May 09, 2001

Harvard Ends 3-Week Sit-In; Committee to Examine University's Wage System

By PAMELA FERDINAND, The Washington Post

BOSTON, May 8 -- After a marathon negotiation session with student protesters, Harvard University today ended the longest sit-in in its history by announcing steps to address concerns about its lowest-paid employees' wages and benefits.

Administrators agreed to form a 20-member committee that includes student and worker representatives to examine the university's compensation system. University officials also announced the possibility of retroactive wage increases for custodians and a freeze on new subcontract hires until the committee's recommendations are implemented.

Soon after the official announcement, about 30 jubilant, weary students and alumni emerged, holding hands, from Massachusetts Hall in Harvard Yard for the first time in three weeks. Hundreds of supporters cheered and applauded the protesters, many of whom have campaigned for years to force the world's wealthiest university to provide a "living wage" to its blue-collar workers.

"As a community, we have moved the university profoundly," said Susan Misra, one of the students who occupied the building.

Misra and others say that as many as 2,000 Harvard employees -- including seasonal workers and subcontractors -- make less than $ 10.25 an hour, and many lack basic benefits at an institution whose endowment exceeds $ 19 billion. Harvard contends that only 403 of the university's 13,500 "regular" workers make less than that amount, and no full-time employee makes less when the cost of benefits is included.

President Neil L. Rudenstine said Harvard remains committed to employment practices that reflect "a humane and principled concern" for its workers. The new committee, to be led by economics professor Lawrence Katz, will include two undergraduate and two graduate students, three union workers, 10 faculty members and two senior administrators. The first planning session is scheduled for June 8, with a Dec. 19 deadline to report back to incoming President Lawrence H. Summers.

"I believe that such a broad-based, faculty-led process is the proper means for a university to discuss and debate such issues," Rudenstine said in a prepared statement.

Forty-six students and alumni launched the protest April 18, carrying sleeping bags, food and laptop computers into the red-brick building off Harvard Square.

Supporters erected dozens of tents and banners on Harvard's leafy quad, and backing for the cause -- if not the occupation -- poured in from the likes of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and actor Warren Beatty. Workers marched in solidarity through the streets of Cambridge, and volunteers held rallies and vigils even as final exams approached.