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The Columbia Chronicle

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The Columbia Chronicle

Part-time faculty union hosts event to make picket signs ahead of possible strike

Columbia students sit down together to make picket signs in support of the Columbia Faculty Union and Student Body Coalition on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 at 600 S. Michigan Ave. (Abra Richardson )

 The part-time faculty union invited students and faculty to make posters on Tuesday, Oct. 24 to “build community” around a potential picket that could start as soon as Thursday.

A dozen students crowded around tables in room 1301 in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. to make signs that read “Students 4 Faculty” and “Dr. Kim do better,” in reference to Columbia President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim. Several part-time faculty members chatted with the students over coffee and donuts.

Diana Vallera, CFAC president and part-time photography instructor, said the event was an opportunity for students and faculty to come in with some questions and “just get to know each other,” she said. “No issues and stuff.”

The union is in the midst of increasingly contentious contract negotiations with the college and has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over cost-cutting measures that college is considering to close a $20 million deficit.

Part-time faculty began voting last Friday on whether to authorize strike. The vote will remain open until Wednesday, Oct. 25. If the union votes to authorize the strike, it could start on Thursday, Delia Pless, CFAC’s publications chair, told the Chronicle.

Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot and Terence Smith, the college’s Special Counsel Labor Relations, sent out a joint email on behalf of the administration on Monday, Oct. 23, countering some of the claims made by the union and dispelling rumors among the student body – one of them being that students will not be able to graduate if the union goes on strike. 

The email said required courses will continue to be offered, along with substantial elective offerings in departments, with the latest changes including efforts to facilitate pathways to graduation. 

It noted that the Board of Trustees has directed the college to reduce its deficit spending and stop drawing on cash reserves, which are expected to run out by 2024-25.

Some of the measures under consideration are: 

  • Eliminating graduate programs with low enrollment, 
  • Discontinuing certain undergraduate degrees 
  • Raising class sizes
  • Reducing the core curriculums credits from 42 to 30
  • Selling some campus buildings 
  • Cutting back on use of part-time faculty 

“These measures include reducing some sections and increasing class size where academically feasible,” according to the email. “We have been clear that this will result in a larger share of classes being taught by full-time faculty, and that there will be fewer sections taught by part-time faculty. This is what the part-time faculty is threatening to strike over.” 

Aeon Schell, first-year game design major, works on a detailed picket sign in support of Columbia Faculty Union and Student Body Coalition during an event held by CFAC, providing materials and supplies on Tuesday, Oct. 24, located at 600 S. Michigan Ave. (Abra Richardson )

In response to a series of town halls that Kim and administrators have held to explain the college’s financial situation to faculty and students, the union held what it called the “real town hall” on Friday, Oct. 20, and invited students to join them in protesting increased class sizes and course cuts. Union leaders called on students to return the following day to protest a president’s address to parents that was part of Family Weekend. Hundreds turned out.

First-year photojournalism major Claire Gerald was not able to attend the union-sponsored town hall or Family Weekend protest. She came on Tuesday to make signs.

“I decided this is a good chance to get involved now,” Gerald said. 

First-year film major Damien Cutler has been following the vote for a possible strike since the town hall. Cutler said they have been coming to the union events with a camera to spread the word on social media.

“Every single student at the school, every single faculty member, every single student is being affected by the current administration and the things that they do,” Cutler said.

First-year theater tech major Maddie Hayes is concerned the issues surrounding the deficit have been “taking away the school’s identity.”

“I think it’s making it harder to just exist at this school, because higher cost of tuition, less classes that we want to take, less pay for faculty,” Hayes said.

Hayes said the current environment at Columbia is causing them to “reconsider whether this is the right choice.”

“I didn’t know a lot about the state of the school and everything prior to coming here this year, but it definitely doesn’t feel quite like what I was promised,” Hayes said. 

A Chronicle reporter tried to talk to part-time faculty at the event but they declined to comment, referring the reporter to Vallera.

Students told the Chronicle that they want more information about what they should do if the part-time faculty decide to go on strike. 

Senior film and television major Caroline Jones plans on graduating in the spring and is concerned about lack of information to the students.

Jones said she isn’t sure what she should do if part-time faculty strike. She wants “more information from Columbia on what’s gonna happen if you don’t show up to class, if you do show up to class,” Jones said.  “Should you show up to class or not at all?” 

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About the Contributors
Allison Shelton, Reporter
ashelton@columbiachronicle.com   Allison Shelton is a sophomore journalism major, with a minor in adverting and fashion communications.  She primarily reports on Columbia's Student Government Association but has also written about sustainability, campus events and the college's unions. Shelton joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
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, 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