URBANE" is not a term usually associated with Northeastern University, but that word fits Joseph Aoun, its president-elect, who was introduced to the university community yesterday . His selection promises to move the university toward its goal of becoming an outstanding center of learning.
Northeastern has already come far during the 10-year tenure of Richard Freeland, who was chosen to transform the university into a residential campus after the trustees realized that it could no longer thrive as a private, low-cost equivalent to a public university. Freeland moved Northeastern up in the national rankings, attracting a growing out-of-state enrollment. And to house these students, he oversaw the creation of the nine-building West Campus.
``Northeastern is New England's premier urban university," he said at a news conference yesterday. People at Boston University might disagree, but there is no doubt that under Freeland's leadership Northeastern, like BU and Boston College in the 1970s, has made the transition from commuter school to one with a national reputation and a student body to match.
At the press conference Aoun spoke of the need to capitalize on the momentum of the Freeland years. ``We have to continue to focus on leadership in special fields," he said, but based on his demeanor and words at the press conference his presidency will be marked by an international flair.
Freeland, a historian by trade, was educated at Amherst and the University of Pennsylvania. He spent 22 years as an administrator at the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus before coming to Northeastern.
Aoun got his first degree from St. Joseph University in Beirut, his second from the University of Paris, and his doctorate in linguistics from MIT. He has spent his working career at the University of Southern California, where he is dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
``The world has to listen to, and learn from, knowledge creators," Aoun said yesterday. He is proud of his work to establish centers for Korean and Armenian studies at USC.
It remains to be seen how this cosmopolitan approach will help him navigate the hurly-burly of Boston politics or loosen the pockets of New England-centric Northeastern alumni, many of whom have not been generous contributors to the school. But a decade or two ago, someone with Aoun's talents and experience would have stayed far away from the commuter campus on Huntington Avenue. His selection and his acceptance of the presidency show that Northeastern is developing a worldwide reputation.