STLCC set to experience budget crisis

Posted on 29 August 2017 by Ian Schrauth

Task force developed, potential faculty cuts eminent

 

By: Stephen Buechter
Staff Writer

 

Chancellor Jeff Pittman recently announced that the district is suffering a $5 million reduction in core funding. This is due to a nine percent cut to the Missouri higher education budget, and a further three percent cut withheld by Gov. Eric Greitens. This decrease in funding was also influenced by a drop in enrollment over last few years, which equates to less money earned through tuition and fees, according to Pittman.

Pittman also expects St Louis Community College’s budget to be restricted further in the next three years. Meramec Provost Carol Lupardus said that budget cuts to educational facilities are not just a local issue, and are a factor for colleges at least statewide.

Emily Neal, Vice President of the STLCC National Education Administration (NEA), explained the possible reasoning behind statewide education budget cuts.

“I would argue that, especially after the last election…[the government] has a sort of philosophy that state institutions should be doing more with less,” said Neal. “They have what I would call a ‘starve the beast’ mentality, this sort of notion that if you cut our public institutions and make them have to survive on the bare minimum, only what is necessary will be maintained at the institution.”budget cuts

Neal said she disagreed with this policy, stating that she believes it can only lead to financial considerations driving higher education.

“Just because an academic discipline isn’t ‘profitable’ or doesn’t have a lot of students doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile area of inquiry,” said Neal.

According to Chancellor Pittman, the college has already taken steps to ease stress on the budget. Measures cited by Pittman were reducing various operating expenses, freezing and reducing positions not critical to college functioning, offering a separation incentive program, and selling the college’s downtown district headquarters building, the Cosand Center. He said the college is forming a budget response team, whose duties include reviewing and updating staff contract language, reviewing and updating faculty handbooks, creating a realistic timeline for budget suggestions and communicating proactively with campus departments.

A staff-wide email sent by the Chancellor on July 13 announced a possible reduction in full-time faculty, which was met with heavy concern from STLCC employees, said Neal. Neal expressed concern over the delivery of the message.

“As far as communicating organizational decision making, it felt like there could have been a better way to deliver that message,” said Neal.  “It is my hope as the administration and the budget response team move forward with some of their decision making, that they will be a lot more transparent, and try not to bury key communications near the end of a very long email.”

Robert Hertel, head of the STLCC NEA, started an August email campaign, encouraging faculty to email Chancellor Pittman with their grievances over the cuts. He announced the success of the campaign at a Board of Trustees meeting on Aug. 17.

“Yesterday Chancellor Pittman received in excess of 140 emails from faculty over their concern over a potential reduction in force,” said Hertel. “I’m sure he’d verify that if he hasn’t shared that with you yet.”

“156,” Pittman confirmed.

While the response was met with laughter at the meeting, Hertel continued to push for the goal of transparency and faculty participation in the midst of the budget crisis.

“The faculty are a diverse group, talented. We want to be involved in that process,” said Hertel. “We’re important stakeholders… we need to be part of
the solution.”

Emily Neal took a different approach at the meeting, naming many famous people that full-time staff have brought to the district. Names included feminist writer Jessica Valenti, scientist Ainissa Ramirez and reproductive rights advocate Pamela Merritt. Neal also mentioned the many acts of altruism performed by staff, including offering ethics seminars to local businesses and aiding environmental research.

“Over the years, there has been decreased support for these efforts, yet the faculty continue to engage, regardless of whether release time is granted, compensation or otherwise,” said Neal. “We do these things because we love to do it…Reducing the full-time faculty will decrease the reach of the college and the visibility of the college in the region, the nation, and even globally.”

Cindy Campbell, former NEA president and current professor at the Florissant Valley campus, also spoke out at the Board of Trustees meeting.

“When I first came to the college in 1990, I came about six or seven years after the first and only reduction in force STLCC has ever endured,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who is starting her 28th year in the district, addressed the low morale of the staff after what she referred to as “the RIF.”

