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On Thursday, exactly one year after the passage of a referendum on graduate student unionization, the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers aired a 30-second video advertisement on national television during prime-time, criticizing the University’s response to sexual harassment complaints. The ad, which was broadcast on channels including CNN and MSNBC, reflects HGSU-UAW’s currently unmet demand for a contract provision that would allow members to access a third-party grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints.
We are sympathetic to the frustrations of the graduate students, and we laud the intent behind their effort to put pressure on the University to recognize and grapple with the severity of the problem of sexual assault on campus. There are real, serious deficiencies in the processes currently available to victims of sexual assault and harassment. As we have opined in the past, Harvard’s internal processes alone have not demonstrated the capacity to impartially investigate affiliates of the University in discrimination and sexual misconduct cases. The need for a neutral arbitration procedure is clear, especially considering Harvard’s dubious history of handling past cases of sexual assault and harassment, which continues to affect our campus in the present.
While we share the concerns that the advertisement raises, we are skeptical that this media strategy will be most effective in helping the graduate students achieve their ultimate aim: The successful negotiation of a contract that guarantees them the best working conditions possible. The reality is that putting external pressure on the University by appealing to the prime-time television audience does not eliminate the need to sit at the negotiating table across from Harvard representatives to actually conclude the negotiating process. Negotiations have already taken place between the union and the University for six months, with few agreements to show for it. We are unsure if this advertisement, and the ensuing media campaign, which also involves billboards, radio, and digital media, will engender progress on these hoped-for fronts. We recognize the UAW is well-versed in negotiating contracts and executing media strategies, but also hope that the graduate students have taken this step out of a genuine belief in its ability to improve their standing in negotiations, rather than for any less constructive end.
Furthermore, while we broadly agree with the union’s goal, we hope that this advertisement does not make this ongoing contract negotiating process more arduous, as we wish to see both sides come to an agreement in as timely a manner as possible to improve graduate students’ quality of life.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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