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Cambridge, NU Vying for Lowell School

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Although MIT still plans to close the Lowell Institute School, which offers evening technical programs on campus, Cambridge City Council members are continuing efforts to keep the school in Cambridge, if not at MIT. At the same time, Northeastern University officials are discussing an acquisition of the school with its trustees.

Former Provost Mark S. Wrighton announced in January that MIT will close the school, which has operated at MIT since 1903, effective July 1, 1996. About 1,000 students register for classes each year, including around 100 Institute employees and 150 Cambridge residents.

Cambridge Mayor Kenneth Reeves convened a committee in the spring to meet with MIT officials in an attempt to preserve the school, but no serious progress was made. In an effort to make MIT aware of the strong feelings Cambridge had about the school, Councilor Katherine Triantafillou introduced an order at the June 12 council meeting asking the city manager to "initiate land taking proceedings" to obtain land from MIT to provide space for the school if it could not be housed on campus.

The motion was more designed to let MIT know that the city was serious than to actually proceed with the acquisition of land from the Institute. "The university was being unduly rigid in its stance and position on the school without giving a really logical and rational reason why they couldn't continue the program," said Triantafillou.

The land taking order was postponed to the June 19 meeting where it narrowly failed, according to City Clerk Margaret Drury. A later motion to set up another meeting between city and Lowell officials was passed.

Northeastern interested in school

In a related development, Northeastern University has indicated an interest in acquiring the Lowell School, according to Northeastern Provost Michael Baer. "Northeastern has been in discussions about the possibility of the Lowell Institute School becoming a part of Northeastern," Baer said.

Northeastern is fairly well along in negotiations with the Lowell Institute, a philanthropic foundation founded in 1836 to provide free public lectures for the citizens of Boston, according to Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government relations in the president's office.

Baer would only comment that "discussions are in progress, and we would be very pleased if they worked out." However, neither party has worked out specific details, said Baer.

The Lowell School would be highly compatible with the school of engineering technology at Northeastern, which has an extensive evening program, Baer said.

Land taking may have been "too draconian"

Triantafillou and Councilor Kathleen Born, who sponsored the land taking order, were joined in supporting it by council members Francis Duehay and Michael Sullivan, Drury said. Voting against it were Reeves and councilors Joseph Gallucio, Timothy Toomey, and Sheila Russell. A ninth councilor, Jonathan Myers, was absent, according to Drury.

"Some people thought it was too draconian," Triantafillou said, leading to the defeat.

Later at that meeting, Gallucio introduced a new order calling for the mayor to meet with city and Lowell Institute officials to discuss the means of keeping the school in Cambridge and the status of the Northeastern negotiations.

Citing the recent activity, MIT's Gallop acknowledged that "it's hard for city councilors who are representing students of the Lowell Institute School to accept" the closing.

The decision to close the school came about as "the result of a set of considerations related to a number of factors including space, direct financial support, use of Athena facilities, and other resources," Wrighton said in January.

Some in Cambridge saw the closing as a specific decision by Wrighton, and looked for a change with his replacement, former Dean of the School of Engineering Joel Moses PhD '67. "Certainly it's my hope that with a different provost we can get a fresh look at the issue," Triantafillou said.

"Town-gown relations are always problematic," said Triantafillou, alluding to a history of choppy relations between Cambridge and both MIT and Harvard University. However, the current disagreement is by no means "a permanent severance of ties," she said. "We have a much longer view of" community-university relations she said, likening the Lowell dispute to a disagreement between siblings.