Commentary: Palatial purchase creates presidential divide

At long last, the final piece of the housing puzzle is in place. No, I’m not talking about West Village F. Northeastern finally has an official residence for its president. That’s right, the university is about to pony up millions of dollars for a posh five-story townhouse on Beacon Hill where the president will reside and entertain guests. The chairman of the Board of Trustees says it’s about getting President Joseph Aoun “off to a good start in the community” – you know, right next to all of us students living it up in million-dollar brownstones on Beacon Street.

I find it odd that the president’s new home is closer to Boston University’s Agganis Arena than Matthews Arena. An official president’s residence ought to make that person a neighbor to the students they serve. The presidents of Tufts, Fordham and Boston University all live on or near campus, enveloped in the unique cultures of their students. This new place might as well be at Northwestern.

Why not Symphony Road? How about Mission Hill? Not even the South End? Plans were in the works in the late 1990s to house the president on St. Stephen Street, but were dropped because of the cost. A similar site nearby would provide for a short walk to our beautiful campus and an easy commute to work, especially during the harsh Boston winters. The president might even get to meet a few students along the way.

I’m not laying this at the doorstep of President Aoun – this was in the works before he arrived. But the Board of Trustees could have done better. Their rhetoric about building bridges with the local community rings hollow when they effectively seclude the president from the real Northeastern and its neighbors. This disappointing decision demonstrates a lack of pride in our campus, community and student body.

More importantly, we students desire a visible, engaged and accessible leader in our president. This big-money purchase does nothing but broaden the gap between the administration and student body while diverting millions from financial aid and other more pressing needs. The Board of Trustees missed an opportunity to provide a home for our president that allows him to showcase our transformed campus to prospective donors and alumni and also to receive candid, unfiltered feedback from his number one priority: the students.

President Aoun would do well to stroll down Hemenway Street or Columbus Avenue and take the long way home once in a while. Despite what’s been said about us in the past, we’re really not that bad as neighbors.

– Bill Durkin is a senior political science major and former president of the Student Government Association

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