Dear Editor: On April 30 we watched as university police escorted nine UW-Madison students out of Bascom Hall, ending a peaceful sit-in they had staged outside Chancellor Blank’s office. We couldn’t have been more proud of them, some of whom we’ve had in class.

The students were arrested but not detained for after-hours presence in a public building. They now face possible punishment by the university.

They had come to the chancellor’s office to demand that UW-Madison end its apparel licensing contract with JanSport, an account that JanSport claims is its biggest in the United States. The JanSport brand is controlled by VF Corp., a notorious and recidivist violator of labor rights. 

The protesters had, for years, tried more conventional ways pressing their demand that the UW end its contract with JanSport. They’d already persuaded UW-Madison’s Labor Codes and Licensing Compliance Committee; the Associated Students of Madison that officially represents its 40,000 students; and some 15 other student and community organizations to join them in this demand. The national organization with which they work, United Students Against Sweatshops, has already won in more than a dozen other universities. But UW-Madison has simply stonewalled.

In truth, the students weren’t out of line here. UW-Madison is.

We believe the UW-Madison and broader Madison community should thank the students for their moral clarity and courage, not punish them, and that we should join them in urging the university to end its contract with JanSport. UW-Madison, long a social justice leader, should not suddenly become a laggard. It should get back on the right side of history and justice for all.

Joel Rogers, Sewell-Bascom professor, UW-Madison

Erik Olin Wright, Vilas professor, UW-Madison

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