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Too Old, Too White, Too Female To Teach a Columbia College Class

By Nancy Traver, P-fac Communications Chair

P-fac, the union of part-time faculty members at Columbia College Chicago, recently unearthed an internal report that verified what the union has been saying for years: the administration wants to drive out senior adjuncts and get rid of its collective bargaining agreement with the union.

The report also states that there are just too darn many older white women adjuncts. The information came in an annual report for the 2015-16 academic year written by Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies department. A section of Schiff’s report on diversity says fashion students are “almost always taught by white women instructors” and that “noteworthy, too, is that 25 of them are older than 50.”

The report continues, “Sentiment is high about further diversifying our faculty -- in terms of age, ability, sexual orientation, philosophical bent, socioeconomic background, etc. Given the de facto hiring freeze and the strictures of our collective bargaining agreement, such will likely not come to pass any time soon.”

The part-time faculty contract hinders progress, the report states. “The collective bargaining agreement means that unless we substantially rewrite classes, and find those currently assigned lack sufficient expertise to teach them, we cannot seek the most appropriate credential/outcomes match.”

P-fac President Diana Vallera called the report “disturbing but at the same time an affirmation of what we suspected was taking place.”

She noted that senior adjuncts from many departments have been complaining for several semesters that the administration uses the tactic of renaming courses and then telling older, more experienced and higher-paid adjuncts that they are suddenly “not qualified” to teach these newly redesigned courses. This often occurs even when the so-called “new” courses incorporate the same curriculum as that offered in the original classes.

“The administration is audaciously sidestepping the collective bargaining agreement, getting rid of adjuncts they don’t like and sometimes bringing in their friends and family members to teach the classes,” she added. “By doing this, the administration is disregarding faculty who have dedicated years of their lives to teaching and is also violating our collective bargaining agreement.”

Columbia College signed the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with P-fac in 2013, after three years of contentious negotiations. Considered one of the best contracts in the nation, the CBA says the college must offer two course sections to qualified adjuncts with 51 or more teaching credits worth of service, before moving on to those with 33-50 credits. It provided some measure of job security for a contingent work force requiring cause for termination.

Since the fall semester began, students and faculty in the Fashion Studies department have complained that the changes are being made without input from the department’s curriculum committee. Proposals that have drawn protest include changing the department’s name, dropping a BFA in design, and moving the department into a marketing and business model and away from design and construction.

Opponents of the changes have posted an online petition saying that the proposed curriculum “will not provide Columbia fashion design students with the education they need for viable employment in their chosen field,” and that they’ve been given “no evidence/data to show the courses that have been proposed, altered, removed or renamed will improve our students’ educational experience and make them more marketable.”

The local AAUP chapter has launched an investigation into the department’s academic practices. The chapter raised concerns about the department’s failure to follow a proper procedure for curriculum changes, failed to produce data or research in support of changes, and excluded the voices of faculty who teach in the discipline. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the department chair at the forefront of the changes is an interim appointment with no experience within the discipline.

In 2013, Columbia College under the leadership of President Warrick Carter, initiated a “prioritization” program utilizing similar tactics. This effort was successfully halted through strong opposition across the college.

Today prioritization comes under the guise of “the strategic plan.” The current President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim signed the collective bargaining agreement with P-fac, and promised experienced adjuncts would be “valued.”

Vallera said, “The disregard of long-serving faculty revealed in Schiff’s report stands in stark contrast to Dr. Kim’s stated commitment. In a troubling contortion of equity and diversity, Schiff’s report draws upon gender bias and age bias in the name of advancing diversity.”

This throws into doubt the legitimacy of the diversity component of Columbia College’s strategic plan.