May 9, 2001

Harvard, students end sit-in with plan to form panel

By JULES CRITTENDEN, The Boston Herald

Both sides declared victory yesterday as Harvard University and students protesting workers' wages ended their 21-day impasse with an agreement to form a joint committee to review the issue.

The 29 students who occupied administration offices for three weeks were greeted with cheers from hundreds of students, union leaders and professors as well as the gratitude of Harvard's janitors and dining hall workers.

"I think I speak for everyone when I say, it's beautiful out here," said protester Stephen Smith, 21, emerging into spring weather for the first time since April 19.

"For a long time we were the forgotten workers in America. But not any more," said Harvard janitor Consuelo Tizon. "Thanks to you, all the world understands the story of the living wage at Harvard University."

AFL-CIO Massachusetts President Robert Hanes said, "You should be proud of yourselves. You are the moral conscience of this university and for that, we salute you. There is a great moral irony here in Harvard Yard when the students are doing the teaching."

The agreement calls for a committee of 11 professors, one administrator, one dean, four students and three workers to make recommendations on pay raises and health-care benefits.

Protesters, citing Harvard's $ 19 billion endowment, demanded that wages now as low as $ 6.50 an hour be raised to a minimum of $ 10.25. Their campaign drew support from politicians and alumni.

Harvard President Neil Rudenstine said in a statement, "As a socially responsible institution, Harvard is committed to employment practices that reflect a humane and principled concern for the well-being of all individuals who work here . . . I also believe that reasoned deliberation, by a faculty-led committee that gathers objective information . . . is the appropriate way for a university to address such matters."

Harvard spokesman Joseph Wrinn said the agreement leaves final authority with the administration, rather than ceding to protesters' wage demands.

"Each side can find something to look at as a victory or an adherence to a previous position," Wrinn said.

He added that some students could face disciplinary action for occupying Massachusetts Hall and for any academic failures during the three-week protest.