February 1, 2002
By PAM BELLUCK, The New York Times
BOSTON, Jan. 31 — Moving to resolve an issue that has dogged the university for months, Harvard's president, Lawrence H. Summers, said today that he would support substantial raises for its janitors, gardeners, security guards and other low-wage workers.
Mr. Summers accepted the recommendations of a commission that called for base wages of $10.83 to $11.30 an hour. Out of 13,000 workers at Harvard, about 400 earn less than $10.25 an hour. Several hundred employees of outside subcontractors and temporary employees also make less than that; some are paid as little as $8.50 an hour.
The new pay rates, however, still fall short of the "living wage" that students and other protesters have demanded. They had estimated the "living wage" at $15 to $20 an hour to support a family in Boston.
The wage issue spurred the longest sit-in at a Harvard building, a three-week occupation last spring of the first floor of Massachusetts Hall, which houses the university president's office. About 40 students camped out outside the office of the president, then Neil L. Rudenstine.
Some 400 faculty members signed a letter supporting the protesters, and the students also won the support of the state's two United States senators, the Cambridge City Council and labor leaders. In response to the protests, Mr. Rudenstine appointed a 19-member commission.
The commission did not recommend, and Mr. Summers did not endorse, setting a fixed "living wage," and "living wage" advocates said they would continue their campaign.
"Janitors at Harvard will still be making less than they made 10 years ago and won't even approach many other universities' wages," Minsu Longiaru, an organizer with the Harvard Workers' Center, said in a statement.
"There's a lot of questions that still remain, and Larry Summers really needs to answer those questions and answer them pretty soon," said Arin Dube, another student protester.
Mr. Summers agreed with commission recommendations that the raises be negotiated through collective bargaining with unions. The initial wage increases are likely to cost several million dollars a year.
In a statement, Mr. Summers said he also wanted to encourage scholarly work on "issues relating to income inequality and the challenges faced by lower wage workers."
Harvard also grappled this week with another contentious issue: grade inflation. About half of the grades awarded in recent years to Harvard students were either A's or A-'s. And 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors last June.
For months, Mr. Summers has been talking with professors about grade inflation, urging them to curb it in their own classrooms.
On Wednesday, Harvard's dean for undergraduate education, Susan Pedersen, raised another proposal, that the university stop giving honors to students who earn only a B average. Dean Pedersen's proposal referred only to a student's overall grade-point average. It would still allow students with a B average to get honors if they do honors-caliber work in their major or concentration, including writing a thesis.
If such a policy had been in place last year, about a quarter of the students who received honors would not have. Other Ivy League universities, including Princeton and Yale, give honors only for exemplary performance in a major, and some will give honors to a maximum of a third of graduating seniors.
Not everyone on the Harvard campus sees the issue as a clear-cut problem. Some faculty members and students say that grades may be higher at Harvard than they used to be because students are studying more to compete for jobs and graduate schools. They also say Harvard classes are smaller than they used to be, implying that teachers are devoting more time to each student.
Brian R. Smith, a student who is a member of the undergraduate education committee, which received Dean Pedersen's proposal Wednesday, said he was not convinced that students are given honors too easily, or that Harvard is out of line with other Ivy League institutions.
"What's the big deal about honors anyway?" he said. "Maybe it helps you with graduate school in the end, but the question is, are you getting a quality education at your school?"