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Student Labor Reps Have Divergent Views

By Andrew S. Holbrook, Crimson Staff Writer

The Undergraduate Council gave final approval Wednesday to the two undergraduates who will serve on the Katz Committee to address the issues of low-paid workers at Harvard.

Benjamin L. McKean `02 and Matthew Milikowsky `02 were selected by the council's Student Affairs Committee (SAC) on Tuesday night to serve on the 20-person panel of faculty, administrators and students. The rules require that the entire council confirm the appointments. The two were confirmed by a vote of 25 to five.

McKean and Milikowsky come to the committee from opposite sides of the living wage debate.

A member of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), McKean has been interested in labor issues since his first year at Harvard. He was among the 23 members of PSLM to participate in the recent Mass. Hall sit-in for the full three weeks.

The sit-in sparked the creation of the new committee, which will be headed by Professor of Economics Lawrence Katz.

The sit-in for a $10.25 living wage also aroused Milikowsky's opposition.

Milikowsky disagreed with the Mass. Hall occupation. But it prompted him to investigate the issue of a living wage for the first time. Milikowsky is a moderate Democrat who owes his seat on the Katz committee to a bloc of conservative voters in SAC. For the moment he says he opposes PSLM's living wage proposal, but adds that he is open to being persuaded.

After Wednesday night's meeting McKean and Milikowsky said they would get in touch with each other. But they say that, although they both represent undergraduates, they will work independently as members of the committee.

"Ben represents a group that I don't," Milikowsky says. "He seems like a smart guy and I'm excited to talk with him."


In high school McKean did community service at a homeless shelter, but did not yet define himself as an activist.

He became interested in labor issues during his first year at the College. He says he saw a disparity between the University's wealth and some of its workers' low wages. He confirmed his hunch by talking to janitors who cleaned the bathrooms in Matthews Hall, where he lived.

He joined the living wage campaign in its earliest stages. Around the same time, the Cambridge City Council defined $10 an hour as a "living wage," a figure that has since been upped to $10.25 an hour.

"It seemed to be a really good jumping-off point," he said. "The community has standards. Harvard, being one of the most important members of the community, should live up to the standard."

Since then, McKean, who is also a Crimson editor, has devoted himself to the living wage as well as other causes. He spent last summer in Guatemala working with unions and giving presentations to workers on their rights.

This background made him a logical choice when PSLM discussed which of its members should run. Some other PSLM members who considered running opted out to prevent multiple PSLM candidates from splitting pro-living wage SAC votes.

Stephen N. Smith `02 bowed out when he learned McKean was a candidate. He even sent lengthy e-mails to several friends on SAC, giving his "strongest personal recommendation" to McKean.

During the elections, several candidates--including Milikowsky--said they favored splitting the undergraduate delegation, sending one PSLM member and one non-PSLM representative.

"I think that's great," McKean says. "People understand we're not dogmatic ideologues. We've thought deeply and come to reasonable conclusions."

McKean says he plans to bring new data on the demographics of Harvard's low-paid workers and on the cost of living in the Boston area to the Katz Committee.

SAC conservatives opposed McKean's candidacy, saying a PSLM member would be unwilling to compromise on the committee.

"I don't think that Ben McKean is the kind of open-minded student interest that is needed," says council treasurer Justin A. Barkley `02. "He's been part of an organization that has done a skit where they put [University President Neil L.] Rudenstine in jail."

But Smith says McKean will be a good spokesperson for the living wage cause--"someone who's not going to tick anybody off."

He will probably walk a hard line, Smith adds, refusing to back down from demands that the University agree to a minimum standard of living for its workers.

"For [McKean] to sway on that...wouldn't make much sense," Smith says.

But, he adds, "I don't think he'll hold tight to the number. If a comparable plan came up that would have as universal an effect as the living wage, he would support it."


If McKean owes his seat to PSLM backing, then Milikowsky says he knows how he wound up as the non-PSLM representative.

"I think the people in SAC who elected me were conservatives," he says.

Milikowsky says he will represent undergraduates' interests, including the demand that a living wage won't be funded by tuition increases.

In his experience, he says, students are ambivalent about labor issues on campus, torn between general concern for workers and opposition to the PSLM living wage proposal.

"The reason I was elected was to have a more open-minded position, not a PSLM position," he says. "I've not been convinced $10.25 is the solution."

It's too early to know what the committee will decide, he says. But he says the final agreement will likely involve "a certain level of wages including benefits that the University sees as its minimum level." And he says he could support that kind of compromise.

Though his main supporters in SAC were conservatives, Milikowsky describes himself as a "staunch Democrat" and his ideology as a "free-market liberal"--both long-held convictions, he says.

That means he finds himself to the right of the Democratic Party on many issues, and generally trusts market economics, he says. But he adds that he favors interventions such as a national health care system and believes in the minimum wage.

Benjamin R. Sloop `01, one of his teammates on the heavyweight rowing team, is a conservative who says he often gets into lively political debates with Milikowsky.

Sloop says he opposes the living wage and was surprised that his teammate was also skeptical about the issue.

"I think he approaches the problem both from social justice and from economics," he says. "I think he believes both sides."

Milikowsky admits he is a somewhat surprising person to run for a spot on the Katz Committee because he does not hold strong views on the living wage issue.

"Being a moderate is difficult to be passionate about," he says. "This time I had a moderate stance I was excited about. I was passionate in my belief that one [representative] should be PSLM and one should not."

He will take a more disinterested tack on the living wage issue, according to Jonathan C. Page `02, a roommate of two years.

Page and Milikowsky visited the Mass. Hall rallies several times during the sit-in.

"When you went to the PSLM protest, so much of it was just this chanting and 'We're right,'" Page says. "Both of us wanted to see more information on things."

The Katz Committee will be his first experience in the public eye, Milikowsky says.

"I'm not going to be remembered at Harvard for my rowing. I'm not going to be remembered at Harvard for my excellent writings," he says. "I'll probably be remembered for this committee."

--Andrew J. Miller contributed to the reporting of this article.

--Staff writer Andrew S. Holbrook can be reached at

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