Town hall meeting airs grievances

By Samuel Charles

Facing relentless questioning from several different groups, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Louise Love and Interim Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs Len Strazewski did their best to respond and shed light on some of the most high-profile problems currently facing the college. Love and Strazewski were only able to answer a small number of the more than 20 questions asked during the meeting because of time constraints and the length and detail some responses required.

The prioritization process, which Columbia is currently in the midst of, was one of many hot button issues about which members of Occupy Columbia, the United Staff of Columbia College, Columbia’s staff union, and P-Fac, the part-time faculty union, pressed Love and Strazewski for information at the town hall meeting on Dec. 9.

“I think any institution is obliged to manage,” Love said. “This is an effort on Columbia’s part to really take a look at who we are. Our enrollment has gone down for the past couple of years, and that means fewer sections and, unfortunately, that means fewer teaching opportunities for the part-timers. That’s not our goal, believe me. That’s not what prioritization is about.”

The dialogue, which was scheduled from 1 – 2 p.m. on the eighth floor of the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave., served as a platform to discuss issues facing students, faculty and staff, such as rising tuition costs, budget transparency and diversity in the workplace, both in terms of ethnicity and work experience.

Ryan Nanni, senior film and video major and member of the Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education, C.A.C.H.E., moderated the meeting. He began the discussion on a positive note, saying that he was sure there would be learning on both sides.

One member of C.A.C.H.E., Will Meyrowitz, a student at DePaul University, posed a question to Love and Strazewski in regard to the complaint the National Labor Relations Board filed against Columbia on Sept. 30 for allegedly refusing to bargain in good faith with P-Fac.

At the beginning of the discussion, Love made it clear that because of ongoing union negotiations with the US of CC and P-Fac, some questions on those topics could not be answered because of union restrictions.

Meyrowitz was later heard yelling at Love, calling her “a union buster.” Throughout the entire discussion, Meyrowitz and other audience members heckled Love’s and Strazewski’s responses, prompting other members of the audience to call for order.

Approximately half of the questions asked were from people with no discernible connection to Columbia, a number were students at other institutions in the Chicago area, including DePaul, Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

A DePaul student also incorrectly stated “the cost of [Columbia] reaches almost $50,000 [per] year.” Columbia’s annual tuition for the 2011–2012 academic year is $20,094, and combined with housing costs, the total rises to approximately $32,000 per year.

Another major point topic of discussion was a letter was sent to a large portion of the college community by an adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department that criticized P-Fac President Diana Vallera, and P-Fac’s inability to respond to the letter was also discussed at length.

“The adversarial rhetoric and accusations that [P-Fac] has been hurling at the administration during the last two years have been counterproductive and, often, just plain incorrect,” John Morrison, the author and adjunct photography instructor wrote.

The union expressed its anger and confusion at the administration’s decision to not allow it to issue a response to the entire college community in regard to the letter.

The union also posed the possibility that the letter was in breach of certain college policies concerning Internet and technology use.

The meeting concluded with members of Occupy Columbia, C.A.C.H.E., US of CC and students reciting the group’s closing statement, which included several demands and potential strategies the group believed to be applicable to Columbia.

“We reject the idea that staff, faculty and student concerns are in any way separable,” the groups said in unison.

Nanni, who was unofficially named the student liaison to Occupy Columbia, offered to hold another town hall meeting on Jan. 19. Love was unable to commit at the time, but said she was open to the idea.