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College officials reflect on Menino's legacy, calling him an advocate for higher ed

Posted by Your Town  March 28, 2013 04:22 PM

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As the news spread that Mayor Thomas M. Menino would not be seeking re-election, local college presidents and administrators reflected on his years in office, calling him a tough but impartial mayor who helped to advance the role of higher education in Boston.

John Nucci, vice president for government relations and community affairs at Suffolk University, said Menino held universities to the same standards as he did his citizens.

“I have found the mayor to be demanding, but fair, in terms of how he thinks universities should behave in the city.” he said. “He has often told me that we have, as a university, a duty to be just as good a citizen as anyone else who lives in Boston and he believes that.”

Nucci said the mayor urged Suffolk to decrease the incidents of partying and general student disturbances off-campus. The university formed the Office of Neighborhood Response, and hired Boston Police to conduct extra neighborhood details.

“We now enjoy a very good relationship with Beacon Hill residents,” Nucci said. “They are extremely pleased with the progress we’ve made, and the number of off-campus incidents of parties and disturbances has almost been eliminated because of this program.”

Harvard President Drew Faust issued a statement calling Menino a “powerful advocate” for education who has given his “heart and soul” to the city of Boston. Harvard's prepared statement did not directly address Harvard's ongoing efforts to build on its extensive holdings in the Allston area.

“Discoveries and degree holders are as much a part of his legacy as buildings and businesses, and his efforts to promote education will pay dividends for generations to come,” Faust said. “I am personally grateful for his friendship, guidance, and advice, and regard myself as one of this extraordinary leader’s grateful students. I hope to have many more opportunities to work with him and to benefit from his counsel and friendship in the months and years ahead.”

Chancellor J. Keith Motley of UMass Boston said in a statement that the university is “most proud to claim him as a University of Massachusetts Boston alumnus.”

“For 20 years Mayor Menino has been a tireless advocate for education in Boston ­one who recognizes the importance of public institutions ­and a leader of great vision and purpose for our city,” Motley wrote in the statement. “I am sorry to hear that the university’s good friend and partner in so many important initiatives will be leaving office at the end of his term, but we are grateful for Mayor Menino’s many years of leadership and support.”

Emerson College President Lee Pelton said in a statement that Menino showed his support when the college relocated from the Back Bay to the Theatre District.

"He has been an active force in revitalizing the Midtown District and it has been a pleasure to collaborate with the Mayor and his staff on a variety of programs," Pelton said. "He has been a transformational and visionary leader who has made Boston a world-class city. Emerson is among many institutions as well as individuals in neighborhoods throughout the
City of Boston who will miss his inspired and compassionate leadership."

And Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun thanked Menino for welcoming him to the city, and for his friendship.

"When I became president, the mayor spent valuable time with me and helped me to understand the richness and diversity of our city,” Aoun said in a statement. “I learned many powerful lessons from him and I will value our friendship long after he leaves office."

Nucci also said that Menino supported the university’s expansion efforts, while ensuring that these projects would not disrupt neighborhood life.

“It’s always been clear to me that the mayor was encouraging development by universities but only if it’s done the right way,” he said. “He wanted to see the universities like Suffolk to build residence halls, but he wanted them to fit in the fabric of the existing neighborhood.”

He praised Menino for recognizing that Emerson College and Suffolk could help revitalize the area near the Paramount Theatre on Washington Street.

“He saw universities as the key to the potential revitalization of that area when no one else did,” Nucci said. “It was an area that was badly in need of a breath of life, and the mayor understood the universities could provide that boost.”

Similarly, Colin Riley, a spokesman for Boston University, said in a phone interview that Menino helped to fulfill the university’s goal of housing 75 percent of its students on-campus.

“He’s been a terrific mayor and great for the city as far as Boston University is concerned,” Riley said. “The city has been a great partner [to BU] under his leadership.”

Simmons College President Helen Drinan said in a statement that she hopes Menino will enjoy his retirement.

“Mayor Menino has been a very good mayor for colleges and universities. But given his health challenges, he deserves a break," she said. "He's worked so hard.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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