April 25, 2001

Harvard protest moves into second week

By JUSTIN POPE, Associated Press Writer

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- With chanting on campus and unshaven students leaning out the windows of an occupied building, Harvard University has the feeling of the 1960s this week.

More than three dozen students have occupied the office of university president Neil Rudenstine since April 18. They are demanding "a living wage" for Harvard's custodians, cooks and other blue-collar workers.

"With a $19 billion endowment and a governing board of multimillionaires, Harvard has no excuse for perpetuating poverty conditions," Aaron Bartley, a 25-year-old law student, said from an open window of the administration building during a rally Tuesday.

Harvard wasn't the only campus with student demonstrations this week. At Penn State University, more than 100 students spent the night at a student union building protesting reported death threats against the Black Caucus president.

The Harvard students say they won't leave until the university commits to improving workers' wages. The university says it believes in fair wages but won't break collective bargaining agreements or negotiate as long as Massachusetts Hall remains occupied.

The occupation has kept Rudenstine and other top officials from their offices. The school is allowing in food, but university police are permitting only housemasters and faculty to enter the building.

The protests have brought a tent city to Harvard Yard and a string of celebrity visitors.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich stopped by last week to show support for the students. Kennedy spoke with Rudenstine in Washington on Tuesday and reiterated his support for a "living wage," a Kennedy spokesman said.

Students want Harvard's laborers to make $10.25 an hour, the same minimum wage the city of Cambridge pays its employees. Some subcontracted workers at the university make as little as $6.50 an hour.

Harvard says only about 400 of its 13,000 employees make less than $10 an hour. Last spring, a university committee recommended Harvard focus on improving career opportunities for its lower-paid workers, through job-skills training, rather than set a minimum wage.

"In the long run, we think that's a better solution," university spokesman Joe Wrinn said Tuesday. "The students simply disagree. We're certainly willing to explain our views and keep talking about it, but certainly not while our building is being occupied."

Lenvial Cole, a custodian working on campus Tuesday, said he appreciated the students' efforts and wants a higher wage but worried that their protest could be misguided.

"There are contractors out there that are asking for less, and that might persuade (Harvard) to get us out of here," Cole said.

At Penn State, protesters spent the night at the Hetzel Union Building and met Wednesday with university administrators over recent racial death threats to Black Caucus president LaKeisha Wolf.

Black Caucus members say the university's failure to embrace diversity has created a climate where people feel safe expressing racist thoughts.

Administrators said they would improve minority scholarships and provide space for the African and African-American Studies department, but said demands for more tenured black faculty would be harder to meet.

"There are some suggestions that were really good and some that we've already begun to implement," said university spokesman Steve MacCarthy.

Last week, an anonymous letter sent to a reporter at the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian, included a death threat against Wolf and a threat to bomb a ceremony honoring black graduates. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are investigating.

"I'm going to stay as long as I have to," student Karissa Burns said at the building Wednesday morning. "If my life is in danger, then this is what I'm going to do. It's that important to me."