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.

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.

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.

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 wouldn’t allow workers to join in the negotiations. They said they are concerned about racism, discrimination and abuse of workers on campus.

,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.

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