Part-time instructors have been negotiating a first contract with the college for nearly two years
By TIM ROWDEN
While St. Louis Community College considers laying off full-time faculty and staff to address state budget cuts and declining enrollment, part-time adjunct instructors and students are continuing their call for STLCC’s Board of Trustees to negotiate a first contract with the part-time instructors who increasingly make up the bulk of the college’s faculty and have been attempting to negotiate a first contract with the school since 2015.
Adjunct teachers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1 and students staged a protest outside the Nov. 14 board meeting at the college’s offices in downtown St. Louis to draw attention to the deteriorating situation at the school.
Last month, an adjunct mathematics professor was body slammed to the floor and arrested for trying to speak out against the board’s efforts to silence students’ and faculty’s applause following comments from speakers demanding the board negotiate. The instructor was fired the next day.
Local 1 and the college are currently in mediation, but adjuncts say progress has been slow.
The college, dealing with state budget cuts totaling more than $3.5 million and a 35 percent decline in enrollment from 2011 through 2015, threatening to cut 70 full-time faculty and 25 non-faculty staff positions unless a sufficient number of full-time employees accept a buyout.
One hundred seventeen employees accepted a buyout package earlier this year.
Adjuncts and students say the buyouts and staff cuts are cheating students and will likely lead to continuing declines in enrollment. There are currently about 18,800 students enrolled on the college’s four campuses.
“If they cut 70 faculty positions that means there are going to be more low-paid adjuncts,” said Brett Williams, a fine arts adjunct at the college’s Forest Park campus. “We’re here to say we don’t want more low-paid adjuncts. We want our full-time faculty that are already employed to stay employed and we would like better pay and job security and a class cancellation fee for the adjuncts that are currently employed.”
Adjuncts are seeking a three percent pay increase – the same rate of increase other faculty and staff received in January, a class cancellation fee of $100 per credit hour, and job security to prevent adjuncts from being randomly replaced in their positions.
Adjuncts make on average $635 to $800 per credit hour. Most classes are two to three credit hours, and they can be cancelled at the last minute with no compensation if not enough students enroll.
“When adjuncts teach, we take that responsibility seriously,” said Stephen Thomas, a music technology adjunct. “I’m not really sure if the school cares that we take it so seriously. Basically, what they’re saying is they want us to be at-will employees and giving us any kind of job security would mean they have to keep track of something.
“There’s some administrative restructuring they would have to figure out; they would have to be more efficient. But if they’re complaining about a lack of funds at the school, it’s likely that running a tighter ship could help them with their cash flow.”
With the board refusing to budge, Thomas said, “They really don’t leave us much choice but to make our message public, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Michael Marino, 25, an education major at the college’s Meramec campus, said students and adjuncts chose to protest outside the board meeting to let the public know what’s going on at the college. Many motorists honked their support as the students and adjuncts picketed outside the board meeting, but Marino said the atmosphere on campus is grim.
“Some of us just came here from a panel discussion on campus where we reached out to adjunct and full-time professors to come and speak and we got exactly one taker because they’re terrified for their jobs. It speaks volumes about the atmosphere of insecurity on campus,” he said. “This is a community issue, and we want to make sure they know this is an issue.”
In 1975, some 30 percent of college faculty were part-time. By 2011, some 51 percent of college faculty were part-time, and another 19 percent were non–tenure track, full-time contingent employees. Today, some 70 percent of all college and university staff appointments in the U.S. are adjunct or contingent faculty, the Association of American University Professors says,
STLCC says the college averages about 40 percent part-time faculty. Adjuncts say that number is considerably higher.
“This is a community issue, and we want to make sure that they know this is an issue,” Marino said.
“The idea that we’re going to have quality colleges and universities and quality education with 70 percent of the staff being part-time does not make any sense,” he said.
“The college reaps the benefits of a part-time model, reaps the benefits of cheap labor, but the community as a whole reaps the degradation of the educational benefits, not to mention the moral weight of having this significant part of our community that is investing in our children and their futures being exploited.”
Luke Barber, 22, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and a student at Meramec, said a majority of the instructors he’s had have been adjuncts.
“Of my 64 credit-hour requirement for my associate degree, of the classes that I’ve taken, only five of the teachers that I’ve had were actually full-time, the majority of them are adjuncts. And the fact that adjuncts don’t get the benefits or health insurance or wages they deserve is unacceptable.”