Part two: CFAC candidates on the future of the union

By Alexandra Yetter, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: This is part two 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 three will address allegations each slate is facing from the opposing slate.

Each slate’s candidates running for officer positions on Columbia’s part-time faculty union Steering Committee have the same end goal any similar union has: giving adjuncts at Columbia the best working conditions possible.

However, the two slates—Standing United and Reform CFAC—differ on how to achieve that goal.

The Chronicle sat down with each of the candidates running for Steering Committee positions in the CFAC election, which will be tallied and announced Dec. 9, to discuss the initiatives they would implement if elected, as well as their short and long term goals for the union.


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.


When Vallera first assumed the union presidency in 2010, she said the union had one of the worst contracts in the country and the former Steering Committee had no transparency. Since, she said the contract has improved by bettering job security, addressing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, improving quality of life issues for adjuncts and protecting academic freedom for adjuncts in the classroom.

With many of their short and long term goals crossed off the list, Vallera said the Standing Union slate’s goal if reelected is to continue ensuring there is equity and access in education, continuously reassessing and improving working conditions and meeting more union members.

In the long term, Vallera said she wants to survey members to find out what improvements they think should be made in the next bargaining agreement. The current bargaining agreement extends through Aug. 31, 2023.

“It’s never too soon to start building those groups and feedback on what are some of the things we can get in our next contract,” Vallera said, “[and] what are some of the other ways we can help improve student learning.”

When it comes to transparency, Vallera said the union has also made strides by improving access through resource databases for members and a new initiative to hold teleconference calls—which came along with the union’s affiliation with the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

One of the other accomplishments the Standing United slate touts is their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as seen in their all-female slate, which Dymond said the union gives an inclusive viewpoint even as they face gender stereotypes at the bargaining table.

Vallera said the union used to be made up of a majority of white men, but they began to recruit underrepresented groups in leadership positions. In addition to putting DEI initiatives in the contract “because the college wasn’t committed to it,” they also created an officer position devoted to DEI. With the previous occupant of that position now retired from the college, Vallera said they’re looking to refill that role and expand diversity training in the future.


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 leadership candidates: 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.


Since Thale became one of the founding members of CFAC in 1995, he said a lot has changed—in good ways and bad. For one, he said the contract is much improved from when he and other members first sat down with the college to create a collective bargaining agreement. However, he said there is less outreach and openness on the Steering Committee’s part, compared to 20 years ago.

One issue Thale pointed to in the contract is that it is limiting for staff members who also teach, which he said is a group he has wanted more involved in the bargaining unit since the ’90s. Additionally, one of Thale’s goals, if elected, is to make peace with the college administration, staff who teach and graduate student instructors.

As a former graduate student instructor and staff member who taught, Betke said his “unique perspective” tells him all the instructors should be represented under one umbrella.

One of the biggest changes the Reform slate aims to implement, if elected, is transparency when it comes to union finances.

Fawcett is actually modeling his idea of financial transparency off of his condo’s homeowners association. During meetings at his condo, he said the homeowners association will show residents financial disclosures and projected spending through 2030 so residents know exactly where their money is going.

“Why do I know where every penny of my homeowners association dues is going, but I have so many questions about where my CFAC dues are going?” Fawcett said.

As treasurer, Plumb plans to look into how much debt the union is in from previous lawsuits and settlements. She also wants to look at ways to make union dues more affordable for adjuncts since the September shift from a $130 flat rate to a 2.5% income-based rate has made it harder for some adjuncts, including herself, to take on more classes.

The Reform slate has also been critical of Vallera’s salary and have said they will put officer and department representative compensation to a unionwide vote.

Vallera was compensated more than $25,000 in the 2019 fiscal year. However, Vallera said her salary has always been transparent and that the union would not have the accomplishments it has made thus far if she did not work as much as she does, as reported Nov. 27 by the Chronicle.

In addition to financial transparency, the candidates are looking to implement other initiatives to make it easier to be an adjunct at Columbia and a union member, such as video conferences of union meetings, public agendas so members know what to expect in meetings, more emphasis on freedom of speech for members and making sure each department has the correct number of representatives.