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Columbia College Part-Time Faculty Protests Graduate Student Teaching

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | May 9, 2013 1:50pm | Updated on May 9, 2013 4:22pm
 Part-time Columbia College faculty took to the streets Thursday to rally against policies they say unfairly target them to cut costs.
Columbia College Faculty Protest
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SOUTH LOOP — A union of part-time faculty at Columbia College took to the streets Thursday to spotlight staffing changes that they say victimize teachers and students.

The Part-Time Faculty Association (P-Fac), has been mired in contract negotiations with the administration for more than three years, since the union's contract expired in August 2010, said Diana Vallera, the group's president.

Vallera said the demonstration, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the school building at 600 S. Michigan Ave., and included students and faculty members, was an attempt to get the administration's attention and encourage them to negotiate "in good faith."

"They keep denying the fact that they're not rehiring — or firing — a lot of our faculty, when in fact they are," Vallera said. "We keep having to go to [the National Labor Relations Board], we keep filing unfair labor practices, and we keep winning. This has been an accumulation of their actions, and we need them to stop."

The union's latest objection is with the college assigning graduate students to teach classes previously reserved for faculty. A series of legal battles led by the union forced the college to release documents two months ago showing that 300 classes formerly taught by P-Fac members are now being taught by graduate students.

Vallera called that policy evidence that the administration's decision-making "is money-driven, not student-driven."

Graduates students were assigned 43 classes in the fall 2011 semester, 54 that spring and 46 during this year's fall term, according to Steve Kauffman, a spokesman for the school.

The union claims that those classes would have otherwise been assigned to part-time faculty, and notes that graduate student teachers still pay tuition while employed in these positions.

Brianne Bolin, a part-time teacher in the English department, said graduate students are required to teach a class, not acting as teachers' assistants "where they'd have a teacher overseeing them, but actually teach the whole class" with only a single training course as a prerequisite.

"If [undergraduates] get to be juniors and seniors, and they need letters of recommendation, or extra help, those people are nowhere to be found," Bolin said.

A typical course load for part-time faculty is three classes per term, for a total of nine per year. Bolin is teaching one class during the current spring semester, where she says she typically would have at least two. She says most part-time faculty in her department have seen their course load decrease significantly since 2010.

The union is threatening to strike, though Vallera said faculty hope to reach an agreement first.

In the interest of "keeping [talks] in the negotiation room," the school declined to comment, issuing a statement that vowed to "continue to engage in good-faith bargaining with P-Fac."

Columbia "hopes to reach a new agreement in the near future. Our focus remains on the educational well-being of our students as well as the vitality and quality of the college itself," according to a statement from the college.

Students also participated in the rally, and Vallera said their support will be crucial if the union decides to strike.

Ali Hadley, a sophomore in the film program, met with teachers earlier this week to help make signs for the rally. She said she objects to the graduate teaching policy because of its impact on the part-time faculty's well-being, and her own education.

"I think that it's unfair that [graduate students] are taking away from what the part-time faculty should be getting," said Hadley, 20. "And I think it takes away from our education, and our well-being as students here. We're paying a lot of money to go here and we should be able to get the best education possible, and I don't think someone who's taken one class can provide that."

A DNAinfo.com Chicago analysis of White House college finance data found that Columbia students pay an average of $27,934 per year to attend, and graduates from Columbia have the highest monthly loan payments of any Chicago school at $302 per month.

Columbia's incoming president and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim told DNAinfo.com Chicago in February that lowering student costs would be one of his priorities when he takes the helm in July.