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May 04, 2015

Sophomore Zoe Jeka is taking part in a hunger strike to draw attention to income inequality. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

Students at Tufts University continued their hunger strike Monday to save janitorial jobs at the University. Thirty-five janitors expect to be let go early next month as Tufts tries to control its costs.

"Solidarity with janitors," "people over profits." Those are the messages at this makeshift campground in the heart of campus. Part of the mission, says sophomore Zoe Jeka is to draw attention to income inequality.

"Many of the administrators are paid around $300,000 or $400,000 a year, so I don’t understand how they can say that they need to save money while also paying these administrators corporate-like salaries," Jeka said.

This hunger strike comes after five students were arrested last week for blocking Davis Square. Now, Zoe and four other students are going without food because they say the administration isn’t hearing their voices.

Why escalate it to this point?

"We did a sit-in last semester," Jeka said. "We’ve had rallies and they just haven’t listened so this is our next step in escalation."

Paola Castillo is a janitor at Tufts University. She expects to lose her job early next month as the university cuts 35 maintenance workers. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

Across the quad, groundskeepers are setting up a stage and administrators are getting ready for graduation day.

"I question the intelligence of a hunger strike, frankly, and I just hope that they stay safe,” said Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell.

Campbell estimates cutting nearly 20 percent of the janitorial staff will save Tufts about $900,000 each year.

"Tufts has engaged in an extensive process to assess our administrative costs and we discovered that there are opportunities for us to achieve the same level of support for the conditions of our buildings with fewer people," she said.

Colleges and universities across the country are struggling to curb out-of-control administrative and maintenance costs. Over the past 25 years the number of nonacademic administrative employees in higher education has more than doubled. At Tufts, Campbell predicts these cuts will save students money.

"In combination with lots of other actions it will contribute to making education more affordable,” she said.

Students intend to stay here until administrators agree to reverse their decision. The university insists the hunger strike won’t affect its plan to cut janitors.

Tufts, increasing access and success, university, higher ed

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