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More than 1,600 Sign Petition for Harvard to Raise Student Salaries to Meet Middlesex County Living Wage

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More than 1,600 people have signed a petition calling on Harvard to raise student researcher and teacher salaries up to living wage in Middlesex County for members of the University’s graduate student union by July 1.

On May 10, more than 100 graduate students rallied in Harvard Yard before delivering the petition to Massachusetts Hall. The petition, created by the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, began gathering signatures May 1.

According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, the living wage for one adult with no children in Middlesex County is $23.45 per hour. Scaled to an annual salary, graduate students would need to make $48,779 to meet the living wage rate.

HGSU-UAW’s petition comes in response to Harvard’s recent decision to name the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences after Kenneth C. Griffin ’89, a billionaire hedge fund CEO and Republican megadonor who donated $300 million to Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The petition states that graduate students “are kept in the dark about decisions to sell off parts of our university” and have no input about the use of the funds.

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University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the criticisms levied at the rally and in the petition.

At the rally, organizers argued that the current yearly wage increase of 3 percent does not keep pace with the rising cost of living.

“Harvard has failed to reach that rock bottom standard over and over and over again,” HGSU-UAW organizer Alexandra C. Stanton said at the rally.

Speakers at the rally referenced a flier circulated by Harvard University Health Services encouraging graduate students to attend an informational meeting to “learn more about qualifying for SNAP benefits” as clearly demonstrating the need for higher wages.

“We are united here because the rent is too damn high and it just keeps going up,” HGSU-UAW organizer TomHenry J. Reagan said at the rally. “We are here because the wealthiest academic institution in history thinks it’s okay to tell its employees to go on food stamps.”

Organizers from the Harvard Academic Workers campaign also spoke at the rally. HAW is attempting to unionize non-tenure-track academic workers and has been collecting union authorization cards since February, when they first launched publicly.

“Asking for a living wage is not greedy, it’s not selfish, and it doesn’t undermine that commitment to what you do,” HAW organizer and Harvard Medical School postdoctoral fellow Morgan Gilman said.

“We all know that the money is in the budget. They have no trouble finding the money when they’re writing their own paychecks. This is a matter of priorities,” Gilman added.

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow earned more than $1.3 million in 2021, an increase of around $200,000 from what he made in 2020.

Rallygoers also criticized the University’s acceptance of the donation from Griffin, taking issue with his support of Republican politicians.

Griffin donated nearly $60 million to Republican candidates during the 2022 midterm election cycle and has publicly supported Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for president in 2024, though DeSantis has not yet announced a presidential bid. Griffin has also contributed to Democratic politicians, including $500,000 to U.S. President Joe Biden’s inaugural committee.

“We’re here because when a billionaire Republican sugar daddy wants to boost his ego, Harvard will happily oblige for a bargaining cost of $300 million,” said Reagan, a first-year Ph.D. student in Engineering Sciences.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow has defended the school’s decision to accept Griffin’s donation and rename GSAS in his honor, adding that Harvard should not screen donors for their political affiliations.

The HGSU-UAW petition states Harvard’s decision to accept Griffin’s donation “reinforces a long history of association with the billionaire class and pernicious anti-labor figures.”

The letter criticizes Griffin for opposing teachers’ unions. In a February 2022 interview with billionaire David M. Rubenstein — a member of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing board — Griffin said he believes an important part of achieving the American Dream is “by having an on-ramp to education.”

“And unfortunately, we’ve put a detour on that on-ramp in many parts of our country where the interest of the public sector unions dominates the rights of the children,” he said.

The petition also condemns Griffin for his support of DeSantis, who it says “has built his national political profile off of ruthless attacks on queer and trans people.” In 2022, DeSantis signed a state law — referred to by many detractors as the “Don’t Say Gay” law — forbidding kindergarten to third-grade public school teachers from teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. DeSantis has also opposed gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.

In an April 12 statement to The Crimson, Jaquelyn M. Scharnick ’06, a spokesperson for Griffin, wrote that it is “patently false that Ken would in any way support viewpoint restriction as he has been one of the strongest supporters of free speech and free inquiry in the country.”

“Ken said as recently as today that no one who contributes to a politician agrees 100% with their views and policy positions,” wrote Scharnick, a former Crimson News editor. “This is as true for Ken’s financial support of Governor DeSantis as it was for his backing of the campaigns of President Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

Per Forbes, Griffin has publicly backed DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law, saying that DeSantis has “a really important point of view.”

Following the rally, recently elected HGSU-UAW president Evan C. MacKay ’19 led a march around Harvard Yard to deliver the petition to Massachusetts Hall.

“We know that at the richest institution in higher education in the history of the world, Harvard can pay its workers a living wage,” MacKay said.

Correction: May 17, 2023

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly described TomHenry J. Reagan as a first-year Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Engineering. In fact, Reagan is a first-year Ph.D. student in Engineering Sciences

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cam_kettles.

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