PFAC union concerned about changes underway at Columbia College Chicago
January 4, 2018

Photo courtesy PFAC
Members of Columbia College Chicago’s Part Time Faculty Association Columbia (PFAC) marching for a contract. The union and university later signed a contract guaranteeing part-timers fair wages, but the contract ended in August.

By Jessica Villagomez

The Columbia College Chicago part-time faculty members’ union known as the Part-Time Faculty Association Columbia College Chicago (PFAC), an organization that advocates for part-time faculty members across the university, has partnered with students in an effort they are calling “Save Columbia.”

According to a PFAC flyer released to advertise a student and faculty forum at the university on Nov. 16, PFAC alleges the university is changing in structure and “moving toward the trade school model, with larger classes, fewer course offerings with little content, and a top-heavy administration that is out of touch with faculty and students.”

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates, PFAC publicity chair and adjunct journalism professor at Columbia College Chicago, said PFAC first began to help negotiate fair wages for part-time faculty teaching at Columbia. The union won a contract that guaranteed members a certain pay per class, she said.

Issues with the administration have continued to emerge, however.

“Originally, the main issues were decent wages and allowance for one paid sick day during the semester,” Cummings-Yeates said. “Columbia was an open and inclusive school at that time, [and] the focus was on community and providing students with a creative education from working professionals in their industry.”

PFAC argues the administration’s focus has changed into altering the university and its mission.

Issues changing

“The issues have changed as the administration and their focus have changed,” Cummings-Yeates said. “Our main issues currently are demanding that the college follow the tier system that PFAC formed, that assigns classes according to seniority, academic freedom, and the right to create and teach classes the way that best suits students, making sure that part-time faculty are valued and respected as the foundation of the college.” PFAC also wants to ensure students get a well rounded education, she added.

The organization signed a contract after four years of negotiations in 2014. The contract ensured a level of job security and assigned classes on the basis of seniority. Grants as well as other benefits such as payments for meetings also were included. The contract expired last August, however, and PFAC is prepared to battle for another contract this year.

“For the next contract we are demanding that the administration follow our tiered system for part-time faculty with more experience; they are trying to get rid of the system so that they can hire anyone with no experience,” Cummings-Yeates alleged. “We are asking that we be treated with the same respect as full-time faculty. Currently, we are treated like we are not valued by the college. Our members are fighting for class assignments that they should rightfully have, and we are mostly an afterthought for the administration’s policies.”

Columbia College Chicago responded to Gazette Chicago requests for an interview with a written statement, which said that the university respects all faculty members.

“Columbia College Chicago is negotiating in good faith with the union representing our part-time faculty and we will continue to do so with the goal of reaching an agreement that is acceptable to all parties,” the statement said. “Columbia greatly values the contributions of its excellent and dedicated full- and part-time faculty.”

Classes becoming larger

Jefferson Godard, a part-time faculty member in the Art & Art History Department, has belonged to PFAC since he began teaching at the university nine years ago. Godard said he has taught in three departments, including those for Design and for Architectural Studies. As for the changes he has seen since he started, Godard said he has not personally lost classes but has noticed that classes are becoming larger.

Though Godard’s students know he works part-time, his status has not affected him in the classroom, he said.

“They’re still able to relate to me,” he noted. “I think as any young person starting college they want to start with their career” and concentrate on their classes. “So I think the only struggle that the students have is that they want to really get immediately immersed in their degree course load.”

Godard added that restructuring the department and foundational freshmen courses has benefited students and made it easier for first-year students to begin their careers at Columbia.

As for seniority and related issues, he wants PFAC to evolve so young colleagues have opportunities, too.

“I appreciate that PFAC is trying to maintain and retain existing instructors and their seniority with respect to courses offered,” he said. “However, I would like to see in the future for younger instructors to be able to come in and teach courses at the college because I think that the college needs more young instructors. I think that’s difficult with the current way that PFAC is structured.

Regarding his hopes for changes with current contract negotiations, Godard “would like to see that there’s a more healthy balance between maintaining course offerings for more established faculty or faculty that have been with the college for a long time as well as courses being offered to younger faculty.”

PFAC ultimately seeks to negotiate a new contract and push back against administrative changes.

“They are trying to turn Columbia into a soulless, for-profit type of institution, and we have formed a coalition to prevent this and restore the original mission of Columbia for community, inclusiveness and a creative education with working professionals,” Cummings-Yeates said.

Recent graduate of Columbia Joseph Carballo studied within the radio department at the university and noticed the department shrink throughout his time there. “The courses available always changed,” he said. “I had a couple classes I wanted to take, but it didn’t happen.”

Columbia College officials had no further comment.

To contact Columbia, call (312) 369-1000. For more about PFAC, log on to https://www.facebook.com/pfac.org/.