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Food Fight: Harvard Law Dean Doesn't Want Students to Feed Striking Workers

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 11, 2016 11:58 AM

Harvard University's dining services workers went on strike last week, after months of stalled negotiations with the university. The workers are asking Harvard, a nonprofit with a $35 billion endowment, to pay them $35,000 a year, or less than half the $88,000 it costs to attend Harvard Law for a year.

Some of HLS's 1Ls want to lend the striking workers a hand -- and a meal. Students have proposed feeding the workers at their section events, causing Harvard Law School Dean Marcia Sells to send out a letter declaring that it "does not seem to make sense for us to encourage with Section Funds for students to bring in food to feed workers who are on strike."

Sharing Is Caring?

The idea of feeding the HUDS workers apparently arose after Harvard Law students realized the workers would be forgoing on-the-job meals when they went on strike. Some of Harvard's 1L section social committee leaders thought it would be smart to host events with food and invite the workers to dine alongside Harvard's future lawyers.

That's a no-go, Harvard Law School Dean Sells informed the section social committee members. The dean herself wrote the section leaders to tell them:

[Harvard Law School] Administration is not providing food at any of our events during strike periods. We were not planning on bringing outside food for any events. It does not seem to make sense for us to encourage with Section Funds for students to bring in food to feed workers who are on strike. In addition, we understand that some students had a broader idea of providing full lunch services and this is neither possible with the Section Funding nor is it really feasible.

Bad Ideas and Bad Writing

There are couple reasons why denying HLS-funded food to striking workers is a bad idea. First, while it makes some sense to not expend university funds on employees who are currently fighting with the university, it does not make for good publicity.

Harvard, after all, is the richest university in the world. Many of its students are just a step away from becoming oligarchs. And yet, the university is refusing to offer even modest wages to its workers and is now forbidding its students from breaking bread with them. It makes Harvard look bad.

Then, of course, there are the students to think of. Food and booze (and potential future job opportunities) are pretty much the only things that bring law students to events. To take away an event's pizza and soda supply isn't just cruel to striking workers, it's cruel to HLS's own students.

To make HLS look even stingier, Dean Sells even told the students that if they want to feed anyone, they better pay out of their own, debt-laden pockets.

And then there's just the bad writing, too. Feeding the workers is "neither possible" nor "really feasible," which is simply two ways of saying exactly the same thing.

"The spirit of the Section funds is to build community and seems to have become quite divisive," Dean Sells writes, in a sentence that doesn't make any sense. "It may be hard to know that there are fellow students, strongly disagree or even slightly disagree with your point of view," the Dean continues. (You can read the whole letter on The Concourse.)

HLS, next time you're going to tell your students not to feed the poor, and $35,000 is pretty close to a poverty wage in Boston, you might want to bother proofreading.

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