By Steven Doerhoff, Archivist
On October 19, 53-year-old adjunct math professor, Steve Taylor, was slammed to the ground and arrested during a St. Louis Community College Board of Trustees meeting. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Taylor had been “voicing his displeasure with ground rules laid out at the meeting” before ultimately being escorted out by police.
The college released video of the incident on October 20, which showed Taylor being tackled to the ground. In the video, Rodney Gee, Vice Chair of the Board, instructs the audience to refrain from applause during the public comment portion of the meeting. This did not deter the audience, which began clapping after the first public speaker had finished and was again reminded by Gee that they would be asked to leave if the applause continued.
It was after this that Taylor can be seen moving to the center of the room speaking out as he is repeatedly told to leave. As he continues to talk, a community college officer comes up behind Taylor and grabs his jacket. Taylor then begins moving forward toward the board members and is tackled by the officer just in front of the table. “If you can’t clap, then I don’t want to be a part of your college,” Taylor can be heard saying in the video as he was removed from the meeting.
St. Louis police have charged Taylor with general peace disturbance and resisting arrest. Taylor had been grabbed from behind from a college officer after he “aggressively forced his way toward board members,” according to a police report. “The suspect continued toward board members and the officer took the suspect to the floor and handcuffed him,” the report added.
Taylor has said he was simply trying to regain his balance as the officer yanked his coat backward. “All of a sudden my jacket is pulled violently from behind me, and I instinctively pulled forward,” Taylor said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It is difficult to discern from the video, which was shot from the back of the room, whether Taylor was moving toward the board members in an aggressive manner or to merely regain his footing.
Taylor had gone to the meeting prepared to speak but spoke out of turn as the audience was reminded of the no applause rule. “The board never issued a similar warning when people clapped for administrators,” he said, “I stood up and said ‘Excuse me, how is it we can clap for the chancellor and administrators but not for anyone else?’”
Following the arrest, Taylor had been notified by the college that he wasn’t allowed on any of the school’s campuses, which he has taken as his termination. Taylor, who was the recipient of the 2015 STLCC-Wildwood Faculty to Faculty Award, which is awarded to faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching and support of student success, said he didn’t blame the police officer but the board, which he described as “restricting free speech.”
The following Monday, protests by several dozen students, faculty and staff, were held on the Meramec campus in Kirkwood. The protesters were there in response to the arrest and firing of Taylor, pressuring the college for a new contract for adjunct professors including job security and a higher salary. Many protesters wore bright orange Service Employees International Union Local 1 shirts with the “Faculty Forward” logo emblazoned on the front.
The SEIU Local 1 labor union represents the faculty and has stated that the school has refused to negotiate on issues such as increased pay and job security. Local 1’s Faculty Forward movement is a St. Louis-based group of faculty dedicated to unionization for change and a greater voice in higher education. Taylor sits on the contract negotiation committee for the union that represents adjunct professors.
The opposing views of what STLCC and Taylor say happened at the October 19 meeting have brought up thoughts on what Taylor describes as an “intimidating culture,” referencing the environment at the college after Jeff Pittman took over as chancellor in July 2015. “There’s a perception that you will be penalized for sharing contrarian opinions,” he said.
Whether what Taylor said is true does not change the fact that a faculty member was driven into the ground at a board meeting and arrested over trying to make his voice heard. Taylor told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Did I speak out of turn? Yes. But I just felt something was really wrong.”