Adjunct instructors and administrators at Columbia College Chicago have reached a tentative deal that could bring the end to a walkout that disrupted classes for six weeks – and caused many students to consider whether or not they would return next semester.

The union representing part-time teachers at the South Loop college said details of the agreement would be released after members had voted on it. Voting opens Monday night and will close on Wednesday evening. Union leaders said adjunct faculty will return to class on Jan. 2 after the college’s winter break if members approve the deal.

Lilah Hernandez, a senior at Columbia studying art history, said she was relieved at the prospect of the strike ending. 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.”

A spokesperson for Columbia College has not yet responded to a request for comment about the tentative deal. 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.

Now that there’s a deal on the table, she said, “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 adjunct faculty, who are paid per course, comprise the majority of teaching staff – not full-time professors. 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.

Higher education reporter for WBEZ Chicago in partnership with Open Campus.