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April 26, 2007

To the UVM Community,

President Fogel recently addressed this Community by professing that he and his administration will “honor the advocacy” of us as students.  We feel this to be misrepresentative of the administration’s true position.  We say: “Honor the advocacy of your students” by implementing change. Allowing free expression is vital and appreciated, but when the voice of the community goes unheeded, mere tolerance of that voice is insufficient. The administration has an inherent responsibility in its positions to oversee the wellbeing of ALL members of the UVM community, not to turn a blind eye to blatant oppressive policies that literally leave large numbers of people out in the cold.  This hunger strike is not about us as students and our wellbeing but turning attention to the greater issue of injustice as it happens here at home on our campus.  We’re not the only ones going hungry today. 

This is also an issue that reaches across our community. It is largely supported by the UVM faculty, staff and United Electric, the union representing service and maintenance workers on campus. Carmyn Stanko, President of the UE, puts it candidly: “Make no mistake that if the University came to UE and wanted to have a wage reopener to bring folks up to a livable wage that we certainly would do so, but that's not what they ever intended to do in the first place.”

As far as the support of our student leaders is concerned, we call attention to the SGA resolution brought before Senate as emergency business last night.  The resolution that offered its support for a livable wage, and SLAP’s protest as a means to that end, was passed almost unanimously.  Clearly our student leaders understand the gravity of this issue, and the necessity of our actions to call attention to it.  We understand that the SGA is the predominant voice for students on this campus, and take this decision as a testament of the support of our student leaders and the student body as a whole.  We find the student view expressed in the recent email distributed by President Fogel to be of the minority. 

The aforementioned “student wisdom” is correct on one point: this is a safety concern.  The point that is missed, however, is that this is not only a matter of student safety, but rather the safety of our entire community.  This hunger strike is simply a means to highlight that greater problem.

As for the safety of our student hunger-strikers, we have taken great precautions to ensure that our wellbeing is maintained.  We have no illusions about the effect of our actions on our health, and feel that any attempt to represent our actions as harmful is unfair to our project.  It would be naïve to assume that we as students entered into this without properly preparing ourselves. 

In his statement entitled “UVM as an Employer,” our President sought to frame UVM as “one of Vermont’s most responsible employers.”  Now, we agree that UVM provides excellent benefits for most of its employees.  Our concern is first with the contracted workers who are not included in this rubric (and furthermore who make far less than the President’s citation of $10.75 per hour), and second with the fact that one cannot eat benefits.  We believe that UVM should not stop at being “one of” the best, but rather seek to be the best, to set an example for the world, as UVM has done in so many other areas.  We maintain that poverty perpetuates poverty, and that it is the duty of a progressive research university of our stature to break this cycle. 

As of today SLAP, in conjunction with the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, has drafted a policy proposal to be submitted to the President and his administration, outlining the implementation of a livable wage at this university.   

- Student Labor Action Project