Community college students face possible punishment for protesting at trustees meeting
At least five students at St. Louis Community College received a letter summoning them to a meeting with their dean of students to talk about disciplinary action over a protest at a Board of Trustees meeting last week.
Those five, along with other students and professors, caused an hour-long delay for a vote over cutting the college’s faculty and staff. Ultimately, the trustees approved the cuts during a confusing and raucous meeting on Nov. 30.
Now those five students must meet with administrators for violating the student code of conduct. A college spokeswoman said the letter is “routine” and they will not be expelled.
St. Louis Community College students and adjunct professors have staged protests on campus and outside administration offices over cuts to teaching and staffing positions. Two of the students who received letters said they felt the need to protest at the meeting because campus leadership wouldn’t listen to their opinions.
“When we finally take a step to be heard in a way that we can not be ignored, of course they’re not going to be about that,” Amna Habib, a 19-year-old general studies student in her second year at the Meramec campus, said Friday.
The students said they expected some reaction from the school, including being forcibly removed from the room. That’s what campus police did to an adjunct professor who spoke out at an October meeting. But the same treatment didn’t happen to the students, as administrators and police allowed the protest to continue.
After no immediate action was taken, student Sean Thomas said he was surprised to receive the letter several days later.
“I did not expect that the school would take the chance of trying to silence students to this extent,” said Thomas, 36, who has one semester remaining to finish his degree.
Disorderly conduct or the disruption of administrative activities is barred in the college’s student code of conduct.
“I’m personally bothered that (Pittman) isn’t praising the students at his institution for putting their education into action and willing to risk these consequences in order to stand up for educators,” Thomas said.
Student groups have met several times with St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman and many have spoken at public hearings and trustee meetings. Pittman has said in school emails he is listening to all feedback.
Pittman called the students’ actions “unfortunate” the morning after the meeting, adding: “I felt like that probably wasn’t putting their best foot forward. There’s a much more professional way to express your opinion than to behave like that.”
The students must arrange a meeting with the dean of students at the Meramec campus by Dec. 20, according to their letters. They plan to try to meet as a group with outside representation present.
“Sending the letter is a routine process when students are alleged to have violated policy,” the college’s communications director, Kedra Tolson, said in an email. “We’re working with students to make them aware of policy as it relates to conduct at a public meeting. In this instance, the college will not take actions that will impact their future enrollment.”
The community college’s faculty unions are taking steps to hold a vote of “no confidence” in the administration.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney