sealPurdue Letter from the President

March, 2000

I have delayed sending my March letter by a few days in the hope I could report a resolution to a situation involving several Purdue students who were engaged in a hunger strike designed to focus attention on working conditions in the garment industry. Happily the strike has ended and we are ready to move forward. Specifically, the students were concerned that apparel manufactured by companies licensed to use Purdue's name and/or logos on their products might be made under sweatshop conditions.

Although we have seen no credible evidence that any of the products Purdue has licensed have been made in sweatshops, there have been numerous documented cases of labor abuse in the industry. Typically, major apparel companies subcontract projects to one or more manufacturing facilities, many of them in undeveloped countries. Therefore it is difficult to verify the conditions under which this merchandise is made.

In July 1999, I appointed a committee to study this issue as it relates to Purdue and to recommend a policy that will ensure that all Purdue-logoed products will be made under humane conditions while fostering the growth of the licensing program. Fees paid to Purdue by licensees account for about $600,000 a year, all of which is used to fund scholarships.

The enclosed article, written by Joe Bennett, Purdue's vice president for university relations, gives an account of the committee's work and the events that led up to the hunger strike. As the article relates, the goal of the strikers and their supporters was to convince Purdue to join the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) immediately. The University was willing to consider the WRC as a factory monitoring agency, but wanted to explore all options before making a decision. The strikers also wanted Purdue to promise not to join the Fair Labor Association (FLA) a rival monitoring group that the students feel is controlled by corporate interests.

A compromise reached late the night of April 6 will allow Purdue to keep its options open until September 30, when we will evaluate whether the WRC and the FLA have met certain criteria set by Purdue.

Since both organizations are in the developmental stage, we have a number of concerns about their future directions, governing structures, and their ability to develop the global network that will be necessary to monitor factory conditions. If neither group is able to meet our criteria, we will explore other options, including partnering with other universities to develop a monitoring process.

Although the six hunger strikers initially were at odds with Purdue's approach to this problem, we had productive dialogue throughout the process and ultimately came to an agreement with which all parties are comfortable. I'm very confident we can move forward very effectively from this point.

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Both of Purdue's basketball teams finished their seasons with excellent records and some truly special achievements. The men's team built a 24-10 overall record, won 12 of its 16 Big Ten games, and reached the "elite eight" round of the NCAA tournament. The Boilermaker women compiled records of 23-8 overall and 11-5 in the conference. In the post-season, they upset Penn State to win the Big Ten Tournament championship and won their first NCAA tournament game before being eliminated in the second round.

Katie Douglas was recognized as the Big Ten player of the year and was named to the prestigious Kodak All-America team. Men's coach Gene Keady was named NCAA coach of the year by his professional colleagues. Finally, on the academic front, I attended the Phi Beta Kappa initiation dinner last week and was delighted to learn that Carson Cunningham, a starting guard on the men's team, had been elected to membership. Just a year ago, the organization initiated Stephanie McCarty of the women's team. I don't know whether that type of combination involving a women's and men's team at one institution is unique. However, I'm certain it's unusual, and it makes a statement that excellence in academics and athletics are not incompatible.

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The West Lafayette campus is gearing up for the numerous activities that are part of the end of the academic year – now just a few weeks off. One of the most visible projects is a renovation of a mall area adjacent to the Purdue Bell Tower. A gift of the class of 1949, the effort will beautify the area and extend the corridor of green space that now occupies the very heart of the campus.

Steven C. Beering