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Harvard labor activists led a campaign over the last few weeks urging the University's presidential search committee not to select Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 for the top job.
Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers, Harvard’s student unionization effort, and the Student Labor Action Movement, an undergraduate labor advocacy group, spearheaded the movement, criticizing Garber and Smith for sending official University communications they said reflect an anti-union bias. Members of SLAM and HGSU-UAW sent emails and made phone calls to the presidential search committee and University President Drew G. Faust throughout December.
These criticisms come as the presidential search committee—comprising all 12 members of the Harvard Corporation and three members of the Board of Overseers—narrows the pool of candidates and prepares to make its final choice for Harvard's 29th president. In December, The Crimson reported that the searchers had whittled the pool of potential candidates to under 20 finalists.
Garber and Smith are among several candidates likely being considered by the committee. In October, several prominent donors and professors named the two administrators, as well as Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and Government professor Danielle S. Allen, as probable contenders hailing from within the University.
HGSU-UAW organizer and English Ph.D. candidate Andrew B. Donnelly estimated student activists sent “more than 100” emails to people involved in the search process, though he added the union does not advocate for particular candidates.
Donnelly wrote that he thought Garber and Smith’s previous communication to students about unionization efforts have rendered the duo “unpopular” among pro-union students.
“Given their vocal opposition to the union, Provost Garber and Dean Smith would, I think, be controversial, if not unpopular, choices as president for many grad students,” Donnelly wrote in an email. “Dean Nohria and Prof. Allen, as far as I know, have respected their students’ autonomy on this issue and let students decide for themselves whether they want a union.”
Garber and Smith both declined to comment for this article through University representatives.
In Nov. 2017, Garber wrote in an email to students that the University had worked hard to ensure that the 2016 unionization election was fair. Though the result of the 2016 election recorded more votes against unionization than in favor, the National Labor Relations Board ultimately ruled—roughly a year and several legal battles later—that a voter list Harvard generated prior to the vote was inadequate. The NLRB ordered a re-vote and a new election will likely be held in 2018.
“The University’s goal was always to include all eligible voters on the list,” Garber wrote in Nov. 2017. “A University team worked diligently to create the most accurate list possible despite challenging conditions.”
SLAM member Anselm Kizza-Besigye ’21 said he also believes neither Smith nor Garber, if appointed president of Harvard, would help advance unionization efforts.
“It’s obviously become clear to us at this point that several people who are being considered to be the next president like Provost Garber—Provost Alan Garber—and Dean Smith are actively anti-union as far as we can tell,” Kizza-Besigye said.
Campus labor activists hope to continue to urge the candidates and the search committee to keep labor issues in mind as the presidential search narrows, Kizza-Besigye said.
“We’re watching very closely to see whether or not these professors will stand with the union throughout the process of their nomination and potentially when they become president,” he said.
FAS spokesperson Anna Cowenhoven wrote in an emailed statement that “the University has, and continues to, remind students that the outcome of any election is determined by those who participate.”
“We encourage students to again consider the academic, financial, and personal impacts of unionization and to cast informed votes,” she added.
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