Dozens of Columbia College Chicago part-time faculty members and students gathered Monday outside of 600 S. Michigan to demand a fair contract from the college’s administration.
Part-time faculty, the union representatives and students performed a choreographed dance as part of the demonstration to popular music played by a DJ. They held signs reading, “Stand for quality not for profit,” “Do better Columbia” and “Students matter more than profit.”
More than 600 adjunct professors walked off the job Monday morning after an unsuccessful bargaining session held on Oct. 26 that led to a strike vote, according to a union news release.
Of the 81% of union members participating in the vote, 88% voted in support of going on strike.
Michael Barlow, part-time professor at Columbia, said past faculty protests have been successful.
“I hope we are successful again,” he said. “I think the administration needs to come around. They know the impact we have as a union, as a teaching force … just be human. Be fair.”
Barlow, who works in the art and design department, was concerned about improper treatment of part-time faculty members and the lack of equitable distribution of funds at the school.
“Art and design are experiencing it right now,” he said. “We are among the top departments that haven’t lost any students … but we are having to shoulder the impact of what the administration is doing.”
The art and design program is expected to cut 56 classes out of the collegewide total of 350 for the fall 2024 semester.
“So that’s a big impact,” Barlow said.
Lukdis Lambrini, the assistant vice president of strategic and external communications at Columbia College Chicago, said it is regrettable that part-time faculty opted to strike.
“We are negotiating in good faith with CFAC,” she said. “We have another negotiation [Tuesday].”
There are 28,975 seats available for the spring 2024 semester, with 150 classes offered, she added. “If we have fewer students in sections, we’ll have less options for that class being taught.”
Other faculty members said students are paying the price with classes being canceled.
“We want to be heard. We want to be listened to,” said Thomas Dixon, part-time theater faculty member. “We want students to continue to have access to instructors and classes that they need, want and deserve.”
The union has created infographics and videos for faculty members and students who want to support the strike.
Many students took to social media to speak out against the administrators. The strike garnered coverage from local news outlets including Block Club Chicago and CBS Chicago, whose stories focused on the concerns about pay for professors and the future of the college’s class offerings.
While the union instructed its members not to cross picket lines, some part-time faculty members still chose to teach.
The union website, CFAResources.com, confirms that striking faculty will eventually be paid, but not while striking.
“When you strike, you don’t work. Usually, education unions have lost pay included in contracts so we will get paid in the end. The American Federation of Teachers offers members access to interest-free loans to help with expenses if their regular pay is interrupted,” the website read.
Many students supported their teachers’ decision to go on strike and stood with picketing union members.
“I’m really proud of the staff for standing their ground and being able to confront the administration,” sophomore Destiny Garner, 19, said. “They have every right to strike because [college administrators] are cutting classes that affect their pay.”
Sophomore Rohan Bradford, 19, said she supports the strike and is in favor of faculty taking a stand to give students the education they are paying for with the necessary tools for them to teach effectively.
“[College President Kwang-Wu] Kim says the resources aren’t there, but they are,” Rohan said. “But what are the resources without the teachers? Now, we have neither. No classes, no direction.”
Freshman audio arts major Angela Ultreras, 19, has three classes taught by part-time faculty members: college mathematics, business of live entertainment and foundations of audio production. She said the strike caught her by surprise, but she remains hopeful it will be resolved quickly. “This other girl that goes to UIC, they went through a strike and by her second year it’s been resolved. That kind of gave me peace of mind because it’s most likely going to be resolved.”
Lambrini said the department chairs and college leadership have been mindful of graduating seniors feeling anxiety at this time.
“The best thing we can do is get back to the bargaining table and make sure this ends as quickly as possible,” she said. “There are still resources available for students.”
Columbia College Chicago students Sofia Wheelock, Justus Brown, Erica Jones, Jamari Shelton, Janiya Williams, Sabrina Hart, Stuart Doperalski and Uriel Reyes contributed to this report.