College may cut 70 faculty members

By Joshua Phelps
and Timothy Bold
The Scene staff

St. Louis Community College is considering an 18 percent reduction in the number of full-time faculty to help with its budget problems.

That could result in about 70 employees (out of 397) losing their jobs on four campuses.

Rob Hertel, president of the STLCC National Education Association, which represents full-time faculty, broke the news at union meetings on Oct. 27 on the Meramec campus and Nov. 1 on the Florissant Valley campus.

“We don’t feel a reduction in force is in the best interest of the students,” he told The Scene later. “Full-time faculty are the most committed and available for the (education) of students.”

Chancellor Jeff Pittman verified that the 18 percent reduction is being considered by STLCC administration. He blamed the college’s budget shortfall mostly on a 9 percent cut in state funding for higher education.

“When we looked at a three-year projection with anticipated increases and operating costs, by 2020 that would put us down almost $12.9 million,” he said. “We just realized that we had to make a course correction to our budget.”

Declining enrollments in recent years played a part in the budget shortfall, Pittman said, although those seem to have stabilized recently.

Talk of an STLCC budget crisis is nothing new. Earlier this year, the college offered voluntary buyouts to 529 eligible full-time employees, including faculty and staff. Some 117 accepted them.

This week, Forest Park students expressed concerns about continued reductions in faculty.

“I think it’s wrong because you’re taking away someone’s career, and I’m going into the educational field,” said education major Brian Hostkins, 24, who is worried about his own future employment as a teacher.

General transfer student Shqipron Abazi, 17, said cuts in faculty puts more stress on those left behind and leads to lower quality education.

Baking and pastry arts major Chrystal Richards, 33, feels that one of STLCC’s strengths is its excellent faculty members, who have the “wow” factor.

“The faculty helped me out on a lot of things I didn’t understand,” she said.

The proposal for faculty reductions didn’t surprise T.L. Frison, assistant biology professor at Forest Park, who’s near the top of the senority list.

“Once the economy got better, then the enrollment started going down,” he said. “Something has to happen. Somebody has to be let go. It’s evolution, looking at it from a biology perspective. You have to go with the programs that are doing well with enrollment.”

Frison also said campuses have duplicates of the same programs and that eats up resources.

Hertel, who teaches in the Forest Park hospitality studies program, said full-time faculty will meet again in November to discuss possible alternatives to the college’s budget-cutting proposals.

“We think that through typical attrition, we could reduce the number (of layoffs) so there would not be a reduction in force,” he said.