Faculty at St. Louis Community College at Meramec in Kirkwood began receiving their layoff notices last week. Fourteen faculty at Meramec have lost their jobs as part of a total of 58 cuts in the STLCC system.

"Initially, we thought the cuts would not be announced until March," said Emily Neal, an associate professor of political science at Meramec. "But our NEA membership actually wanted to know where they stood as early as possible. Faculty losing their jobs want to get on with their lives and to start looking for other teaching jobs."

Neal, who is vice president of the union local of the National Education Association, said that it still stings to get the axe right as the holidays begin.

"It's a sad time to be coping with this right before Christmas," said Neal. "We want the college to provide more clarity and answers: How long will the medical coverage last? Will the college help at all with placement in new positions? Will there be any callbacks?"

In a year-end message from the chancellor, Jeff Pittman said the college system had no choice but to initiate a RIF (reduction in force) in the face of student enrollment declines, state budget cuts out of Jefferson City, and an impending deficit situation.

"A RIF will mean involuntary separation for up to 58 full-time faculty when their contracts end May 14," declared Pittman. board of trustees are committed to making this process as thoughtful and considerate as we possibly can."

Pittman said that earlier this year the college saw the "budget storm clouds forming." He said this led to offering a voluntary separation incentive program that enabled the college to find 117 volunteers who chose to leave full-time status. Unfortunately, he said more departures are needed.

"In terms of the budget, several steps have been taken already to cut costs: Cosand Center, our administrative headquarters in downtown St. Louis, is in the process of being sold. We trimmed administrative and operational costs and froze filling noncritical positions. Unfortunately, these steps are not enough," Pittman declared.

"What is left is the very painful decision to reduce the number of full-time faculty and staff. Our payroll for existing employee levels is not aligned with national norms."

Still Shell-Shocked

"I am still shell-shocked. It's quite a Christmas present," said Katy Smith, who has been an instructor and reference librarian for 12 years at Meramec. "They have cut librarians in half and five of us are gone. We feel this is ill-advised because students have never needed information literacy more.

"Students need to know where they can find and how they can use reliable source material," said Smith. "They are getting more and more stuff off the Internet which is not accurate and which is misleading."

Smith said she appreciates the students from the Kirkwood campus at Meramec who have offered support and who have spoken out against the faculty and program cuts.

Michaella Thornton said this is a very "bittersweet time" for her because she had just received status after a three-year probationary period. Not long after that notification, she is getting a notice that she is unemployed.

"I just got the green light, and now I am being cut," said Thornton. "It's disturbing that those of us in the English Department are getting beat up the worst. We are losing 14 faculty across the district. The college feels that we are the most expendable. Some of our English faculty have years of teaching experience. I feel badly for them.

"The college has employer surveys that show they want students who can express themselves and who can think critically," said Thornton. "That's what our teaching is all about. It's a shame. Our faculty got fired and then had to go give the students their finals and start grading them all."

Thornton, like Smith, said she was impressed by students who expressed concern for their education at Meramec, and who care about the faculty.

"I've heard about these students being called into the dean's office," said Thornton. "I have seen these students get criticized. I am proud of them. They are adults who have a right to have an opinion on issues."

Meramec Students React

Sean Edward Thomas, an honors student on the Meramec campus, is involved with the Sociology Club and writing for The Montage, the student newspaper. He said he plans on transferring to a university next year where he will study sociology and journalism.

He posted on social media that he was notified that he may not be able register for his final semester unless he meets with the dean of students to discuss possible charges of student misconduct, obstruction or disruption.

"I am being threatened with not being able to graduate from an educational institution for speaking out in solidarity with the outstanding educators at that institution," Thomas declared. "This is the current climate for myself and fellow students at St. Louis Community College as finals week approaches We students will not be intimidated."

NEA Local Vice President Neal said her union is appreciative of the student support. Neal said the NEA wants community college students' free speech rights protected.

"The NEA has issued a statement on how students have a right to be heard and to protest peacefully," said Neal. "These are not children. They should not be disciplined for exercising their First Amendment rights."