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Khurana Focuses on Faculty Dean Role, Does Not Support or Condemn Strike

By Jalin P. Cunningham and Ignacio Sabate, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: October 22, 2016, at 4:42 p.m.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana did not take a firm stance for or against the ongoing dining workers’ strike, instead saying he sees his role as minimizing disruption to House life.

“As a Faculty Dean, our primary concern is the wellbeing of our students, making sure that their needs are being met, their personal needs and nutritional needs, and essentially keeping the community together during this time,” Khurana said, referring to his position as Faculty Dean of Cabot House.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. By Megan M. Ross

In an interview Friday morning, Khurana directed questions about his stance on the now three-week long strike to negotiators from the University and UNITE HERE Local 26, the Boston-based union representing Harvard University Dining Services workers.

“I don’t have the full sense of information of how that fits into the larger University, how it interacts with other agreements the University has,” he said, referring to Harvard’s negotiations with the union.

“So I think that those questions are really better for those involved with the negotiations,” he added.

Over the course of months-long negotiations with Harvard, the union has sought to increase wages, guarantee summer earnings, and maintain the health benefits plan Harvard currently offers.

According to an email written by College Dean for Administration and Finance Sheila C. Thimba and forwarded by Lowell House Faculty Dean Diana L. Eck to her House list Thursday, “Mediation sessions continued [Thursday] and hopeful signs of progress were visible.”

While Khurana did not comment about his views on the negotiations, University President Drew G. Faust has previously voiced her support for the health benefits package Harvard has offered HUDS workers.

Days before the strike began on Oct. 5, Faust said she supported the health care plans Harvard put on the table—which would increase copayments and cut deductibles.

“We are actually very proud of our health benefits,” she said in an interview last month, adding that she finds the proposed health care benefits for HUDS workers and other employees at Harvard “kind of exceptional.”

Khurana said on Friday he thinks both parties are attempting to reach common ground.

“I believe everybody is making good faith efforts,” Khurana said.

He also offered praise for undergraduates, who he said have engaged in meaningful conversations around the “complex” labor dispute, and emphasized the importance of fostering House community during the protests.

House faculty and staff, including Khurana, have ramped up student programming since the strike’s start, often hosting events with food for undergraduates thanks to funding from the Office of Student Life. University spokesperson David J. Cameron said that Faust’s office has allocated additional funds towards similar events in the Houses.

In Cabot, Khurana has ordered food for students, including Burger King. Cabot's House Committee also hosted a dinner with $1,000 of pizza and chicken wings.

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION: October 22, 2016

A previous version of this article indicated that Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, in his role as Cabot House faculty dean, hosted a dinner with pizza and chicken wings. To clarify, Cabot's House Committee held the dinner.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter@JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Ignacio Sabate can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ignacio_sabate.

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