Take Part - An Ivy League school with a 10-figure endowment and alumni who include presidents and billionaires, Harvard University has long been considered the epitome of wealth and privilege. Like its less-esteemed peers, however, Harvard’s daily operations depend on an invisible army of clerks, administrative assistants, maintenance crews, and groundskeepers.
So when food-service workers went on strike against the university earlier this month, it cast a spotlight on the dark underside of higher education: institutions that often charge students more for tuition than they pay employees critical to their function.
Picket lines around Harvard in downtown Cambridge, Massachusetts, began when the food-service employees walked off the job on Oct. 5, after the school balked at their request for a minimum salary of $35,000. Harvard can afford it, they argue, because the university’s endowment is more than $35 billion—the largest of any private university.
It’s “the richest university in the world” and just put an additional $7 billion into its coffers, yet “Harvard is failing to provide a livable existence for its lowest-paid and hardest-working employees,” faculty member Tim McCarthy said during a rally last week. (Photo: YouTube)
Harvard isn’t alone: A survey of full-time administrative workers within the University of California system found that 45 percent of them sometimes go hungry. That includes library assistants and collections representatives who choose between paying rent and buying groceries, and many hold degrees from the same university system that pays them so poorly.
“There are graduates of the University of California, working for the University of California, and they’re still not making enough money after three, five, 10, or even 15 years [on the job] to put food on the table,” said Peter Dreier, an author and politics professor at Occidental College, who conducted the study.