Part three: CFAC candidates address concerns, issues

By Alexandra Yetter, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: This is part three of a three-part series introducing the part-time faculty members running for leadership positions for CFAC in the December election. Part one addresses the candidates’ journeys to teaching at Columbia; part two addresses the changes each slate would implement in the union.

Neither slate running for officer positions in Columbia’s part-time faculty union are doing so without facing criticism from the other side, with concerns ranging from lack of transparency to lack of experience.

The Chronicle sat down with each of the candidates on the Standing United and Reform CFAC slates running for Steering Committee positions in the CFAC election, in which votes will be tallied and announced Dec. 9, to discuss the allegations and concerns either side has for the other.


Courtesy CFAC
(From left) President Diana Vallera, Vice President Andrea J. Dymond, Secretary Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano and Treasurer Susan Van Veen.

The Standing United slate constitutes current Steering Committee members running for reelection, including: Diana Vallera, an adjunct professor in the Photography Department, for president; Andrea J. Dymond, an adjunct professor in the Theatre Department, for vice president; Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano, an adjunct professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department, for secretary; and Susan Van Veen, an adjunct professor in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department, for treasurer.

On concerns

With some members alleging the current CFAC leadership lacks transparency, Vallera said it is frustrating to hear when looking at how far the union has come.

She points to the union’s voter participation as an example of this. Vallera said voter participation in 2010 was at an all-time low of less than 10%, which resulted in the worst contract for adjuncts. Now, as a result of improving communication, the union regularly has upwards of 50% participation in votes, with more than 80% of those voters supporting CFAC decisions, she said.

One of the biggest sticking points for Reform CFAC, Standing United’s opposition slate, is Vallera’s salary. According to public LM-3 documents, which are tax forms for unions, Vallera was compensated a salary of $29,946 in the 2019 fiscal year, while the other officers were compensated anywhere from $0 to $200. This compensation is separate from a stipend of $4,600 paid by the college to select officers, in addition to adjuncts’ salaries for teaching.

Vallera, however, pointed out that part of that salary is from reimbursements because union presidents are required to pay out-of-pocket for things like food at union events. According to the documents, of the total $29,946, Vallera was compensated $1,896 in reimbursements. This is in addition to the $4,600 stipend given to officers as a whole by the college, as per the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

Van Veen said Vallera’s salary isn’t even comparable to what other union presidents make, and Dymond said Vallera spends “endless hours” on her union duties, which can total up to 70 hours a week of helping adjuncts.

“If I worked five hours a week, we wouldn’t have the union we have today,” Vallera said. “Compared to what labor leaders make or certainly what I’ve been offered to make, it is significantly less. Why? Because I love the work.”

In response to their criticism, Vallera said the Reform CFAC slate is “running on a platform, frankly, of lies” with allegations like claiming the union is broke, but she said they lack qualifications and training to take over officer positions.

“Transforming an entire union was not easy,” Vallera said. “There’s still more work to do.”


Steven Nunez, Justin Anderson, Camilla Forte
(From left) Derek Fawcett, Jason Betke, Christopher Thale and Colleen Plumb.

The Reform CFAC slate is comprised of four opposition candidates, including: Derek Fawcett, an adjunct professor in the Music Department, for president; Jason Betke, an adjunct professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department, for vice president; Christopher Thale, an adjunct professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department, for secretary; and Colleen Plumb, an adjunct professor in the Photography Department, for treasurer.

On concerns

If elected, all of the Reform candidates are aware there will be a faction of union members who are “vehemently against what we’re trying to do,” Fawcett said.

To combat this, he said there will be an emphasis on team-building because they will still be union members, regardless of who wins.

“If we win, we will be officers for you—and not just in name, but in deed,” Fawcett said. “We desperately want better leadership for all of us … I hold zero ill-will for anybody in this union.”

The slate members are also aware that they would be going from an all-female Steering Committee to one with only one woman. As a result, Plumb said they’ll make sure to implement diversity among department representatives so all voices and viewpoints are heard.

Many of the Reform slate candidates are also friends of the five former union members who were expelled from the union last year by the Integrity Committee amid allegations they were undermining the union’s bargaining efforts, as evidenced by private emails obtained by the Integrity Committee.

As reported Dec. 10, 2018, by the Chicago Reader, the union established an Integrity Committee in October that notified five members they had been charged with causing harm to the union and would need to attend hearings before the committee. However, they were also told that they were not permitted to bring legal representation to these hearings, so the accused members chose not to attend the hearings. In doing so, they were later notified of their expulsion from the union.

The expulsions remain a point of tension within the union more than a year later as some members, including the Reform slate, question the constitutionality of the Integrity Committee, given that the committee was not included in the union’s bylaws at the time, and suggest this has led to fear-mongering within the union.

Fawcett disclosed he counts all five of those members as friends, but said re-installing them in the union with a blanket reinstatement would not be a responsible action to take if elected president. Rather, he plans to first review all documents on the matter to determine whether there was any wrongdoing on their part.

If the same instance were to happen in the future where a group was separately discussing issues within the union under the Reform slate’s leadership, Fawcett said rather than shut down dissenting voices, he’d engage with them to discuss their viewpoints and work together to better the union.

“If your house is on fire, you can try convincing people around you that the house isn’t on fire, … or you can find the nearest bucket and start trying to put out the fire,” Fawcett said. “We got a house that’s on fire.”


Correction 12/5/19 at 9:33 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated messages were obtained from a private Facebook group rather than emails. The Chronicle regrets this error.