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Possible union strike would disrupt the semester but not stop students from completing credits toward graduation, Columbia chief of staff says

Lukas Katilius
Sophomore creative writing major and TRIO peer mentor James Rabon addresses President Kwang-Wu Kim in response to several changes in the college’s spending and class structure during a protest at the Student Center on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

If the part-time faculty union votes to authorize a strike this week, the college will work to minimize the impact on students.

“Our commitment to seeing students graduate does not change in the face of a job action. We plan to protect students’ academic progress in the event of a strike – that includes progress to graduation,” Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot told the Chronicle in an email on Monday, Oct. 23.  

The union is currently in contract negotiations with the college.

“We must be clear-eyed that a strike would affect instruction,” Pernot said. But, “the college is committed to protecting the academic progress of students.”

CFAC began voting Friday, Oct. 20, on whether to authorize a strike over cost-cutting measures the college is considering to close a $20 million deficit.  The voting will continue through Wednesday, Oct. 25, and if it is approved, the union could move to strike the next day. 

The part-time union, which represents 581 instructors, last went on strike in 2017 for two days. 

Hundreds of students turned out for a union-hosted town hall on Friday, Oct. 20. Many said they were concerned about classes being cut and about class sizes going up, both possibilities under measures that administrators have said are under consideration. 

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over changes to courses.

At the town hall, Diana Vallera, union president and a part-time photography instructor, called for students to return the next day to protest at President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim’s address during Family Weekend, and hundreds showed, calling on him to resign. Kim has been president since July 2013. 

Eriana Freeman, a junior graphic design major, said she supports a strike. 

“For change to happen, a good change for us all, we must endure other changes first. By not striking or negotiating, classes and graduation will be at risk regardless and either way, we will be affected by this,” Freeman said. 

Freeman said she is most worried about classes being cut. 

Roisin Darby, a sophomore theatre major, said they are not worried about graduating if the union does strike. 

“The union voting to strike is the only piece of confidence I have in the school,” Darby said. “Adjuncts deserve more and Kim and his administration aren’t listening.”   

Pernot said required courses will continue to be offered, as will “substantial” elective offerings in departments. 

“While the primary driver of current changes is a goal of budgetary efficiency, the latest changes also are intended to clarify graduation and general education requirements to facilitate pathways to graduation,” he said.

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About the Contributors
Olivia Cohen
Olivia Cohen, Former Editor-in-Chief
ocohen@columbiachronicle.com   Olivia Cohen is a senior journalism major, minoring in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She primarily reports on Columbia's financial health, administration and unions, but has also written about personnel and department changes, COVID-19 policies and abortion. She joined the Chronicle in August 2021.   Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Lukas Katilius
Lukas Katilius, Photojournalist
lkatilius@columbiachronicle.com   Lukas Katilius is a junior photojournalism major. He has covered various campus and Chicago events. Katilius  joined the Chronicle in July 2023.   Hometown: New Lenox, Illinois