By Beth Treffeisen
In an effort to increase collaboration, communication and partnerships between the colleges and universities, the City of Boston, and various non-profits throughout the city, Councilor Timothy McCarthy is working with the other councilors to create a College and University Engagement Office.
The order that was brought forward at the September 28 meeting states that Boston is home to over 25 colleges, universities, and institutions of higher learning. All of these schools have business with the city including student housing, building, event permitting, programming, facilities, partnerships and more.
Councilor McCarthy pointed out that each of the institutions has government affairs offices that are tasked with navigating through government agencies. All of them operate independently of each other and create their own relationships and dialogue.
By bringing them under one umbrella in the city, McCarthy believes it would create a platform for a conversation to form between the schools, allowing for greater collaboration, use of resources, and partnerships to form.
“I truly believe in my heart of hearts that the schools want to be a good neighbors and friends,” said Councilor McCarthy. “And we want to make that happen.”
The hearing will be scheduled for some time in early November where all the colleges and universities will be invited to attend to share feedback on the idea.
Following the hearing will then be a number of working sessions to streamline what they learned and eventually come to a final decision before it is brought forward to the council for a vote.
“We appreciate the work that Councilor McCarthy and the City Council are putting into this proposal,” wrote Dennis Nealon from the Wentworth Institute of Technology in e-mail. “We look forward to learning more about the initiative and to continuing our good work with City of Boston and the many other schools in the area.”
The idea came about when McCarthy was helping his son, who is attending Wentworth Institute of Technology, spruce up a new streetscape outside the Hyde Park YMCA that anyone can use. It struck him that small projects like this can be replicated a thousand times over by other schools in the area.
McCarthy also brought up that before he was city councilor he used to work for the Park’s Department and helped coordinate student move-in. Each year he said the directors of each school would come together and say ‘hey I haven’t seen you in so long,’ and re-introduce themselves.
“It clicked in my head we should be doing something,” said McCarthy.
At the city council meeting Councilor Josh Zakim agreed saying that he hopes this effort would work to get colleges and universities more engaged in the city of Boston and not just when they need something.
“We need to make sure that they are paying their fair share of both resources and in-kind contributions and finaical payments,” said Zakim.
A five-year pilot program that is in it’s final year, called PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Tax, asks nonprofits with more than $15 million worth of tax-exempt property in Boston to write checks to help offset the cost of public services such as police and fire protection. The payments are voluntary contributions.
For the fourth year in a row, many of the universities and colleges have not paid the city the full amounts requested according to the City of Boston.
Councilor Tito Jackson who supports this initiative believes creating an office will help identify the in-kind donations given to the city of Boston and allocate them in the most thoughtful way.
“When I was sitting at Northeastern University I was surprised to see how many parts where connecting with the city,” said Councilor Jackson. “You can’t do an assessment of advocacy if we don’t even what the colleges and universities are giving to us.”
John Tobin the vice president of Northeastern University City and Community Affairs Office said the school works with a lot of individual city departments spanning from the Boston Planning and Development Agency to the environment office to even the Boston Public Schools.
“We’ve developed good relationships with people from each of these entities sometimes that we deal with on a daily basis,” said Tobin. “We are proud of those relationships that we’ve developed and I think Councilor McCarthy is trying to streamline that.”
Tobin said that this task might be a bit more cumbersome than one would think to accomplish and looks forward to having a conversation at the upcoming hearing.