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Explainer: Breaking down the bargaining agreement

File Photo

A little more than a week before Columbia’s faculty union went on strike last fall, Union President Diana Vallera led students into a parent’s weekend brunch at the Student Center that was hosted by President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim.

Students presented a list of eight demands on behalf of the Columbia Faculty Union that included the immediate removal of Kim and Provost Marcella David, a tuition freeze key and a DEI ombudsman position.

More than seven weeks later, after the longest adjunct strike in U.S. history finally ended with a new contract, few of those initial demands were met, according to a Chronicle review of the contract. 

But there were gains for part-time faculty, including new “adjunct professor of instruction” titles, modest pay increases, new health benefits and course guarantees for teachers returning to the classroom this week for the start of the spring semester.

Shortly after the deal was reached, Vallera, a part-time instructor in the Photography Department, told WBEZ that the contract was “a lot of huge victories.”

In a statement to the Chronicle, the union leaders pointed to health care benefits, a “voice in shared governance” and job security.

Our contract has improved faculty working conditions and student learning environments, but our fight is not over,” according to the statement, sent to the Chronicle from the union’s publications chair Delia Pless, a part-time instructor in the English and Creative Writing Department. “The new contract sets us on the path of progress, but there is still work to be done.” 

The payout:

Under the new contract, part-time faculty who were teaching in the Fall 2023 semester got a one-time signing bonus of $375 per credit hour. That amounts to $1,125 for a typical three-credit course. Part-time faculty members who did not teach in the fall because their courses were canceled also received $1,125.

Part-time instructors, with the new title of “adjunct professor of instruction,” will get a 16% pay increase over the four-year contract, ranging from 3% to 5% each year. Pay is determined by how long an instructor has taught at the college. The new pay rate started in Fall 2023.

Although smaller than some pay gains, the increases are part of a larger movement in the U.S. toward higher salaries for union employees. 

UAW workers at the Big 3 automakers got a 25% pay increase over the life of its recently signed contract. SAG-AFTRA members got 7% and 11% immediate increases and then smaller increases in subsequent years of the contract.

In 2022, striking adjuncts at The New School in New York, previously the longest part-time instructor strike, won a 13% increase in the first year of the contract for its highest paid adjuncts. By the end of the fifth year of the contract, that pay bump increases to 36%

Course guarantees:

The Columbia Faculty Union strike was centered around course cuts made to address the college’s financial deficit, which was around $20 million at the start of the strike. (That number will almost certainly increase because of the cost of the strike to the college, including tuition credits offered to students and payouts to part-time instructors.) 

Just before the fall semester started, the college eliminated sections that were under enrolled and cut hundreds of sections from the spring catalog. Part-time faculty, who numbered 584 in the fall, were impacted the most because they teach the majority of Columbia’s classes. The 221 full-time faculty are not unionized. Many of them stepped in to teach for striking part-time instructors at the end of the semester.

Under the new contract, the college is required to offer union members at least 650 course sections for the fall semester and 585 for the spring semester depending on enrollment. At least 50 course sections are reserved for instructors who are newer hires.

The college also returned 15 courses to the spring schedule, including  “Introduction to Poetry,” “Ballet for Non-Majors,” “Ceramics” and “Japanese.” 

Class Size:

The college also has created a system to pay part-time instructors for larger class sizes, specifically if the initial class size increases by 25 percent and if they are asked to teach classes with 40 students or more. 

This was one of the issues during the strike.


Like nearly all unions, the Columbia Faculty Union, or CFAC, offers the most protections to its most senior members, those who have taught the longest. 

Part-time faculty members are required to fill out the TAF in order to notify department heads of their teaching availability. Members have a two-week window to fill out the form and request their classes for the semester.

Union members who have taught 200 or more credits can now request to teach two sections per semester. Instructors who have taught between 51 and 200 credits also are able to request two sections. Instructors who have taught between 33 and 51 credits can only ask for one section. After that, the most senior teachers have the opportunity to teach another section, if available. 

Anyone who has taught fewer than 33 credits, get to choose from the remaining available sections. In some departments, that now means the newest hires may not get classes.

More contract highlights: 

The union has a seat at the table now for decisions made around course offerings and reductions, even if they ultimately can still be overruled by the provost.

Under the new contract, a class size committee will be created to ensure “appropriate class sizes to provide quality educational instruction to students” and will be responsible for assessing proposed changes to registration cap and deciding whether it is appropriate. 

The committee will consist of four members appointed by the union and four members appointed by the provost. Union members are compensated with a stipend of $500 for the academic year, and the committee may invite students and disciplinary experts in for consultation.

