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Tough negotiations earn Tufts a Massey

A visitor walks into Lenoir Dining Hall on the first day of classes. Awed by the myriad selections, she gets a flashback of her own dining experience at Carolina’s “sister” school way back in the ’60s. Meals consisted of motley choices from steam tables dished up with an extra helping of indifference. The salad bar amounted to a two-foot bowl of iceberg lettuce augmented with a scant grating of cabbage and carrots.

How times have changed.

Here you can grab a “fast food” sandwich of grilled vegetables on pita. Upstairs, there’s everything from home cooking to pizza and pasta. And wonder of wonders, the salad bar brims with fresh chunks of fruits and vegetables. Behind the counter, employees serve with smiles and kind words.

Walking down the short steps to Lenoir’s basement, the lunchtime buzz abates and you enter Rutledge Tuft’s domain. It’s quiet and organized — a reflection of the man himself.

“Rut” Tufts is one of this year’s recipients of the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award, and although he’s now on special assignment as co-chair of the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, reporting to the chancellor, he put in many valuable years at Carolina as director of Auxiliary Services. And that includes Lenoir — he led the Food Service Task Force that recommended the closing and complete renovation of the dining hall in 1998.

A native of Atlanta, Tufts came to work at Carolina in 1972, armed with a master’s degree from Duke University. He started out in Student Stores, but it wasn’t long before the manager of the Bull’s Head Bookshop didn’t show up for work one day and Tufts, and his love of literature, stood in the proverbial right spot at the right time to take on the job. He stayed there until 1976, long enough, in his words, “to change the Bull’s Head from a drug store spinner rack mass-market sort of bodice-ripper book store to one that was beginning to gain respect.” He added poetry readings that included the likes of Beat poets Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs.

In 1985, Tufts was named director of Campus Merchandising, and in 1990, he took over as director of Auxiliary Services. And that’s where his job really started heating up.

Auxiliary Services covers an array of potential hot spots, and Tufts has slogged through most of them, beginning with instituting the UNC One Card. What sounded like a simple, logical plan quickly became a minefield. “Where it really got into an issue,” Tufts recalled, “was we ran head-on, before anybody else did, into this question of using Social Security numbers, and so what we did was set out to make the One Card where it would work without a Social Security number.”

But of course, most of the campus used Social Security numbers for identification purposes. A PID (Person Identification) system had to be started that still used nine numbers so computer software programmed for Social Security numbers wouldn’t get confused.

He has supervised upgrading and modernizing University Printing Services, expanding campus dining and vending services, including the aforementioned redesign of Lenoir Dining Hall; installation of a new fuel system at Horace Williams Airport and restructuring Laundry Services.

His boss at the time, Carolyn Elfland, now associate vice chancellor for Campus Services, described what went into the redesign of Lenoir Hall. During its closing and complete renovation, she said Tufts “became the primary person responsible for developing an interim food service and spent countless hours and sleepless nights implementing the temporary solution.”

Tufts also helped initiate the Employee Appreciation Fair and has served as a chair of the University Grievance Panel. “In addition to being customer-focused, Rut is employee-focused and is regarded across campus as an outstanding, fair-minded manager,” Elfland said. In 1998, he was honored for his accomplishments with a Chancellor’s Award.

But it’s licensing that has provided the most challenging work of his career.

An opportunity to educate

According to his Massey citation, the words on the University seal, “Lux Libertas,” “proclaim the University’s aim to shed intellectual light in the interest of human freedom. On issues deeply felt, the effort to generate light often enkindles extraordinary heat when it touches views and convictions passionately held.”

Tufts has found himself in the position of directing that light across the world as he’s represented Carolina in its “efforts to improve working conditions where goods bearing its logos are produced,” as his citation noted.

That “effort” began in the mid-1990s, Tufts said, when a couple of schools became concerned about their licensing relationships with companies that were using the schools’ names to make money. These companies, activists said, were using sweatshop labor. There were national exposes of Nike factories that “were pretty bad,” Tufts said. “Nike doesn’t own them,” he said, “but they were subcontractors, and there were children working.”

On campus, Tufts said, Carolina’s students and faculty became immersed in the controversy as it progressed. Through the foresight of people such as Pete Andrews, professor of environmental policy, who was chair of the Faculty Council at that time, “Courses were developed on ethical issues and supply chains. … We had this body of students that were learning stuff that most students in the rest of the country were not learning.

“For example,” Tufts said, “one day they would have workers from a Guatemalan factory come in and translators telling them what was going on. Another day, the Nike global relations guy was invited to come, and walking in behind him was this guy with dark glasses on. Everybody did a double take: It was Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike. He came in unannounced and sat there and talked to the class.”