“[The other staff] would all get emotional… they would talk about people drawing straws and flipping coins to see who stayed and who went. And all those things resonated with me for the first years of my time at community college,” said Campbell. “I never thought I’d have to see nor hear that language anywhere. Unfortunately, that email…mentioned a reduction of force, and not only has my stomach hurt since then, not only do we have a lot of junior faculty who are very concerned…and talking about updating their resumes, you have people very upset, who have moved here with their families, and taken jobs five or 10 years ago. I’m really hoping you consider looking at all options.”

Despite faculty testimony, the Board of Trustees was unable to offer anything mollifying by way of concrete alternate solutions. Many thanked the speakers for expressing their opinions and promised to communicate closely with staff.

“I know in our meetings we’ve directed Dr. Pittman to put all options on the table and be as transparent as possible,” said board member Dr. Kevin Martin. “It’s not to alarm people, but it’s to be transparent, so I would encourage everyone to be involved with these meetings as we take all that to heart, of what you all say.”

Due to the recent creation of the budget response team, very few details could be discussed at the meeting. But the NEA, also known as the teacher’s union, refuses to wait until the September board meeting to react.

“As a union leader we have a toolkit of activist items that we can use to try to drive home points,” said Neal in a later interview. “Our view is that [picketing] is a last resort for us but it’s something we do keep on the table. When you get down to hitting faculty where it hurts the most, which is their livelihoods, people are willing to stand up for themselves.”

Although full-time faculty are certainly discouraged by the news, Hertel urged teachers to dedicate time to working directly with the rest of the school, including department heads, to find ways to improve budget conditions without reducing staff.

“[The NEA] will have a lot of meetings,” said Hertel. “There’s going to be serious working with the administration and faculty just trying to deal with these issues.”

Provost Carol Lupardus told students to keep in mind that they are one of many voices involved. Hertel also urged students to be aware of the situation, calling it a microcosm of how government works at larger levels.

“Students need to be involved politically for the rest of their lives,” Hertel said. “And not necessarily that they get an affiliation with one party or another, but that they’re aware of the political scene and what happens, because if they’re not, a lot of other people are making decisions for them.”

Despite low morale at the start of the new term, full-time faculty continue to demonstrate their passion for their workplace, expressing as much concern for each other as for themselves. Ken Wood, an art instructor at Meramec, discussed his anxiety about potential job loss for adjunct staff.

“Because I’m full time, I am required to teach a full load. So if one of my classes were to be cancelled, I would get bumped to a different class. And if that class were taught by an adjunct faculty, then they would get bumped from the roster,” said Wood. “I think the adjunct faculty deserve to have much more peace of mind than they currently do,”

Emily Neal has not given up hope that the problem can be solved. According to Neal, there are many money-saving alternatives to terminating faculty.

“Faculty can go out by regular attrition…There’s also areas where we could have cost savings. Perhaps looking at some of our consulting contracts and making sure that we’re getting the value we’re paying for,” said Neal. “We can use sabbaticals. We can use a lot of options which are actually spelled out in the resolution between joint faculty and the college administration.”

Neal lauds the power of the NEA working together, and said she continues to look toward a bright future for the college that doesn’t include a reduction in the workforce.

“I can tell you that when the faculty get united about something, we can put a tremendous amount of pressure on the administration,” said Neal. “Our view is we do this for love. We don’t do this because we want to embarrass anyone, we do this because we know how great the community college is and has been, and how great we want it to be in the future. And getting rid of the faculty is a short sighted solution to a budgetary problem that is momentary in time.”

Information on the school’s budget can be viewed on the STLCC website in the “Meeting Minutes” section of the Board of Trustees page. Information on Board policies and procedures
are in the “Faculty and Staff
Resources” section.

 

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here

Upcoming Issues

Jan. 26, 2017
Feb. 9, 2017
Feb. 23, 2017
March 9, 2017
March 30, 2017
April 20, 2017
May 4, 2017