SSAC occupies Meramec in campus resistance

Posted on 24 October 2017 by Ian Schrauth

Students camp out, march on campus in show of solidarity with adjunct professors

 

By: Melissa Wilkinson
Editor-in-Chief

 

Meramec’s Student Social Action Committee (SSAC) hosted an occupation and  protest march to draw attention to “the plight of adjunct professors in their struggle for fair pay and treatment,” according to member Michael Marino.1

The occupation, which lasted four days—Monday, Oct. 16 to Thursday, Oct. 19—represented the four years during which adjuncts have been trying to negotiate a contract with administrators. Marino, who slept on campus three out of the four nights, said he considered the event successful.

“By the end of our efforts, our numbers had doubled, and I saw firsthand a campus that was willing to organize and struggle for its future,” said Marino.

Protesters originally organized at the traffic circle on Big Bend but soon relocated to the quad for safety purposes. Students pitched tents and held signs with messages such as “Welcome to Pittman-ville” and “our educational staff deserve better”.

“We slept out there…to let the administration know that we stand with our professors—all of them, adjuncts included–and we would like them to bargain in good faith, not only with the adjuncts union in pursuit of their contract but with the students who are seeking alternatives to reduction in force in response to budget cuts,” said Marino.

SSAC member Katherine Johnson said she joined the organization after reading an article covering the budget crisis in ‘The Montage.’ According to Johnson, the administration is planning to demote many full-time faculty members to adjunct professors in order to cut costs.

“Adjunct professors make less than poverty wages,” said Johnson.

But according to Chancellor Pittman, STLCC pays the highest rate among community colleges in the state of Missouri.

“Adjunct faculty are, in fact, part-time employees,” said Pittman. “Equating contracted work to an ‘annual’ wage is inaccurate and misleading to students and the public.”

A pay raise was one of several demands made by Forest Park adjunct professor Steve Thomas at the Oct. 19 Board of Trustees meeting. Specifically, Thomas said adjuncts are requesting a three percent pay raise retroactive to January, less time between paydays, 100 dollars per credit hour in class cancellation fees (should a class be cancelled) and recognition of service–protection from being replaced after they have served the college for some time. The final demand, noted Thomas, would cost the college nothing.

“We want a three percent raise, but we know about the money and that they don’t have the money,” said Thomas. “From there it’s an issue of what they can offer us. That’s why I made the point to have some sort of seniority system where we get some assurance that we have some value to the college, that they can’t just go and hire anyone to replace us.”

Chancellor Pittman said he has been in negotiations with the SEIU bargaining unit but both parties have yet to reach an agreement. Pittman has called in a federal mediator to help facilitate an agreement.

Amna Habib, Chair and Vice President of SSAC, announced at the Oct. 19 board meeting that on Oct. 2 her organization voted to establish an official subcommittee called the Reduction in Force Prevention Coalition. The RIFPC was established to make sure students are adequately informed and to generate proposals that the college could take to readdress the budget crisis.

Habib said that the RIFPC has developed five proposals for the board to consider. All five were to be announced at the Oct. 19 board meeting. One of their members was removed for speaking out of turn, however, and only three proposals were mentioned: a student advisory to STLCC’s marketing campaign to contribute to enrollment efforts, a partnership between the computer science program (which is set to be deactivated) and local businesses to increase enrollment in said program and revenue generation via hosting public events on campus such as concerts.

Pittman said in a later interview that he “would be pleased to reinstate the Student Advisory Committee,” an organization which last year met with him or the trustees a few times.

The adjunct faculty also marched on campus with their SSAC allies on Monday Oct. 23 in order to raise awareness for their cause. Protesters marched up and down Big Bend chanting and holding signs. The march ended with protestors approaching Clark Hall and handing a ‘report card’ for Chancellor Pittman to Provost Carol Lupardus and Dean of Students Kim Fitzgerald.

According to SSAC President Xavier Phillips, Chancellor Jeff Pittman will meet with the SSAC at a future date. Despite this small victory, according to Marino, the fight is far from over.

“We may start with the adjuncts but we will not end there,” said Marino. “We will no longer accept cuts to higher education as policy. The students are prepared to lead the way if necessary.”

 

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