At this point, it was a successful educational effort, Tufts said, but the campus was beginning to see demonstrations. Tufts consulted with Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Susan Ehringhaus, and it was decided that it was better to officially work with the students than “to try and stumble on.” So Tufts talked with Hooker and the Labor Code Task Force was organized.

Patient progress

With the Labor Code Task Force, the University had developed a different, more positive model for responding to the dissent. From the outset, Tufts said, the task force “reflected the idea that this effort needed to include the whole community. It was not a business question. It was not a purely academic question.” Participants on the committee reflected a broad range of interests, including law professors, anthropology professors, student athletes — “a whole range of perspectives.”

Two national organizations that don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye were formed as a result of the sweatshop disclosures: the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The University is a member of both, and Tufts holds leadership positions on both boards.

The work of the University’s task force has moved forward slowly and with patience and deliberation. “This job is not for people who expect to get from “A” to “B” and have “B” be all nice and clean,” Tufts said. “It doesn’t do that. Things just don’t get finished — ever.”

But a slow monitoring process of factories has begun. With a $10,000 contribution from Carolina and each of four other schools, a non-profit group, Verite’, was hired to assess an initially small group of licensees using international human and labor rights standards. Verite’ gave its opinion of what each of the factories had to do to come into compliance. They were given six months to comply, and then Verite’ returned to do another evaluation. This is an ongoing process.

In all of its negotiations, Carolina has been a leader because of its willingness to take advantage of a bad situation and use it as a teaching tool and as a chance to improve the world. It’s also been effective because of the University’s licensing muscle. The Carolina brand is not just prized across the country by its alumni; this year Carolina is possibly the largest licensor in the country in university and collegiate apparel. Carolina will certainly not stay at the top, Tufts said, but “we’ve always been in the top five or seven.”

Just last week, the University announced it and Nike have agreed to extend their contract for another eight years, and that contract will include implementing consistent labor standards for team uniforms and licensed merchandise. (See related story page 4.)

“UNC is possibly the only school in the country that is fortunate enough to have an athletic director who is willing to make workplace conditions one of the central elements in a sports equipment agreement,” Tufts said. “This agreement sets an example for colleges and universities to expand the labor code effort to include most of the uniforms worn by teams as well as by employees.

“At first when Nike argued that they did not want to be the only supplier to UNC that had to conform to the University’s labor standards, I thought they were simply stonewalling. The more I thought about it, though, and discussed it with Dick Baddour, Chancellor Moeser and members of the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, the more it became apparent that Nike was actually taking the higher ground on the issue. The chancellor and Dick saw that as well, and as result of their support and energy, we have, I think, moved the entire effort forward on a new front.”

Lifetime of leadership

Tufts is a leader, not because he wants to be in the spotlight, but because he always sees a job that needs to be done — and it’s frequently one that requires a calm presence and the mind of a mediator.

“I’m just not a real public person,” he said. “In our Trinity Park (Durham) neighborhood, there’s a homeowners’ association that I’m the vice-president of,” he said, as an example of the kinds of extracurricular positions he’s held. But he characterizes his years of varied service as “all in just little drops.”

His idea of the perfect vacation “is a mountain top with nobody there — just the solitude. When we (his wife and two sons) go on a trip, I usually seek out the deserted beach or the part of the trail where there’s nobody. I’m just happy to be by myself.”

When Tufts speaks of his life’s work and dedication to the jobs he’s tackled, he says, “There is an underlying principle that actually plays over into work which is that, in general, things won’t change for the better on their own. You have to somehow urge them or guide them or push them or cajole them.

“If you want your backyard to be nicer or more comfortable, you can’t just sit there and let it happen; you’ve got to do something about it. If you want your neighborhood to be better, you can spend part of Sunday morning picking up litter along your street. If you want your university to be better, or your workplace to be better, you try and resolve disputes through a grievance panel or try to come up with more pleasant, enjoyable ways to eat food. If you want the world to be better, you try to do what you can and set an example to make that happen.”

Now that he’s logged almost 30 years with the University, the question occurs: Is he approaching retirement? “I think it’ll be a while,” he said.

“There are some points along the way where I can say, `OK, it’s time for another person to do it.’ And we’ve had a couple of points like that where I could’ve stepped back from it, and I’ve decided not to. The chancellor may decide he wants somebody else.”

On the other hand, Tufts said, “I feel like this chancellor is very interested in the principles involved, and I get a very good feeling of reinforcement in the things he says and does and the conversations we’ve had about it. That makes a big difference.”

Originally published by University Gazette: Oct. 24, 2001

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