Harvard College Students for Bernie launched a campaign calling on University administrators to use their financial resources to provide protections for workers and students during the coronavirus crisis.
The campaign, entitled “40 Billion For What” in reference to the University’s endowment, demands that all Harvard workers receive paid sick time through May 28. It says that those who choose to work must receive hazard pay — additional pay for work during the pandemic — in addition to adequate personal protective equipment and work conditions that adhere to social distancing standards.
“Forty billion for what, Harvard?” the campaign statement reads. “What is the point of our University’s hoarded wealth, if not to ensure the well-being and safety of its community during a time of fear, uncertainty, and instability?”
More than 150 people have signed a petition expressing support for the campaign, according to Harvard for Bernie founder Piper W. Winkler ’21. Signatories include Cambridge City Councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and State Representative Mike Connolly, according to Winkler.
Harvard has guaranteed regular pay and benefits through May 28 to employees who are available to work but have had their roles displaced due to the global pandemic. But employees in essential roles on campus must continue to work in order to be paid, which has forced some dining hall workers into difficult decisions between salary and safety.
The University plans to review policies regarding its employees as the situation evolves, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.
“As we have taken steps to reduce health risks associated with the coronavirus, we have also continued to adapt our human resources and other policies to help ensure our students and employees are able to confront the challenges facing themselves and their families,” Swain wrote in an emailed statement. “Harvard will continue to review these policies going forward.”
The campaign also demands that all Harvard students who were previously unenrolled must be allowed to enroll in the University health insurance plan without paying premiums as an additional form of financial support.
Harvard’s endowment was valued at $40.9 billion in June 2019, but its value has likely declined “substantially” due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus, according to Harvard’s Chief Financial Officer, Thomas J. Hollister. Many of its funds are restricted by donors to specific purposes such as financial aid, research programs, or professorships.
Still, the endowment’s size has made it the frequent target of student activists who believe it is not being used properly.
“We know that the money exists and we’re simply asking Harvard to shore up the political will to stand behind its community,” Winkler said, citing the $289 million surplus the University ran in 2019. “The longer they wait, the longer they’re going to put people at risk.”
University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in a letter last week that each generation had “made sacrifices” to ensure that the endowment could support future generations of students, faculty and staff.
“We have a moral responsibility to those who will come after us, and we must act decisively and selflessly to preserve all that makes the University special,” he wrote.
Harvard for Bernie, the organization leading the campaign, was initially formed as a subgroup of the Harvard College Democrats to support Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his run for president. The group will remain independent and may transition into a Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter in the near future, according to Winkler.
—Staff writer Joshua C. Fang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jshuaf.