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Mayor Convenes Committee to Save Lowell School

By Sarah Y. Keightley
News Editor

Cambridge Mayor Kenneth Reeves convened a subcommittee April 10 to convince the Institute to reverse its decision to close the Lowell Institute School, an MIT program that has offered evening technical courses on campus since 1903.

The subcommittee is composed of several councillors and the mayor.

Provost Mark S. Wrighton announced in January that MIT will close the Lowell Institute School effective July 1, 1996. About 1,000 students a year register for classes through the program, including around 100 Institute employees.

"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 in January.

The subcommittee will try to work toward a resolution of the issue, although there is no specific timeline, according to Jubi Headley, executive assistant to the mayor. The committee has held informal meetings, but Headley said he is "not aware of specific strategies" that it will use to change the MIT administration's position.

"It's hard to predict exactly what the City Council will do," said Paul Parravano, assistant for community relations in the President's Office. "At this point, I don't see that there's any reversal in the decision by the provost."

About 15 people approached the council at its April 10 meeting, saying they had benefited from Lowell, Parravano said. This brought the matter to the council's attention, then the mayor decided to form the subcommittee.

Bruce D. Wedlock, director of the school, emphasized that he did not "instigate" the presentation before the council. "It was brought to the City Council independently by a group of [Lowell] alumni and students."

City benefits from Lowell

"The City Council has some legitimate interest [in the issue since] the Lowell Institute School has been an activity which benefits citizens of Cambridge," Wedlock said.

One of the subcommittee's main concerns is that Cambridge would be losing "a valuable source of continued education and professional development," Headley said. "We're trying to increase our resources rather than decrease them."

Another concern is that the decision was made without any discussion, Headley said. When city councilors asked for the rationale behind the decision, they were "not able to get satisfactory responses from the administration of MIT."

Parravano said that MIT Office for Government and Community Relations had "offered each member of the council an opportunity to talk about this issue," and two councilors met with them.

"It's interesting that many were not familiar with the Lowell School before this," Parravano said.

"There will be a tremendous consensus that [closing Lowell] is not a wise move," said John Pitkin, a Cambridge resident who served a few years ago on a City Council committee that looked at community-university relations.

President Bill Clinton has often promoted continued job training and Lowell's mission made "it possible for working people to keep abreast of technology," Pitkin said.

"Two years ago, when MIT cut off its support for a shelter for homeless alcoholics, the people of Cambridge rose up and MIT changed its mind," Pitkin said, referring to the discussion between MIT and Cambridge in 1993 which resulted in MIT giving the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Rehabilitation a permanent site on MIT land. In exchange, the Institute received ownership and leases of several streets around campus.

The members of the subcommittee include Mayor Reeves and City Council members Francis Duehay, Anthony Galluccio, Timothy Toomey, and Katherine Triantafillou.