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Provost Closes Lowell School, Cites Shortage of Resources

By Christopher Falling
Staff Reporter

Provost Mark S. Wrighton announced last week that MIT will close the Lowell Institute School, which has offered evening technical subjects in MIT classrooms since 1903, as part of a review of the Institute's higher education priorities.

The school will close on July 1, 1996.

"This decision comes as the result of a set of considerations related to a number of factors, including space, direct financial support, use of Athena [Computing Environment] facilities, and other resources," Wrighton said.

LIS offers classes in electronics, computer applications and engineering drawing, and computer-aided drafting to 1,000 students a year, including about 100 Institute employees.

The school provides "MIT and Cambridge with a service that costs MIT only a little bit of space in the evening and computer access," said Bruce D. Wedlock '56, director of LIS for the past 22 years and a lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"I am disappointed at the decision to close the school," Wedlock said.

Wedlock's $100,000 salary is the only line item in MIT's budget directly related to operating the school, Wedlock said. The Institute also provides LIS with about 1,000 square feet of classroom space and gives students access to Athena workstations in Building 32 for class work.

The remainder of the operating costs and salaries are covered through LIS tuition and donations from the Lowell Institute, a philanthropic foundation founded in 1836 to provide free public lectures for the citizens of Boston, Wedlock said.

In addition to the director, two full-time employees and one part-time employee will no longer work for the LIS administration.

John Lowell, a trustee of the Lowell Institute and grandson of its founder, offered to increase contributions to LIS to cover the salary of the director last spring, Wedlock said. However, MIT refused to continue providing classroom space and Athena access, he said.

Decision based on priority evaluation

"Much of the decision is based on our vision of what will be needed to sustain MIT as the leading academic institution focused on science and technology," Wrighton said. "In this era of constraint we must make some difficult decisions about what we will do and what resources will be directed to such efforts in order to sustain excellence in our core missions."

The decision to close LIS does not come from the Institute-wide re-engineering efforts, Wrighton said.

"It should also be understood that when the LIS started there were not as many opportunities to pursue evening classes as there are today," Wrighton said. "There are now many academic institutions offering high quality evening classes in the greater Boston area," he said.

While LIS offers courses at the associate degree level, the level of teaching is more extensive than that of a community college, Wedlock said. LIS is also less expensive, at about $300$400 per course, than other comparable institutions, such as Harvard University which charges about $1,000 for a course, he said.

LIS was founded in 1903 with the purpose of educating mill workers in the Boston area, Wedlock said. "The cost of a course then was equal to the price of two bushels of wheat."