Brodhead offers olive branch to Duke student protesters

As students protested for a sixth day at Duke University, President Richard Brodhead said Wednesday that Duke would take steps to improve working conditions at the university.
Posted 2016-04-06T22:49:43+00:00 - Updated 2016-04-07T16:54:58+00:00

As students protested for a sixth day at Duke University, President Richard Brodhead said Wednesday that Duke would take steps to improve working conditions at the university.

Nine students have camped outside Brodhead's office in the Allen Building, the school's main administrative building, since Friday afternoon. Classes in the building have been moved elsewhere on campus, and officials have allowed only limited access to staff.

Duke University released a statement Wednesday night saying that the building would remain closed Thursday, with limited access for Duke employees who work in the building.

The protesters, who call themselves Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity, have demanded the firing of three administrators, including one accused of uttering a racial slur against a black parking attendant two years ago, as well as a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.

"While Duke has been frequently recognized as a leader in employee benefits and satisfaction, the recent student protest is consistent with our own commitment to continually review and improve our workplace culture," Brodhead wrote in a letter to Duke's students, faculty and staff.

He said Duke would take the following steps:

  • Engage an independent expert to review the grievance and complaint procedures for Duke staff and assess their fairness and effectiveness.
  • Review the guidelines for contractors and their employees to ensure they are fair and reflect civility and respect.
  • Raise awareness of how senior administrators are recruited and reviewed.
  • Begin a process to raise Duke's minimum wage of $12 an hour.

A committee that Brodhead will appoint – faculty, staff and students will have input on members – will lead the effort, and their recommendations will be made public.

The protesters issued a statement saying the concessions don't "provide sufficient evidence of a concrete commitment by the university.

"In the past, the university has created task forces and committees as a way to quell student activism and to divert attention away from important news stories. These task forces and committees often lack clear timelines, material goals and procedures of accountability," the statement said. "The student occupiers want their demands to be met with a tangible and public commitment by the university."

Duke officials said Monday that they wouldn't negotiate with the protesters until they left the Allen Building. Administrators previously said the students wouldn't be punished for the sit-in.

The protesters have complained that Duke administrators haven't allowed workers to join in the negotiations. They said they are concerned about racism, discrimination and abuse of workers on campus.

In Wednesday's statement, the students said they would leave the building if Duke agrees to raise its minimum wage for all workers to $12.53 per hour by the end of the year and to $15 per hour by the end of 2019, to launch an outside investigation of its labor practices and to negotiate other student demands in the coming weeks.

"The student occupiers reiterate that it was the administration’s decision to exit out of negotiations and that it is the administration which has decided to close the Allen Building from use by campus community. The student occupiers continue to peacefully remain in the administrative offices and have no intention to disrupt academic life for current students and faculty," the statement said.