More Work Needed on Wages

Committee should release additional data, ensure balanced and open process

This week, the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies (HCECP) released its preliminary findings. This page has repeatedly expressed its support for a living wage, and the data, which indicate that many Harvard workers’ real wages have fallen in recent years, give significant cause for concern.

Nevertheless, if its final report is to be taken seriously by the administration, we feel that much more data will be needed before HCECP is able to make its recommendations regarding Harvard’s employment practices. Such data should include information about worker benefits, the role of casual workers at Harvard and other issues that were not addressed in the committee’s preliminary report.

In order for HCECP’s ultimate recommendations to be seen as legitimate, it is vital that the committee’s proceedings be perceived as evenhanded and fair. The resignation of Professor of Economics Caroline M. Hoxby ’88 has raised concerns about the committee’s dealings, and her criticisms of the committee, if accurate, cast in doubt HCECP’s ability to produce a fair outcome. In light of these concerns, HCECP must review its process and make the changes necessary to address the issues that Hoxby has raised.

Clearly, HCECP has not been as open to community input as possible. Its recent meeting at the ARCO Forum was ostensibly an opportunity for members of HCECP to hear public comment on its initial findings. But in choosing to wait until the day of the meeting to release its report, the HCECP largely defeated that purpose. One day is hardly enough time for the Harvard community to digest the contents of a technical 30-page report and provide thoughtful commentary.

Moreover, the committee does not plan to hear additional testimony before releasing its final report on Dec. 19, meaning that there will be no further opportunities for the community to respond to HCECP’s preliminary data and any future findings. These procedural failings run counter to HCECP’s interest in promoting an informed public dialogue on Harvard’s compensation practices.

Before it begins to weigh the ethical implications of its findings and formulate policy recommendations, HCECP should release a second preliminary report with the additional data that are necessary for thoughtful public scrutiny. This report should be published on the Internet well in advance of a second public meeting in order to give the Harvard community time to consider all the facts and respond to them in a thoughtful way.

In addition, HCECP should take seriously Hoxby’s charge that the committee has not heard a broad spectrum of testimony about Harvard’s labor policies. Holding additional public meetings at times convenient for students to attend would be a good start, but large gatherings—which tend to be dominated by the most vocal groups—are not the best forum for making sure that all sides are heard. Before preparing its final report, HCECP should hold meetings with additional interested groups, such as the Undergraduate Council, in smaller settings.

And if, as Hoxby charges, the committee has so far only invited testimony from organizations that support the living wage, HCECP must now encourage testimony from and solicit input from groups with a wider range of viewpoints—Hoxby specifically mentioned the lack of testimony from the Employment Policies Institute, an organization that researches issues of entry-level employment.

Ultimately, the recommendations of HCECP will only be accepted as legitimate if the committee follows procedures that are transparent, principled and fair. In this spirit, HCECP should invite Hoxby to rejoin the committee after it has acted to improve its flawed process. Her rejoining HCECP would go a long way to restore the committee’s original promise of bringing Harvard to a consensus on wages. We believe that reaching such a consensus is possible. But it remains for HCECP to turn that possibility into a practical reality.