The provost retains full discretion over the implementation of any changes to the schedule. 

If a course slated to be taught by a part-time instructor is cancelled before classes start, the teacher will receive a cancellation fee of $400. However, if they receive a notice less than three full weeks before the class starts, the fee will increase to $700. Instructors whose Fall 2023 sections were cancelled on or before Aug. 14, will receive a one-time payment.

If there are schedule reductions resulting in a decrease of sections taught by part-time faculty, compared to the previous term, the provost will notify the union president at least seven days before the teaching availability window opens.

The college will also offer two new health care benefits, effective September 2024: Individual coverage health reimbursements and AON Discount Medical and Wellness program.

Through the reimbursement program, members pick their own health coverage and the college will reimburse up to $200,000 in qualifying claims. Members who have taught at least one course within the last two semesters will be offered the AON Discount Medical and Wellness Program

What part-time faculty are saying: 

At the 72 E. 11th Street building on Monday night, Jan. 22, Theatre Department instructor John McFarland had just finished teaching two back-to-back sections of “Stage Combat II.” In the morning he taught “Advanced Applications of Stage Violence.” During J-term, he also taught “Fighting for Film,” which ended last week. 

He knew many of his students in J-term and on the first day of spring semester classes, said McFarland, who was on strike in the fall semester and declined to talk about the contract or the union, noting he was only speaking for himself.

“There wasn’t anybody in there I didn’t know already,” McFarland said of his students. “So we had a beautiful relationship when I walked in. It was a lovely day.”

Like McFarland, Lori Klinka, also a part-time instructor in the Theatre Department, was glad to be back with her students and engaged with them in the classroom. “They’re happy to be here… already having fun,” she said. 

Klinka, who is teaching two classes this semester, said being away from her students during the strike “was horrible.” She was relieved it was over.

“There have definitely been some improvements being involved in some of the decision making with the provost,” Klinka said. “Some of the governance is incredibly important.” 

Jerome Arkenberg, a part-time instructor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department, said in an email to the Chronicle that  “overwhelmingly supported going on strike.”

Arkenberg said by law the union could not negotiate or include items in its contract that benefited students directly.

“We will still continue to advocate for them and for student issues overall,” Arkenberg said. “When students thrive, the college thrives, and we adjuncts thrive.”

Resumen en Español: 

The Chronicle examinó el nuevo contrato entre la universidad y el Sindicato de Profesores de Columbia (CFAC). Estos son los puntos claves:

Se requiere que la universidad ofrezca a los miembros del sindicato al menos 650 secciones de cursos para el semestre de otoño y 585 para el semestre de primavera.

Los instructores a tiempo parcial obtendrán aumentos durante cuatro años que oscilan entre el 3% y el 5%.

Los instructores cuyas secciones fueron canceladas el 14 de agosto o antes recibirán un pago único.

Los miembros recibirán tarifas de cancelación del curso de $400 o $700, dependiendo de cuándo se les notificó el retiro.

CFAC tendrá un representante en cualquier comité en búsqueda de decanos, el rector, el presidente o los jefes de departamento.

Se formará un comité para evaluar los cambios propuestos al límite de inscripción y decidir si es apropiado. Será compuesto de cuatro miembros designados por el sindicato y cuatro miembros designados por el rector, quienes recibirán un estipendio de $500 por año académico. El rector tendrá la aprobación final. 

La universidad también ofrecerá dos nuevos beneficios de atención médica, a partir de septiembre de 2024: reembolsos de salud de cobertura individual y el programa AON Discount Medical and Wellness.

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About the Contributors
Miranda Bucio
Miranda Bucio, Former Campus Editor
mbucio@columbiachronicle.com   Miranda Bucio is a senior journalism major and reports primarily on Columbia's Latino Student Alliance. She has also reported on city film festivals, Student Government Elections and metro restaurants. Bucio worked for the Chronicle from August 2023 through May 2024.   Hometown: Riverside, Illinois
Vivian Richey
Vivian Richey, Assistant Campus Editor
vrichey@columbiachronicle.com   Vivian Richey is a sophomore journalism major, who reports on the college's Faculty Senate, Columbia's COVID-19 protocols and campus art exhibitions. She joined the Chronicle in January 2023.   Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Abra Richardson
Abra Richardson, Former Senior Photojournalist
arichardson@columbiachronicle.com   Abra Richardson is a senior photojournalism major and has covered Chicago music festivals, fashion and metro protests. She joined the Chronicle in August 2021.   Hometown: Palatine, Illinois