As students rallied outside Tuesday, faculty members and politicians voiced their support and administrators continued to not show up for work, 37 Harvard University students continued their seven-day-long occupation of Massachusetts Hall.
Standing defiant in their demand for administrators to recognize their cause by paying all Harvard workers at what they call living wages — $10.25 an hour with benefits — the group, which calls itself the Progressive Students Labor Movement, has been operating from inside the university’s administration building since Wednesday, when they stormed the building that houses the offices of Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine, the vice president, and the provost.
The students inside, who receive food from dining hall and clerical workers and keep contact with the outside via cell phones, said they would not leave the building until administrators agreed to negotiate with them. But Harvard administrators said while they agreed with the group’s ideals of fair wages for all workers, all negotiations would be at a standstill until the students stopped their extreme tactics.
“We from day one agreed with their principle about fair and dignified treatment of workers, but we disagree with the students’ solution,” said Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn. “Their voices have been heard and will continue to be heard if they want to continue the dialogue but we certainly won’t continue if they are occupying the building.”
Students inside the building said they were surprised and pleased by the outpouring of support surrounding Massachusetts Hall, which has come to include a tent city, daily noontime rallies, and encouraging visits from Senator Edward Kennedy, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and historian Howard Zinn.
“It’s essentially five administrators against the world,” said Harvard freshman Ben Stoll, who has been coordinating the logistics for supporters on the outside.
Other support has come from all 13 of Harvard’s house masters, who wrote a letter in support of the students, and more than 200 faculty members, who plan to publish a letter in support of the group in The Crimson on Thursday, said Harvard junior Alex Horowitz, one of the students inside the building. The Cambridge City Council has also endorsed the group, as have the AFL-CIO and three other senators.
Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, however, passed a resolution condemning the sit-in 14–9, arguing the tactics were not appropriate for an otherwise good cause.
Group members said their occupation of the building is the culmination of three years of frustrating efforts to encourage the University to pay all its workers a fair wage. While Rudenstine appointed a committee that released a report calling for increasing worker education, access to benefits and giving workers passes to museums, students said the university’s efforts have failed to affect real change.
Carrying food, water and laptop computers, 50 students entered the building Wednesday afternoon. Administrators and staff working in the building knew the students were planning on staying when they began linking arms, handing out letters to police officers announcing they would be staying indefinitely, and “redecorating” with living wage messages, said Harvard Law School student Aaron Bartley, one of the students still inside the building.
“The expensive paintings are still up next to them,” Bartley said. “It definitely has a new decor in here.”
Since then, the group inside has dwindled to 37 members, with five leaving as soon as the initial entry took place and eight more leaving after five days. Bartley said they have been working in small groups on strategies, speaking with media and outside protesters via cell phone, and even doing schoolwork on their laptops. Sleeping on the carpeted floors so as not to disturb the building’s antique furniture, students said though they were tired — each takes turns on half-hour shifts to ensure police officers do not storm the building — they were prepared to stay inside the building as long as it would take to have their demands met.