Columbia College classes canceled amid adjunct faculty strike

About 1,000 classes could be impacted after nearly 600 part-time professors, who make up the majority of faculty, hit the picket lines on Monday.

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Andrea Dymond, Theater Lecturer/ Resident Director at Columbia College Chicago, speaks about her role as a teacher in her students development during a press conference to comment on the strike by part-time adjunct faculty members at Columbia College at 600 S Michigan Ave in the Loop, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

Andrea Dymond, theater lecturer and resident director at Columbia College Chicago, speaks during a press conference to comment on the strike by part-time adjunct faculty members at Columbia College at 600 S. Michigan Ave. in the Loop, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Nearly 600 adjunct professors at Columbia College Chicago walked off the job Monday morning to demand job security and health insurance.

Dozens marched at 600 S. Michigan Ave. to a soundtrack of chanting, cars honking and house music. The faculty, along with students who joined them, chanted “health care is a human right,” and “stand up, fight back!”

Leaders of CFAC, the union representing Columbia College’s part-time professors, say members make up about two-thirds of the teaching staff at the arts-focused Loop school. They estimate about 1,000 classes will be impacted, affecting many of the school’s 6,500 undergraduates.

Jaxson Mishler, a sophomore studying fashion at Columbia, said all but one of his four classes has been canceled.

“I kind of feel like I’m paying for nothing right now,” he said.

But Mishler said he was out rallying beside his adjunct professors because he supports their demands for health insurance and for administrators to reinstate proposed cuts to course offerings.

“They’re asking for the students’ education to be invested in again,” he said.

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Tuesday. CFAC last went on strike in 2017 over contract disputes related to job security and benefits. That walkout lasted two days.

The most recent conflict between the union and the college’s leadership began in August when administrators proposed cutting up to 350 course sections to address a $20 million budget deficit. That prompted the union to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The board has yet to rule on the unfair labor practice complaint.

Columbia College spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis said the administration is targeting under-enrolled classes. Lukidis said school leaders have already made $40 million’s worth of spending cuts, including eliminating 124 positions, to bridge a budget shortfall that she said began after the start of the pandemic.

A Missing poster depicting President and CEO of Columbia College-Chicago Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim is taped on a pole as faculty and students carry signs during a strike by Part-time adjunct faculty members at Columbia College at 600 S Michigan Ave in the Loop, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

A missing poster depicting President and CEO of Columbia College-Chicago Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim is taped on a pole as faculty and students carry signs during a strike by part-time adjunct faculty members at Columbia College at 600 S. Michigan Ave. in the Loop, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Accordingly, given some decline in enrollment, the college is adjusting its course offering and some class sizes,” she said in an email.

Some adjunct faculty members and students dispute these claims, saying administrators have cut class offerings that are in demand, and increased class sizes to the detriment of student learning.

“They’ve been cutting courses left and right,” said Abigail Halla, a Columbia College junior majoring in art history. “I wish there were more classes available for me to take for my major instead of one every year.”

Halla, who grew up in Bolingbrook, marched next to her part-time teachers on Monday holding a handwritten sign that said, “Education is not a business.” She said she came to Columbia because her dad went to the school and liked its small class sizes and the opportunities it offered to learn from industry professionals.

But she feels college leaders are no longer prioritizing these qualities — or paying attention to students’ needs.

“I hope they come around because we do want to come to a solution. That’s why I’m here,” said Halla.

Adjunct faculty are paid between $4,700 and $5,600 per 3-credit course, according to the most recent agreement posted on the CFAC website. That agreement expired at the end of August.

Union leaders announced plans to begin their strike on Monday after an unsuccessful bargaining session on Oct. 26. Leaders say nearly 9 out of 10 voting members authorized a strike before voting closed on Oct. 25. About 8 in 10 members took part.

In a statement last week, Columbia College officials said they “are disappointed that the union’s leadership has called a strike. We remain committed to good-faith bargaining with the union, and hope union leadership will remain at the table with concrete proposals.”

The CFAC strike appears to be part of a recent upsurge in labor organizing on American college campuses detailed in a new report from the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies.

Researchers found that almost a third of all higher education-related strikes that took place in the last decade occurred in 2022 and the first half of 2023. They noted that successful unionization efforts picked up in particular among graduate student-workers and contingent faculty, like the members of CFAC.

Lisa Philip covers higher education for WBEZ, in partnership withOpen Campus.

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