May 12, 2001

Stingy Harvard Stiffing Workers

By JIM HIGHTOWER, in The Arizona Republic

Harvard University is used to having such accolades as "great," "prestigious," and "powerful" applied to it . . . but now there's another term that applies to this bastion of educational excellence: mingy.

The administrators of America's wealthiest university, sitting on a $19 billion endowment, have turned both mean and stingy toward Harvard's lowest-paid workers, adamantly and arrogantly refusing to pay a living wage to about 1,000 people the university counts on to clean its buildings, prepare meals in its dining halls and guard its dorms.

These custodians, kitchen workers, and guards do labor that is both essential and honorable, yet the pooh-bahs of Harvard pay them as low as $6.50 an hour, without benefits -- a poverty wage from a school wallowing in wealth.

Worse, Harvard has been an aggressive wage-buster. For example, it recently contracted with an outside firm to provide security guards, displacing about 100 of its own guards, whacking the pay from $12 an hour to only $8, and effectively busting the guard's union.

Outraged and embarrassed that their administration is the source of such poverty, a group of scrappy students has been standing up for the workers ... and for simple fairness.

For two years, they've held endless meetings with aloof administrative functionaries, demanding that Harvard establish an honorable wage floor of $10.25 an hour. Harvard's haughty hierarchy, however, has refused even to consider it. Apparently, the administrators assumed that the students would tire of the fight and simply go away.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... No way! Indeed, the students have turned up the heat.

About 40 of them have occupied the president's office for a prolonged sit-in, many more have set up a tent city of support right smack in the middle of Harvard Yard, and hundreds attend daily protest rallies.

Harvard is getting more publicity than it can stand, and it's being taught a lesson by its students -- a great university can't claim the moral high ground, while slinking down the path of low-wage minginess.