By TIM ROWDEN
When Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens announced Jan.16 he would withhold more than $80 million in higher education funding over the next six months to offset a shortfall in state revenue, it was bad news for the University of Missouri System, which faces more than $38 million in budget cuts by the end of June.
It was also bad news for adjunct faculty at St. Louis Community College and St. Charles Community College who are represented by SEIU Local 1 and are currently in contract negotiations with both schools.
Out of the $80 million in cuts, close to $12 million will come from state aid to community colleges.
The cuts will put pressure on the schools at a time when adjunct faculty need a living wage, job security and benefits more than ever.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 has been working with college and university professors throughout the Midwest to give them a voice on the job, address the low compensation for their work, and ensure greater benefits and job security.
More than 500 adjunct professors at St. Louis Community College voted to unionize in October 2015. They were joined in March 2016 by more than 300 adjunct professors at St. Charles Community College, who voted overwhelmingly to join SEIU Local 1.
Both groups are now in contract negotiations with the schools and adjuncts worry that the budget cuts will give administrators leverage to hold out against better compensation and benefits.
“My fear is it will be an excuse used by the college not to significantly raise our wages,” said Glenna Gelfand, who has taught English at St. Louis Community College since 2002 and serves on the union’s bargaining committee. “I, personally, definitely feel that they’re going to use these cuts to not give us a significant wage increase.”
Adjuncts at St. Louis Community College are paid an average of $712 per credit hour and are limited to nine credit hours per semester and six in the summer.
Gelfand thinks the state should be looking for ways to increase revenue rather than cutting funding for higher education.
“I think that it’s unfortunate that social services are always the first thing to go. Education is really a social service – like firemen and police, we’re all civil service employees. Without education, you don’t have taxpayers that are paying the taxes you need to maintain your standard of living. I don’t think they should be cutting at all. I think they should be looking at ways to raise revenue.”
Money spent on higher education returns many times over in benefits in purchasing power and investment, Gelfand said, “because we have an educated populace. It also gives people more access to the workforce and to jobs.”
DAMAGING TO ECONOMY
Gabe Harper, an adjunct political science and American government instructor at St. Charles Community College since 2007, said the cuts are going to be damaging in general to education in Missouri and will make negotiating higher wages and better benefits for adjuncts more complicated.
“It absolutely makes it tricky when you’re trying to negotiate higher wages and better benefits,” Harper said.
Adjuncts at St. Charles Community College are paid an average of $834 per credit hour, or $2,500 for every three-credit hour class. Adjuncts are limited to one to three classes per semester, but don't always know from one semester to the next how many classes they’ll have.
In addition to complicating negotiations, Harper says the cuts will hurt the state economically because money spent on higher education is returned in increased earnings and spending in the state and local economy.
“It also helps attract businesses to the state of Missouri because they’re looking for an educated working population,” Harper said. “The more educated workers we have in Missouri, the better chance we have of attracting outside businesses.
“Education is one of the core things the state does that impacts business and economic growth,” Harper said. “Cuts in higher education are going to hurt Missouri’s economy.”