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Part-time faculty negotiate over lost classes at Columbia College

by Heather Momyer
Oct 11, 2012

With the fall semester moving closer to midterms, Columbia College Chicago adjunct instructors are still working under an expired contract. P-fac, the adjunct instructors' union, is now negotiating a new contract with the college, with particular focus on job security and maintaining a consistent number of assigned courses.

Adjunct instructors are part-time teaching faculty who work on a semester-by-semester basis without any guarantee of course assignments. In recent years, some long-standing faculty suddenly stopped getting some of their normal classes.

Lyn Wolfson taught for 16 years in Columbia’s Department of Arts Education and Media Management. In the fall of 2010, Wolfson was not assigned the public speaking class she taught for 15 years.

“They didn’t cancel the course,” Wolfson said. “They hired a brand-new instructor, not a union member.”

From fall of 2010 to the spring of 2011, Wolfson's course load went from three classes down to one.

“My salary went from almost $15,000 per semester to somewhere between $4,800 and $4,900,” she said.

When Columbia offered Wolfson only one course for the fall of 2011, she decided to leave.

“It just wasn’t financially feasible,” she said.

Robert Gordon, of the Art and Design Department, also went from three courses to one.

“If you have three classes, you can scrape by with other work,” he said. “If you only have one, what do you do? How do you eat? How do you pay the dentist?”

Some teachers said they believed older faculty's assignments were being cut and given to less experienced, lower-paid instructors.

“I’m not saying it’s age discrimination,” Wolfson said, “but there is a correlation with those over the age of 50 and those who have 15 to 20 years of experience and are seeing their courses cut.”

Len Strazewski, Interim Associate Provost and Chief Negotiator, said he has not seen any documentation that more experienced faculty have been replaced by new faculty.

“I think P-fac is interested in changing the way higher education perceives adjuncts,” Strazewski said, “but I don’t know that Columbia wants to be a leader in that."

The current negotiations follow the National Labor Relations Board’s investigation into unfair labor practices at Columbia College. This summer, the board determined Columbia was required to negotiate any changes in how it handles course assignments.

However, the ruling is under appeal, Strazewski said.

“Enrollment has gone from 12,200 students in 2008 to 11,000 students," he said. "The need for teachers has also dropped."

In the current year, union-member adjunct salaries at range from $3,947 to $4,770 per three-credit-hour class, depending on levels of working experience. Based on information provided from the Illinois Education Association, the umbrella organization for Illinois education unions, Columbia College adjuncts are among the highest paid, though they have no other benefits.

Among the lowest paid are adjuncts at Joliet Junior College, where salaries ranged from $1,989 to $2,379 per three-credit-hour class in the 2011 – 2012 year. 

The Modern Language Association, the academic association for English and language professors, recommends that adjuncts receive a minimum of $6,920 for a three-credit-hour semester course in the 2012 – 2013 academic year.

Students at Columbia said they appreciated the diversity of having part-time faculty who are often working other jobs.

"They have more connections and can provide us with connections to the real world,” said Anton Eggertsson, a photography student.

However, not all faculty are always working in their fields. Fashion student Lindsey Keslar said that one of her instructors was also a bartender.