By TIM ROWDEN
A St. Louis Community College adjunct professor was body slammed to the ground by a campus police officer at the college’s Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 19 for trying to speak his mind. The next day, the college fired him.
The instructor, Steve Taylor, had been a part of the adjunct faculty union’s negotiations with administration over pay raises and other issues. Adjuncts at the college have been trying to reach agreement on a first contract since they voted to join Faculty Forward with Service Employees International Union Local 1 in 2015.
Nancy Cross, vice president and Missouri Director of SEIU Local 1 said bargaining with the community college was set to resume last week.
Taylor was one of several faculty members and students who attended the Board of Trustees meeting to urge administrators to negotiate a fair contract with the adjuncts. The meeting was uneventful as administrators spoke and audience members politely applauded their presentations, but when it was the faculty and students’ turn to speak the board’s state appointed Vice Chair Rodney Gee admonished students for applauding a Missouri NEA member and told them if they applauded again they would be removed.
That’s when Taylor spoke up, intending to make a point about the board “restricting free speech.”
“It disturbed me,” he said. “I stood up and said, ‘Excuse me, how is it that we can clap for the chancellor and administrators but not for anyone else?’”
GRABBED FROM BEHIND
Taylor was walking toward the front of the room where board members were seated. He said he intended to turn around and address the audience when he got there, but he never got the chance.
A campus police officer grabbed him from behind, without warning, and when Taylor instinctively leaned forward, body slammed him to the concrete floor. Taylor said he didn’t know who had grabbed him or what was happening until he hit the floor. He suffered an abrasion above his right eye, injured his shoulder and a cracked rib.
Taylor was dragged from the room and issued two citations by St. Louis police for peace disturbance and resisting arrest. He was later taken to a hospital for his injuries.
St. Louis police said the community college officer grabbed Taylor after he “aggressively forced his way toward board members,” according to an arrest report.
The college released a statement claiming Taylor “charged the table where board members were seated.”
In photos, board members, some slouched in their chairs, don’t appear the least bit alarmed. The only ones who look shocked and frightened are students and faculty members in the audience.
After Taylor was taken away, and a student who objected and was told to leave, board members resumed their meeting as though nothing had occurred.
“I in no way went there to protest,” Taylor said. “I went there to dialogue.”
NO LONGER ALLOWED ON CAMPUS
The next day Taylor an adjunct professor of mathematics who received the 2015 STLCC-Wildwood’s Faculty to Faculty Award – an annual honor presented to adjunct instructors who demonstrate excellence in teaching and support of student success – received a letter from the college telling him that he was no longer allowed on campus.
Taylor has a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics and a master’s degree in mathematics. He teaches – or taught – intermediate algebra, college algebra, pre-calculus and calculus at St. Louis Community College’s Wildwood campus, Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis and Jefferson College in Hillsboro. The eight classes he taught earned him about $30,000 a year.
He said adjuncts, who receive no benefits, or even office space on campus, and are hired on semester-to-semester contracts, have been asking for seniority protection and a modest raise.
“Right now, you can teach for years and be replaced at the whim of an administrator by someone off the street,” he said.
‘THE IDEA THAT HE WAS A THREAT IS ABSURD’
Taylor joined fellow adjuncts, students, State Representative Karla May (D-St. Louis) and the Rev. Martin Rafanan, for a press conference the next day at the offices of SEIU Local 1.
“The idea that he was a threat is absurd,” said Michael Marino, 25, an education major who led a recent student camp-in protest for adjuncts on the college’s Meramec campus in Kirkwood.
“We camped out in the quad to protest the unfair treatment of our faculty,” Marino said. “I could not think of a more outstanding or visceral example than what happened last night. It was astounding but, at the same time, it wasn’t surprising.”
COLLEGE SHOULD BE WILLING TO HAVE THE CONVERSATION
Representative May, a member of Communication Workers of America Local 6300 and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, expressed anger and frustration over the incident.
“These are places that are supposed to educate our children,” May said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What impact does this have?’
“Why is it that our community colleges are unwilling to engage in a contract situation for people who provide a service to our community?” she asked. “Our community colleges should be willing to have this conversation. They should be willing to hear the concerns of the adjunct faculty who are providing the service that the students are paying for.”
‘WE STAND WITH YOU’
“St. Louis Community College is our college,” Rev. Rafanan, a member of the Missouri Jobs with Justice Workers’ Rights Board said. “It belongs to all of us.”
Turning to Taylor, he added, “I feel like I need to apologize to you for what this institution has done in our name. It is not right. We cannot stand for it. We stand with you. We are going to be in solidarity with you the whole way.”