Policy school a beacon on local issues

By Drew Bonifant

This is the third in a series of articles examining programs the university is bolstering through the Academic Investment Plan.

Given Northeastern’s position within the city of Boston, it would make sense that the school focuses much of its attention on issues within the surrounding community, specifically through its Center for Urban and Regional Policy (CURP), that focus could be bolstered soon.

Thanks to a part of the Academic Investment Plan (AIP), the center will receive an increase in resources, and, it hopes, influence.

An initiative in the AIP has created a new school within the university to focus on city and state issues, establishing the School of Social Science, Urban Affairs and Public Policy. A much larger institution than the seven-year-old CURP, the new school will have departments for economics, sociology and anthropology, political science, history, African-American studies and a law, policy and society program. CURP will be a research center within the school, along with the Center for Labor Market Studies.

Shortly into its existence, the new school is already getting involved with issues concerning the city. According to the school’s website, four of the school’s faculty have been assigned to groups to help governor-elect Deval Patrick set his agenda and budget priorities for his upcoming term.

Barry Bluestone, director for CURP, feels it was the school’s position in the city that helped get urban policy involved in the AIP.

“Northeastern University has been involved in the urban community since it was founded over 100 years ago,” he said. “It was the urban school, it was the commuter school. The idea is that the university can play a critical role in meeting some of the challenges of the greater Boston area and the commonwealth.”

According to the CURP website, the focus of the center, and of the new school, is to use faculty, staff and students to address issues involving the local community and Greater Boston region. Bluestone said the urban attention has become a large part of Northeastern’s identity.

“One of the aspects of the new school is to maintain that urban connection,” he said. “The president [Joseph Aoun] and provost [Ahmed Abdelal] and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Jim Stellar, feel that’s an important mission of this school, it’s what helps makes Northeastern unique.

“It does what we think is very important, that is, it helps Northeastern become a major partner with the community in solving many of the challenges that we face in the coming future.”

Bluestone said the faculty and student body within the school could get stronger as a result of the initiative, and that this is causing Northeastern’s standing among other schools to rise.

“I think the initiative is critical,” he said. “The ability to bring in the numbers of new faculty that the academic initiative envisions means that we’re a major university, a research university. We’re committed to the highest standards of academic quality, and at the same time, committed to using our resources, and using our faculty and students.”

The initiative, which also includes hiring star professors in key academic areas, and the changes it is bringing to Northeastern’s urban and regional policy focus, are prepared to lift the school into recognition as an elite institution in the field – both in the present and beyond, Bluestone said.

“What [the initiative] really does is tell the world and tell us internally that Northeastern is a leading university, not just another university, but a leading university nationwide,” Bluestone said. “The academic initiative, and the goals of it, are ones that will both enhance the reputation and the strength of our university in teaching and research, but it should also enhance the opportunity of the university to be involved in the community.”

Bluestone compared the move to going from the minor to the major league.

“We’re no longer, as I once said, playing in Pawtucket,” he said. “We’re playing in Fenway Park.”

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