We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

Get exclusive Chronicle news delivered to your inbox!
* indicates required

Opinion: I saw the CFAC strike coming, but here is what you don’t know


This has been quite the rollercoaster of a year in our Columbia College community, starting with the part-time faculty strike, to the Valentine resignation card from President Kim, to a murky future shrouded with looming layoffs, possible property sales, course reductions and predicted enrollment strife.  The problem is, none of this was even remotely a surprise to anyone really paying attention, but let’s rewind for a second.

In fall of 2018 CFAC was calling for a strike after negotiations with the college on a new contract had stalled, sound familiar?  The union called for an electronic vote to strike which (according to union bylaws) had to be anonymous.  However, when I logged in to vote I was asked for identifying information.  Feeling intimidated, I decided not to vote because it was clearly not anonymous.

Leading up to the strike vote, incendiary e-mails criticizing the administration were abundant from the union, but there was (in my mind) little clarity around what the union was demanding, or what the sticking points were with the negotiation.  When I inquired, the answer given was “I had to come to meetings to find out.” Adding to the clandestine nature of union communications was the fact that elections for union leadership were running afoul of what is required by its own Bylaws and more importantly by the Department of Labor (more on that later). In short, we were expected to strike and lose our paychecks for reasons that were vague at best, by a leadership that shunned meaningful communications with its members in favor of mudslinging at the administration.

As the strike loomed, I found four other colleagues who shared my concerns and together we discussed what (if anything) could be done for faculty who didn’t agree with what the union leadership wanted of us or their apparent beefs with the administration.  Our private e-mail communications were somehow intercepted by the union and later put on public display in egregious violation of privacy laws for the entire faculty to read.

If you want to know how the situation evolved, I refer you to an article in the Chicago Reader that chronicles the unprecedented bullying and silencing my colleagues and I endured from those who were meant to represent our voices!

Columbia College’s part-time faculty union goes after its own, summoning members to appear before a mysterious tribunal – Chicago Reader

The strike of 2018 didn’t come to fruition, but a few other interesting things did (not least of which was the Department of Labor coming in to run a proper election which resulted in the re-election of Diana and her incumbent ticket). On the surface, the win presented an apparent defeat to her detractors.  However, more subtle wins came in the form of the union affiliating with a larger national union that would hopefully monitor union communications and activities with more oversight, and of course the obvious win that the strike never materialized, at least…not yet.

In retaliation for what the union labeled “subversive activities” they kicked the five of us out, which was by and large the best gift we could have received in light of the fall 2023 events.  This time around, when the strike became reality, I was able to quietly sit back instead of feeling the fear and dread I had in 2018, and simply watch the events unfold.  Because I was no longer a member of the union, I felt no moral obligation to observe the strike myself (although I did support my striking colleagues in ways I will not disclose here) and instead opted to perform the duties of my job for those who matter to me most (our students).  

Back to the present of 2024 spring term, and it is on some levels astonishing how much more has come to light.  Most central is the clear message that the administration was not simply playing “chicken” with the union. It is (or should be) abundantly clear by now that the union was demanding things of the college that the college simply did not have to give, and the result?  An additional thirteen million in debt and a much clearer picture of who was bargaining in good faith. However, do not take this assertion to mean that I agreed with every play in the administration playbook (I didn’t).

Bottom line, Diana and the CFAC leadership played Russian roulette with people’s jobs, and they lost.  Offer letters for fall are currently going out, and I am sad and sickened because I know I will not be seeing some of my cherished colleagues this fall. In the wake of all the recent announcements about how our community will be restructured and the inevitable layoffs, the union has fallen uncharacteristically silent. 

The college is predicting a 1,000-student enrollment drop for fall, and it leaves me to wonder if any of the union members are second guessing the decision to air dirty laundry at events designed to attract new students?  Are any of them asking why a strike went on for seven weeks (the longest in higher-ed history I’m told) without ever once being asked to vote on what the college was offering as weeks dragged on to almost two months?  

I want to personally wish Dr. Kim the best of luck in the next chapter and thank him for doing what he could to navigate unimaginably difficult challenges on many operational levels as best he could.  I also wish to make clear this is not about “I told you so” but instead is a call to my fellow adjunct faculty to STRONGLY consider the next union election (assuming you get to have one).  

Michele Hoffman Trotter is an adjunct professor in the Science and Mathematics Department


Submit an op-ed of no more than 850 words here or email editorialboard@columbiachronicle.com

More to Discover