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Yesterday's public protest for a living wage, Neil Rudenstine's Christmas in Jail, depicted University President Neil L. Rudenstine as a cantankerous, tight-fisted Scrooge who is opposed to worker and student demands.
Targeting Rudenstine, Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) members say, is an effective rhetorical strategy at rallies--and yesterday's crowd of about 100 responded with laughter and enthusiasm to the caricature.
The son of a prison guard and a waitress--neither of whom advanced beyond the eighth grade--Rudenstine's background belies the common conception of Harvard as rich and elitist.
He almost never reveals personal information, but in a rare moment of candor at a public event last week, he spoke passionately about his family background and his familiarity with the plight of workers.
"You don't know anything about me," he told students after some accused him of being unfeeling. "[There's] no reason why you should."
Rudenstine told students that his 86 year-old mother--a waitress until the age of 77--never made a "living wage" of $10.25 per hour in her life.
"There are a lot of families in America that work bloody hard...and don't make $10.25 an hour," he said. "That doesn't mean they shouldn't. But that's a separate discussion."
But despite his background, PSLM members say Rudenstine is a fair target for criticism.
"No one has ever accused Rudenstine of being a personally evil person. Regardless, his background is irrelevant to the campaign," said PSLM member Amy C. Offner '01. "It doesn't matter how much his parents made and where he grew up. The concern here is a social crisis in our community and on our campus."
PSLM leaders say that as president of the University, Rudenstine holds the power to effect a living wage of $10.25 per hour for all Harvard workers.
"He is the person ultimately responsible for the policy--he makes himself fair game for criticism," said Benjamin L. McKean '02, a member of PSLM. "I wonder, would he pay his mom the wages he pays the workers at the law school? I think not."
In addition, PSLM members say timing is key--they want to push Rudenstine to implement a living wage before he steps down in June.
They say they hope to convince him that his legacy as president depends on his stance on working conditions.
"We wanted to target him because he is stepping down. His labor wage policies will have a lot to do with his legacy," Offner said. "He has an excellent opportunity....He will be hailed as a great hero, a progressive leader--it would be a great thing if Harvard adopted a living wage."
And holding Rudenstine up as a figurehead, members say, is good strategy and effective rhetoric.
"He is in a position of power--he is an obvious target [with] rhetorical significance," Offner said. "[Vice President for Administration] Sally Zeckhauser's Christmas in Jail might not be as clear and to the point for many people."
The focus of yesterday's protest on Rudenstine followed a series of other PSLM events that singled out Rudenstine as a target.
Last week, before Rudenstine was scheduled to speak in Boylston Hall, members of PSLM decorated the building with "Wanted" posters that featured his picture.
David P. Illingworth '71, associate dean of the College, said he believes that PSLM is misrepresenting Rudenstine's real role.
"I think he's an unfair target," he said. "As president he's a target for lots and lots of people."
But Illingworth said yesterday's play was, overall, "good-spirited as opposed to mean-spirited."
"[It had] good production value, a nice sense of humor, [and was] well-presented," he said. "Not all the facts are right, but not all are wrong either."
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