ST. LOUIS, April 20, 2015—Adjunct faculty members attempting to unionize at a community college outside of St. Louis are now free to gather signatures for a petition asking the college’s administration to remain neutral in their unionization effort. A St. Charles Community College (SCC) administrator had initially denied faculty members their right to gather signatures before reversing course earlier this month.
SCC’s about-face on petitioning comes after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to the administration, urging it to allow the St. Charles Community College Organizing Committee to gather signatures for its petition. FIRE explained that SCC’s restrictions on signature-gathering violated students’ and faculty members’ free speech rights.
“We commend the SCC administration for recognizing FIRE’s concerns and promising to take the necessary steps to address them,” said Peter Bonilla, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “The right to collect petition signatures is a fundamental First Amendment right—and as a public institution, SCC is required to respect it.”
A number of SCC adjunct faculty members, who are currently engaged in a unionization effort, drafted a petition explaining the professional challenges they face and asking the SCC administration to remain neutral toward their unionization effort. The faculty members presented their petition at several student group meetings. But on February 19, an SCC administrator sent an email to campus student group advisors stating that petition organizers are welcome to speak to student organizations about their petition, but “are not permitted to ask for petition signatures,” citing SCC policies prohibiting “solicitation.”
FIRE wrote to SCC President Ronald Chesbrough on March 25, explaining that SCC’s application of its solicitation policies toward the faculty members’ signature-gathering campaign ignored decades of Supreme Court precedent and violates faculty members’ First Amendment rights. FIRE asked that SCC “[c]larify to the students and faculty of St. Charles Community College that the circulation of petitions and distribution of literature is generally permitted” and “revise SCC policies accordingly.”
On April 8, Chesbrough responded to FIRE’s letter, agreeing to clarify to the SCC community the college’s stance on petitioning and distributing literature. Chesbrough also informed FIRE that SCC had begun reviewing its policies to ensure compliance with the First Amendment.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Nico Perrino, Associate Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org