being completed in the company of Gil and Cyril, two of my 8:00 AM ENGL 120-09 students who got to the room well before I arrived at 7:30. I find it helpful to get to SSW (“sustained silent writing”) before the 8:00 AM start with its official silent entry and 40-minute session. So do Gil and Cyril, who have been coaching one another all semester on their writing; their chess games; their poetic perspectives on events, objects, and feelings; their prospects in life; their challenges in being students; and the list goes on.

I bring all this up to reflect on how the development of SSW constitutes a “uniquely-SXU experience” made possible by the room, technology, modes of collaboration, and faculty development opportunities particular to SXU. The method of writing workshop I use grows out of longstanding principles of my field of composition/rhetoric that value the identification, theorization, and support of “process,” along with other key components, such as the centrality of the principle of “ownership” in writing; the privileging of the concept of “authorship,” or “looking at the world as a writer”; the inculcation of “genre awareness” as foundational to a writer’s motivation; and more—all oriented around a commitment to craft and caring about rhetoric, purposes, audiences, effects, and strategic approaches.

My interest in SSW as a central component of writing workshop began with a more or less conventional disciplinary involvement on my part in portfolios, technology-enhanced rhetorics, and pedagogical theories and practices of writing instruction. But a fundamental impetus behind the current version of writing workshop is my 28-year collaboration with my office neighbor, and longest-tenured member of SXU, Dr. Norman Boyer, who has been a sounding board and co-creator of the ENGL 120 writing workshop we currently employ. The model has grown over several years, and we have found a practical division of duties in our collaborations. Our discussions, conference presentations, emails, and co-taught courses have built a model for English 120 that we find effective and sharable, provided the prior context of the “meeting of the minds” has taken place.  Our minds have been meeting, in evolution, over the span of years, and the unique environment of SXU has been instrumental supporting the process. 

Just as I would direct you to my students, Barbara, Cyril, and Gil, to convey who I am as a teacher, I would further direct you to three of my five children (Angelo, Terence, and Genevieve, who are alums of SXU—2008, 2010, and 2012, respectively) to convey my sense of the value of an SXU education. What does a parent wish for/expect of a child’s college experience? It was something different for each of these three children, and Saint Xavier provided an essential thing for each one. Angelo served on SGA and was awarded the Lincoln Student Laureate. Terence worked in student media and entered into a longstanding career with the Windy City ThunderBolts after his college internship there; Genevieve was editor-in-chief of the Xavierite, and went on to work in videography, producing, among other pieces, a documentary on the SXU labor crisis of 2020. All three of these SXU alums have made their parents proud—showing the right mixture of critical thinking and foundations in humanistic values. Being a professor at the university your children attend—and having all the layers of relationship that both roles afford—proved uplifting and rewarding to me in ways few without such benefits could appreciate.

A letter of introduction to SXU would not be complete without some mention of the diverse leadership voices of SXU which had major impacts on me over the years, but which are now absent and silent. Most of the colleagues who mentored and inspired me have left SXU. Some of the departures were the result of the normal order of things, as careers had run their course. Some colleagues, unfortunately, died in the midst or soon after the end of their careers. But far too many of the departures of the past several years have been grotesquely premature. The phasing out of programs and careers, in the view of many stakeholders, has not been natural or correct in process. The cumulative result is that “Old” SXU is depleted, and perhaps cannot be restored. But the university may, once again, become committed to investment and growth, and if so, I would hope that we could employ a process of decision making that is more informed and just (and pragmatic) than what we have seen in the past 10 years. 

There’s more to say, and much more silence to undo. I hope in good time so much more of the SXU story may find better and fuller articulations. What started as a letter of introduction to you has morphed into something more mixed and elegiac, and I guess something intended for a larger audience, hence the posting of it in my blog. Whatever it is, and whoever it’s intended for, I’ll simply note here that I have I’ve struggled the past week writing a conclusion to this “introduction.” Amidst the welter of chaos typical in every final week of a semester, I now see (with a reminder from Cyril) that I’ve sat on this SSW for a week, kinda forgetting about it—feeling, I suppose, that, while some important terrain has been laid out, the uncertainties of our current situation predominate and leave me with no clear recommendations or even hopes to share with you (be “you” the president, my students, my family, my colleagues, my friends, or my future un-students). Like so many of my departed colleagues, I find myself lamenting loss and eyeing my own exit from SXU. I still care, mostly for my current students, I imagine, but really for all: my family, SXU’s reputation, my colleagues, the future of English education in Illinois, the future of the humanities in America. 

On that note, I’ll simply end on a brief prayer to the Holy Spirit—for good intentions, good recoveries, good nudges forward, even if only in the booming silences of our hearts.

One thought on “Letter of Introduction “to” SXU President, Dr. Keith Elder”

  1. Dear Prof. Bonadonna: Wanted to reach out on reading several of your blog posts on SXU and the pursuit of Liberal Arts/English as a livelihood.

    I have taught College Writing, mainly English 101 and 102 for close to 25 years at City Colleges, Purdue and Loyola. I have had a very rewarding career due to the Liberal Arts under grad courses that began with Prof. Lawler’s Poetry class and finished out with the Teaching of College Writing — and your rhetoric course was both challenging and very rewarding. I always advise my students that is all about Audience and Purpose.

    I can honestly say that I was prepared to teach college writing through the courses at SXU and have been really happy in my teaching of college writing, now for a quarter of a century.

    I hope that the Liberal Arts tradition of Xav’s continues for many years to come and that those who aspire to teaching careers are supported like I was during my academic years at Xav’s.


    Susan Elliott
    Undergrad Major: Liberal Arts
    Graduate Major: Teaching of College Writing

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