The second Town Hall meeting in as many months between members of Columbia’s full- and part-time faculty, administration, staff and students was held Jan. 27, with many of the same attendees pres- ent and themes of the initial meeting in December 2011 being revisited.
Topics under the microscope included the treatment of part-time faculty and staff, a suggested freeze of tuition costs,
more budget transparency,fair representation of part-time faculty in decision- making that affect the college as a whole and the ongoing prioritization process.
Taking questions from the audience were Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Louise Love, Interim Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs Len Strazewski, Associate Professor in the Marketing Communication Department Shanita Akintonde and Vice President of Student Affairs Mark Kelly.
“We had a good session in December,” Love said. “We look forward to a positive exchange of ideas.”
The meeting was held on the first floor of the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building whereas the initial gathering was held on the eighth floor of the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave.
Organizers of the event, specifically from the group “Occupy Columbia,” planned the meeting weeks in advance.
With 25 chairs flanking each side of the administrators’ table and another 90 in front of them, the question and answer process ran smoothly, though responses from the administration were monitored for time more closely. As a result, several questions were left up in the air upon the meeting’s completion.
Similar to the first meeting, questions were presented from people both directly and indirectly affiliated with Columbia and its challenges.
“The depth and magnitude of the prob- lem is so immense that the notion we can look at this in this myopic, individu- alized way is entirely mistaken,” said Joe Weiss, an adjunct philosophy instructor at DePaul University.
Prior to any questions being presented, Love clarified that because of collec- tive bargaining agreement provisions, some issues–such as specifics of the most recent contract offer to the part-time fac- ulty union, P-Fac–couldn’t be answered in much detail.
Nonetheless, the topic of the contract proposal arose several times, and at one point, adjunct faculty member in the Film and Video Department Gitanjali Kapila said she was insulted by the offer the college presented.
Strazewski is the head of the group that is currently in the process of bargaining with P-Fac for a new contract. In order to move forward, though, Strazewski said P-Fac must reach out to him to set up a time to bargain, which they have not done since the contract offer was first made on Dec. 19, according to an email from Love.
“P-Fac needs to contact me,as chief nego- tiator, to begin bargaining on this contract,” Strazewski said. “We have not heard from P-Fac about when they would like to sit down and bargain.”
Money war the crux of most questions– specifically,the amount of debt that awaits many Columbia students upon graduation or withdrawal from the college.
David Skattebo, a sophomore English major, said as it stands, he is currently in more than $56,000 of student loan debt and compared Columbia’s Student Financial Services office to a customer service hotline for Bank of America.
“Every day I question, ‘Is this worth it?’” Skattebo said. “This is not a school that is being run here. This is a corporation, and their profits are ruining lives.”
Kelly offered his sympathy to Skattebo, expressing his distaste in the current eco- nomic model in the education system.
“There is a crisis in American higher edu- cation,” Kelly said. “It’s called affordability. As a senior administrator, it’s a topic I’m wrestling with every day … It’s not an issue just for Columbia; it’s the American higher education system.”
Before the conclusion of the meeting– which ran 10 minutes longer than initially agreed upon–Ryan Nanni, who moderated the first town hall meeting, expressed enthusiasm with the turnout and the inter- est shown by the Columbia community.
The Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education, asked that there be more town hall meetings held on a consistent basis.As of press time, it was not known if or when future meetings will be held.