Continued from page 1

“I hope you will consider any potential chilling effects on college internship programs before any regulatory steps are taken,” Mr. Kerry wrote.

The Labor Department says it has heard the complaints, but that some of the fears expressed are overblown.

Mrs. Solis, in an April 1 Chicago speech unveiling the department’s “We Can Help!” campaign targeting abuses of “low-wage and vulnerable” workers, said the campaign would particularly target industries such as construction, janitorial services and home health care - not the most popular industries for college internship offices.

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank with ties to the labor movement, was harshly critical of the university presidents’ letter, saying it displayed “a nearly complete misunderstanding of the law the department enforces.”

EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey, in his own letter to Mrs. Solis, wrote, “Many so-called internships are nothing more than summer employment under a fancy name. Students go to work packing boxes, running errands, answering phones, doing filing and performing many other tasks that are of immediate benefit to the employer but have no real educational value.”

He added, “Ultimately, what the universities are asking is that the Department of Labor look the other way and condone violations of the law, when they ought to be working … to ensure that their students are protected by regulations that are vigorously enforced.”

c Michal Elseth contributed to this report.