Councilor helping to create college engagement office

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

In an effort to increase collaboration, communication, and partnerships between the colleges and universities, the City of Boston, and various nonprofits throughout the city, City Councilor Tim McCarthy is working with the other members of the Council to create a College and University Engagement Office.

The order that was brought forward at a Sept. 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.

“I truly believe in my heart of hearts that the schools want to be a good neighbors and friends,” said McCarthy. “And we want to make that happen.”

The hearing will be scheduled for sometime this month when all the colleges and universities will be invited to attend to share feedback on the idea.

Following the hearing, there 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,” said Wentworth Institute of Technology spokesperson Dennis Nealon in an email. “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 Boston Parks and Recreation 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, Mission Hill City Councilor Josh Zakim agreed saying that he hopes this effort would work to get colleges and universities more engaged in 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 financial 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.

City Councilor Tito Jackson supports this initiative because he 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 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.

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