Days Before Harvard Grad Union Strike, Bacow and Garber Write Letters on the University's Position


University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 responded to a pair of letters sent by the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and alumni from the Class of 1969 supporting Harvard’s graduate student union in its contract negotiations with the University.

With less than a week until Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers’ Dec. 3 strike deadline, Bacow and Garber’s responses addressed differing proposals between Harvard and the union on key issues regarding grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints, compensation, and health benefits.

All 11 members of Massachusetts’ Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to University President Lawrence S. Bacow Nov. 21 encouraging the University to “ensure fair treatment and strong workplace protections” for student workers.

“We believe this strike would be detrimental to students, workers, and community members and we therefore urge you to engage in good faith effort to reach a fair agreement before the strike deadline,” they wrote.


In his response to each senator and representative Wednesday, Bacow identified a number of “core issues” that remain outstanding in the negotiations. Among these areas, Bacow wrote that collective bargaining over “financial aid, grades, and assessment of academic achievement” are “unacceptable’ because he characterized them as academic issues.

Garber also acknowledged that there remain significant differences over “fundamental issues” that the University will not negotiate on in his email response to a Nov. 17 letter from 45 members of the Class of 1969.

Among these issues are the financial aid component currently in graduate student workers’ compensation distributed as stipends. The University’s proposal would bar the union from negotiating over the terms of graduate student workers’ stipends. HGSU, however, proposed compensation proposals that included provisions regarding the stipend.

In his letter to legislators, Bacow wrote that the University is guided by three “core principles.”

“We must protect the integrity of our teaching mission; we must protect the academic freedom that undergirds our research mission; and we must serve all of our students in each of Harvard's schools and academic programs, regardless of union membership,” Bacow wrote.

Bacow also discussed a divide over grievance procedures for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints – a key issue in the negotiation, writing that the union’s proposal would be inconsistent with federal Title IX regulations and covers only part of Harvard’s student body.

HGSU’s proposal would establish an alternative grievance procedure through which members of the union could choose to file complaints regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. That process could eventually lead to a third-party arbitration outside of the University’s internal Title IX procedures.

Forty-five members of the Class of 1969 also sent Bacow a letter on Nov. 17, urging him to improve pay and job security for graduate students and non-tenure-track faculty. According to the alumni’s analysis, 65 percent of teachers — including graduate students — are not tenured or on the tenure track.

Paula J. Caplan ’69 — a research psychologist who previously taught at Harvard — said in an interview that the lack of job security she faced as a lecturer and teaching assistant at Harvard motivated her to co-write the letter with Barbara C. Foley ’69.

“If I hadn't had some financial security to fall back on, that would have been utterly devastating,” Caplan said. “So my heart just goes out to the people who are in that position.”

The letter notes that the alumni have “taken note, with alarm” that the University expects faculty to pick up the work of striking graduate students.

“Harvard has essentially ordered the members of its tenured and tenure-track faculty to scab on their less advantaged colleagues,” the alumni wrote.

In his response, Garber wrote that while faculty members have the rights to support HGSU’s strike, they need to ensure that students will be able to complete their academic work.

“With that in mind, several weeks ago, across the University, we began contingency planning for a potential strike and our faculty and staff must be a part of fulfilling that responsibility,” Garber wrote.

Garber also wrote that he appreciated the alumni’s perspective on non-tenure-track faculty, and noted that the University includes these teaching staff in its faculty climate survey.

“This is one key input in our overall efforts to understand the needs of these teaching staff across Harvard,” Garber wrote.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

—Staff writer Ruoqi Zhang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RuoqiZhang3.