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Students going into a unionized profession have conflicting emotions due to part-time faculty strike

River Wise, a junior Theatre Technology and Design major creates a paint guide for an upcoming show. Wise is working in The Shop located on the first floor of the Theatre buidling at 72 E 11th St. (Andres Guerra)

Students in the Cinema and Television Arts Department and theatre students will enter a profession that has strong unions for actors, stage directors, writers, choreographers, designers and cinematographers.  

These students just watched as two major labor disputes disrupted their future industry this past summer and into the fall when the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike for 148 days and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, went on strike for 118 days. 

As theatre students head into a highly unionized industry after graduation, the part-time union strike has been particularly hard to navigate, especially now that Columbia has assigned replacement teachers to their courses. 

Ben Guest, a senior acting major, said he was hopeful after the SAG-AFTRA strike ended in early November.

“It feels like if I join SAG, I’m inheriting a better field to work in,” he said.

While Guest supports the part-time faculty union by not attending classes taken over by replacement teachers, it has been harder to reconcile the effect on students. 

“With this,” he said, “ it’s crazy how it’s affecting students and making people have to make really difficult choices.” 

The Columbia Faculty Union, which represented 584 part-time instructors this semester, has been on strike since Oct. 30, making it one of the longest adjunct labor action actions in US history. 

This week — the fifth week of the strike — the college’s full-time faculty stepped in to cover classes by striking instructors so that students could finish the semester. 

Guest has not returned to class since the replacement teachers have taken over and is planning to drop out by the end of the semester, citing the administration’s handling of the strike as the reason.

River Wise, a junior theatre tech and design major, said students are “caught between a rock and a hard place.”

In one incident this week, Erin Annarella, a part-time instructor who has been out on strike, came back to her class while it was in session with Amy Toruno, a practitioner-in-residence. After Annarella asked Toruno if she could speak to her class, Toruno stepped out to give them privacy, sources told the Chronicle. When Toruno came back, Annarella left, and Toruno continued with the lesson plan. But students were upset and tearful and told Toruno they wanted their part-time instructor, the sources said. 

Senior Acting major Katie Rutter plans to graduate in May. She’s conflicted with supporting the union and graduating, “It is tough because I support the teachers, but I also need to graduate,” Rutter said. “Some classes are being canceled, some are starting with new assignments, with everything up in the air for so long it has been really stressful for students, because we don’t know what to expect.”

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About the Contributors
Connor Dore
Connor Dore, Former Reporter
cdore@columbiachronicle.com   Connor Dore is a senior journalism major, concentrating in broadcast journalism. Dore primarily reports on Columbia's School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but has also written about the college's financial deficit, Chicago protests and course changes. He joined the Chronicle in May 2023.   Hometown: Hickory Hills, Illinois
Andres Guerra
Andres Guerra, Former Director of Multimedia
aguerra@columbiachronicle.com   Andres Guerra is a senior photojournalism major, minoring in creative writing, with a concentration in poetry. Guerra produces Chronicle TV, and Chronicle's two podcasts, Chronicle Headlines and Chronversations. Guerra joined the Chronicle in February 2023.   Hometown: Dallas, Texas