To a generation of college students much maligned for its apathy, the events at Harvard today might seem a little unusual. While the Faculty meets inside University Hall this afternoon, three separate groups of protestors will converge on the Yard in what will probably be one of the larger demonstrations at Harvard in years. The agenda of the three groups are very different--two are calling for the University to adopt new labor policies while the third is calling for the expulsion of a student convicted of sexually assaulting another student--but they have thrown their lots together today.
The great mystery is how--or even if--the Faculty will respond to the protests. Each group has made reasonable complaints and deserves a sincere response from the University. Thus far, Harvard has listened to each of the groups but has taken no serious action on any of their demands. Perhaps the sight of hundreds of protestors marching outside University Hall will convince Harvard to take its own students more seriously. We certainly hope so.
We endorse the causes behind today's demonstrations and challenge the administration to give each group a fair and separate hearing. The issues raised here strike at the heart of the University's relationship with the world, with its employees and with its own students.
As one of the most prestigious educational institutions, Harvard enjoys an enormous degree of power and influence in the embattled world outside its gates. For this reason, the University cannot--in good conscience--avert its eyes in the face of society's gravest ills. For this reason we urge the University to adopt stricter policies against manufacturers who exploit "sweatshop" labor to produce Harvard insignia apparel. The Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) has rightly demanded such manufacturers be required to disclose factory locations and allow non-governmental organizations to inspect working conditions. If these manufacturers fail to meet these terms, Harvard should terminate its licensing contract.
It would be a serious error to underestimate the importance and scope of the issue. Conditions in these factories are nothing short of inhumane: Sweatshops subject their workers to long hours, physical and verbal abuse, unsanitary drinking water, poor-ventilation and disease-carrying parasites. They frequently employ child labor. And wages are as low as 12 cents an hour.
According to Allan A. Ryan Jr., an attorney at the Office of the General Counsel and Harvard's chief negotiator on the issue, the University will not adopt a separate policy until the Ivy League schools work out a uniform agreement. But someone has to take the first step, and this leadership responsibility should fall onto Harvard's shoulders. A successful University code against sweatshops--one which has involved students in its development and implementation--would send a powerful message to the outside world.
Harvard's responsibility also extends to its own labor practices. This afternoon, protestors from the Harvard Living Wage Campaign, marching alongside the PSLM, will demand that the University set a $10 per hour minimum wage for all its employees, a level the City of Cambridge has declared as the "minimum living wage."
Such a policy is both feasible and just. For Harvard, the additional costs of the policy would be but a drop in the vast budget bucket. More than 1,000 employees hired under subcontract currently earn barely enough to stay above the poverty line. As many of these workers must support families at home, it is ironic that their wages are significantly lower than those earned by most part-time students on the Harvard payroll.
The University has claimed it has no responsibility for the wages of these employees since they are hired under subcontract. Nevertheless, subcontracted workers are still Harvard workers. Surely the University can do better.
The most complicated demand the Faculty will hear today is for the expulsion of D. Drew Douglas, Class of 2000. Douglas has been found guilty in criminal court of indecent assault on another student and the Administrative Board determined that a rape occurred. Based on the Ad Board's findings, the Faculty is scheduled to vote on dismissal--not expulsion. This has not stopped the Coalition Against Sexual Violence from calling for expulsion, though the demand has no realistic chance of succeeding.
We agree that the crime of rape should require expulsion and reject as hyperbolic the analogy, popular among administrators, that expulsion is the College's "death penalty."
Though the protest today may seem futile, it is important nonetheless for the administration to see there are few crimes more offensive to the campus community than rape. If and when future cases of rape come before the Faculty, a vote on expulsion--and no lesser punishment--should be on the agenda.
Regardless of how many students turn out this afternoon, the protest today promises to be a unique occurrence at Harvard. The three student groups leading the protests, all fighting for different worthy causes, have in common only an unreceptive administration.
There are two ways the University can respond. It can, easily enough, pay simple lip service while avoiding any substantive action. Or it can commit to a sincere and constructive dialogue with students on these legitimate concerns. We will be watching; Harvard's decision will reflect how deeply the administration values student opinion on this campus.
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