Rudenstine's Statement 4/23/01

Statement of President Neil L. Rudenstine
April 23, 2001

Since last Wednesday afternoon, a few dozen students have been staging a sit-in on the first floor of Massachusetts Hall, the building that houses the offices of the president, provost, vice presidents, and associated staff, and is also home (on the third and fourth floors) to a number of first-year students. I want to offer a brief perspective on these events.

It was more than two years ago that a group of students expressed their concerns for the welfare of lower-paid workers at Harvard. With their concerns in mind, I appointed a special faculty committee to examine aspects of employment practices at Harvard. Members of the committee met with interested students, and also invited their submission of written materials, as part of an intensive year-long study that resulted in a comprehensive and detailed report (currently available at www.provost.harvard.edu/adhoc/).

The committee issued a set of recommendations aimed at substantially enhancing the career opportunities and economic well-being of lower-paid workers at Harvard. It also discussed and explicitly decided not to endorse the concept of a mandatory wage floor imposed without regard to collective bargaining. The committee's repost and recommendations were made public; members of the University were asked for comment; and the committee chair and Provost Fineberg invited concerned students for a full discussion of the report's recommendations.

Having reviewed the committee's report, consulted the Deans of Harvard's Faculties and Schools, and considered the comments received from the community, I approved the committee's recommendations and directed their implementation. I believed then, and believe now, that the committee's recommended approach--focused on investments in innovative education and job-skills training programs for service employees, as well as expanded access to health and other benefits--is both progressive and sound. It also respects the collective bargaining process as the established means to set wages for employees represented by unions.

This past year, as in the committee's recommendations have been implemented, I have met numerous times with student advocates of a mandatory wage floor, as have several other members of the administration. The concerned students have forthrightly expressed their views, as we have ours. The students now inside Massachusetts Hall continue to disagree with the University's approach, and that is their right. It is also their right to express their views, with vigor and passion. But it is not their right to occupy a University building, to interfere with the conduct of work inside it, and to disrupt the lives of nearby student residents, in an effort to force a different decision. The view that efforts at coercion and disruptions, as opposed to discussion and persuasion, represent a proper means to achieve a desired result is a mistake, and inconsistent with the fundamental principles of a university.

The University has listened seriously and repeatedly to the views of students, faculty, staff, and interested others over time, and indeed has taken substantial action to benefit employees in light of both expressed concerns and special committee's exceptionally thoughtful report. We are fully prepared to continue to exchange views, in appropriate settings, once an environment of genuinely free discussion has been restored.