Columbia College at night
Adjunct faculty at Columbia College Chicago have voted to strike. Credit: Facebook/Columbia College Chicago

SOUTH LOOP — Columbia College Chicago’s adjunct faculty members plan to strike Monday over class cuts unless the union reaches an agreement with school administration before then.

The Columbia College Faculty Union, which represents around 600 members of the liberal arts college’s part-time faculty, authorized a strike over a voting period from Oct. 20-25. According to a union press release Thursday announcing the strike, more than 81 percent of members participated in the vote, with 88 percent of them supporting the strike.

The decision comes as a result of the school administration’s plans to cut hundreds of class sections, which union leaders said would decrease adjunct faculty’s workload — and therefore pay — or increase class sizes without a corresponding pay increase. Diana Vallera, union president and a part-time faculty member in the photography department, said about 340 class sections would be eliminated.

“It’s harming the students. It’s harming those that are most marginalized without basic safety nets,” Vallera said. “It’s harming everyone.”

She said the college told her that class cuts will exclusively impact part-time faculty, who teach about two-thirds of Columbia’s classes. According to Vallera, 340 classes amount to about one-third of the work that part-time faculty currently does.

CFAC last voted to strike in 2017 over job protections and pay, leading to a two-day walkout.

In response to the union’s decision to strike Monday, Columbia said it will attempt to limit disruptions to students’ classes. The Downtown campus will be open and full-time faculty — who are not unionized — are expected to continue teaching, Columbia said on its website.

“We are disappointed that the union’s leadership has called a strike,” the college said in a statement. “We remain committed to good-faith bargaining with the union, and hope union leadership will remain at the table with concrete proposals.”

The school characterized the dispute as focusing on how “a larger share of courses will now be taught by full-time faculty” rather than how there will be fewer class sections overall.

The class reductions come as Columbia is looking to reduce its deficit, especially after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The college has spent $80 million in deficit since 2019 and will add $20 million more in deficit spending this year, it said.

Vallera said she finds it unfair that the class cuts will disproportionately hurt faculty members who don’t receive benefits and often live paycheck to paycheck. She said she has proposed instead that the highest-salaried people at Columbia bear the brunt of financial cuts.

Lambrini Lukidis, Columbia’s associate vice president of strategic communications and external relations, said the school has already made spending cuts and eliminated 124 positions, primarily on the administrative side.

The Columbia College Faculty Union has also alleged to the National Labor Relations Board that the college violated fair labor practices. Vallera said the college decided on course cuts without consulting the union, while the union was actively bargaining for a new contract with the school in August — a charge that “lacks merit,” Lukidis said.

The next bargaining session between the union and Columbia is scheduled for Thursday, Lukidis said Friday.

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