By TIM ROWDEN
Sixty-five percent full-time union faculty at St. Louis Community College who participated in a recent poll cast votes of no confidence against the school Chancellor Jeff Pittman.
The National Education Association (NEA) conducted a survey by email, garnering 237 votes.
Such votes typically don’t carry power, meaning Pittman’s job is not in jeopardy, but it shows a lack of faith and frustration after months of tension at the college between faculty and administrators.
Budget cuts due to declining tuition revenue and decreased state support for higher education led to several dozen layoffs of full-time faculty members in December. Another round of layoffs that will affect staff members is expected this semester.
Two voluntary buyouts are also in progress. A college spokeswoman said 50 people — faculty and staff members — have accepted buyout packages so far.
“We believe that the administration has overwhelmingly targeted the faculty as the way to ease the financial crisis,” the college chapter of the NEA said in a statement.
“Instead of considering options such as: freezing administrative salaries and travel, reducing the stature and scope of the proposed $39 million Allied Health building to prioritize instruction, freezing all non-emergency campus improvements, reducing or eliminating outside consultants, among other opportunities, the faculty are bearing the brunt of this burden,” the statement said.
GREITENS’ PROPOSED CUTS WILL MAKE MATTERS WORSE
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ plan for additional major state spending cuts to Missouri’s public colleges and universities has drawn concern from educators and lawmakers alike.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican who serves on the Senate appropriations committee, resoundingly condemned the cuts.
“We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of students; they are the future workers and job creators Missouri desperately needs to cultivate,” Rowden said. “Continuing to neglect our public colleges, universities and trade schools seriously hinders Missouri’s ability to compete.”
Greitens’ proposed $28.7 billion budget for fiscal 2019 would give Missouri’s colleges and universities $68 million less than existing state aid and some $90 million less than originally budgeted for higher education in the current fiscal year.
Last year, lawmakers called for a six percent reduction to the higher education budget. Greitens deepened those cuts to nine percent when he signed the budget into law.
Dr. Susan Thomas, president of Truman State University in Kirksville, said, “Higher education took a significant cut for this fiscal year and I think we all strongly believe that higher education is one of the key foundations of economic development and economic growth… higher education is an enormous cornerstone of economic development and the future of our state, our country and our world depends upon a well-educated populace.”
Chuck Ambrose, president at the University of Central Missouri, said he’s hopeful higher education advocates in the Legislature will reconsider the “starting point” that is Greitens’ budget.
“These cuts and the divestment of state support is really shifting responsibility to individuals and not the public good,” Ambrose said. “We believe these kinds of funding decisions cause damage that may be hard to repair.”
NOTHING BUT HURT
“Another cut is going to do nothing but hurt our education system,” said State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee. “Every university has gone above and beyond what they need to do” to reduce spending. “What the governor does not understand is that it is hurting students now.
“People are going to start going out of state to colleges because our professors are going to leave — that’s what I fear.”
(Information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Columbia Missourian, Southeast Missourian and Kirksville Daily Express.)