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On the Other Hand Resolving It


( The following represents the opinion of a minority of the Editorial Board and was written by William R. Galeota )

THOUGH the overt reason for the current impasse in negotiations between the Organization for Black Unity (OBU) and Harvard is disagreement over OBU's demand that 20 per cent of construction workers on Harvard projects be blacks or members of other minority groups, the cause of the impasse lies deeper: the negotiations have constantly been marked by a mistrust on both sides.

The sources of this mistrust are partially historical, but the positions taken during the negotiations have only added to the gap. Harvard has been most reluctant to discuss setting a goal of a specific percentage of black workers on construction jobs, and has, for the most part, offered only vaguer promises-which can hardly be satisfactory to blacks, who have seen many such promises produce little. OBU, for its part, has twice broken off negotiations, and quickly proceeded to militant action-a "fight-talk" attitude not conducive to improving the negotiating atmosphere.

How then can this gap of mistrust be bridged and the negotiations successfully concluded? As a beginning, the University can make a definite sign of its commitment to solve the problem by following up on its anouncement of Tuesday night, and agreeing to a specific percentage goal for employment of blacks in construction jobs-one comparable to the percentage in the adjacent population, say 10 to 12 per cent. Achieving even this increase in employment will be no small task; insisting on a commitment to the admittedly arbitrary-and perhaps nearly impossible to achieve-20 per cent goal seems pointless.

It is possible that some Harvard administrators have been reluctant to begin talking about percentages because, in the back of their minds, they fear if the percentage is not achieved, the University-whether or not it is at fault-will become the target of another OBU campaign in which Harvard will be accused not only of being racist but also of breaking its word. To remove this possibility, whatever percentage is agreed upon should be accepted by both parties only as a desirable goal; failure to achieve the goal would not, by itself, indicate a rupture of the agreement.

OBU HAS proposed that an officer be appointed "to supervise these sites and confirm continued compliance with this policy," but the role of this compliance officer has not been precisely defined, at least not in public. Such a compliance officer-a third party acceptable to both sides-should be appointed and he should judge whether a failure to reach the agreed upon goal is the fault of Harvard, or of someone else, such as a contractor or a union.

Ideally the compliance officer would do more than simply monitor the agreement; he would also actively work to iron out problems arising in the implementation of the agreement. And problems-serious ones-will inevitably arise. Any appreciable increase in black employment on construction here cannot come from University action alone, but only as a result of continual and complex bargaining among Harvard, white contractors and sub-contractors, black sub-contractors, and white unions.

No matter what detailed methods are worked out for increasing black employment in Harvard construction, one side-effect is probable: the costs of construction here will rise. The exclusion of blacks from most building trades means that few black workers are as skilled at such work as white workers are: hiring more blacks will mean accepting additional costs, in the form of lower-production and/or training expenses. Though Harvard's administrators are justifiably concerned about rising costs in this time of cramped budgets, they should accept them in this case as being the least Harvard can contribute toward the solution of a crucial nationwide issue.

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