Why Are Workers At Our Richest Universities Going Hungry?

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This month, Harvard University received a $10 million donation earmarked to study residents in poor neighborhoods in Boston. The same week, Harvard’s dining workers had to go on strike in search of a living wage.

(Thanks to the mega-vi tweet that pointed out this study in contrasts.)

The richest universities in America have financial reserves comparable large publicly traded corporations. Harvard, the richest of all, has an endowment of $35 billion. There are no common sense arguments for educational institutions with billions of dollars in reserve not to pay their employees a living wage. Yet it seems to be the norm. Outside of a relatively small class of administrators, middle managers, and tenured professors, most workers in higher education are distinctly not secure. A newly released survey of clerical and support staff at the University of California system finds that 45% of them “went hungry at times,” and another 25% were forced to reduce the quality of their diet for economic reasons.


These full-time workers are quite literally starving while working for an institution with an endowment worth more than $9 billion.

Private companies abuse and impoverish their workers in many ways. But most of us would expect more from the world’s most prominent centers of higher education, which spend their time instructing students on ethics and morality—or conducting studies of poverty—when they are not causing their employees to go hungry.


Earlier this year, Gawker ran an entire series of stories from adjunct professors detailing their low pay, lack of job security, and the disposable way that they are treated by colleges and universities. It’s clear that the people doing the actual work of educating students are not immune from being poor. Less prominent, though, are those dining hall employees and janitors and secretaries and all of the other workers who make these shining universities functional and able to charge annual tuitions greater than the price of luxury cars. There is no reason that a top American university with a rich endowment should have full time employees who cannot pay their own bills. It makes a mockery of the endless do-good rhetoric that emerges from the halls of academia.

Dozens of schools have financial reserves worth more than $1 billion. If you are a non-academic worker at one of them, I would like to hear your story. Email me at Hamilton@Gawker.com.

Where do you work? How much are you paid? Is it enough? What are your working conditions and job security like? How are you treated by the university? How are you treated by the students? Are you in a union? What changes would you like to see in your workplace?

All respondents will be kept anonymous unless you tell me otherwise.