Your NPR news source
columbia college strike

Students and part-time instructors rally on Oct. 30, the first day of a six-week walkout that disrupted more than 1,000 classes at Columbia College Chicago

Lisa Kurian Philip

Columbia College Chicago adjunct faculty ratify deal

Adjunct instructors and administrators at Columbia College Chicago have ratified a new contract, bringing an end to a walkout that disrupted classes for six weeks – and caused many students to consider whether or not they would return next semester.

Leaders of the adjunct faculty union said 99.7% of members approved the agreement, with 85% participating in the vote. That means part-time instructors will return to class on Jan. 2 after the college’s winter break.

According to a summary released by the union, the deal includes restoration of some spring classes that had been scheduled for cancellation, a health care benefit and a guarantee of instruction for adjunct faculty members.

Lilah Hernandez, a senior at Columbia studying art history, said she was relieved to hear about the college and union reaching an agreement. She said she attended rallies in support of adjunct faculty toward the beginning of the standoff. But after weeks without a resolution, she grew tired of being caught in the middle between her teachers and college leaders.

“I feel like my parents were divorcing and … they were trying to get me to pick a side,” said 22-year-old Hernandez.

In late November, after the strike had gone on for more than three weeks, college leaders announced that classes impacted by the walkout would be taken over by full-time faculty or other instructors who were not striking. Columbia College didn’t say whether the other instructors were newly hired.

Students were told they needed to attend class with their replacement teachers or they wouldn’t receive credits. But many, including Hernandez, felt they were betraying their original part-time teachers by doing so.

“I felt bad that I chose to go back to classes that were with replacement teachers, but at the end of the day, I gotta get that credit,” said Hernandez, adding that she’s going into debt to pay for her Columbia College degree. “If I don’t get that credit, then that’s a waste of money”.

“The new contract ,” Columbia President Kwang-Wu Kim and union President Diana Vallera issued a joint statement Thursday, saying the agreement “reflects the intention of both parties to...move forward with a renewed sense of collaboration.”

The union has not given an exact number of how many adjunct faculty members have been impacted by the strike, but when they first took to the picket line, officials said nearly 600 instructors joined the walkout.

Kathryn Lehman had been teaching students at the college for two months this semester before she went on strike at the end of October. The Latin American history teacher has been dog- and house-sitting to make ends meet since then.

“As December wore on, I was definitely starting to feel some real fear that we might not have a spring semester, either,” said Lehman, who has been teaching part-time at Columbia College since 2020. “I can’t wait to get back to teaching. I can’t wait to have students meet with me every week, have them do assignments, have them be excited about the class content and material. Because my Columbia students that I’ve had over the last few years have really engaged with the content of Latin American history in awesome and creative ways.”

Part-time instructors at the arts-focused college voted to authorize the strike in late October after leaders proposed cutting more than 300 classes. Administrators said the cuts were necessary to plug a $20 million deficit and targeted classes that were under enrolled.

Many adjunct faculty members and students disputed these claims, saying administrators cut class offerings that are in demand, and that leaders’ plans to increase class sizes would have harmed learning.

The school is unusual in that part-time instructors, who are paid per course, have comprised a large part of the teaching staff since the school’s beginning. Union leaders estimate more than 1,000 classes have been impacted by the walkout.

Columbia College has a long history of hiring working professionals to teach students because they “bring the most contemporary, innovative thinking to the structure and delivery of our curriculum,” according to the school’s website.

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

Lisa Kurian Philip covers higher education for WBEZ, in partnership with Open Campus. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @LAPhilip.

The Latest
The Northwestern employees were charged with obstructing police, months after the encampment came down. Now the cases have been dismissed.
Northwestern College and the American Academy of Art College shut down this month, leaving hundreds of students in the lurch.
The four Northwestern educators are charged with obstructing police during the protest. Those arrested questioned the timing, and the potential chilling effect on academic freedom.
School officials say separating students from their phones can help curb classroom distractions and cyberbullying.
The tension around taking on debt and the pension payment was the crux of a month-long delay of the school system’s budget proposal, which came out Wednesday.