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Statehouse Repeals Harvard Privilege

Legislature's View of University Changes

By Linda S. Drucker

Harvard's constitutionally protected freedom to expand without being subject to local regulations was terminated by the State legislature this summer because of a growing perception among legislators that Harvard has failed to act in good faith, two city councilors said yesterday.

"There is definitely less sympathy for Harvard in the legislature today than there was a few years ago," City Councilor David Sullivan said yesterday.

City Councilor and State Rep. Saundra Graham said the legislature did not approve the bill as a mere courtesy to Cambridge representatives. "I myself have heard a number of legislators say it's about time Harvard got down from its high horse," she added.

The University did not actively oppose the repeal, which authorizes Cambridge to regulate University expansion. "We didn't think the Constitution exempted us anyhow, so why oppose the change?" Roger A. Moore '53, Harvard's attorney at Beacon Hill hearings, said yesterday.

But Sullivan and Graham maintain that Harvard acquiesced only after several Harvard-educated legislators told the University that if it opposed the bill they would introduce a constitutional amendment to deprive Harvard of its privileged status.

"That amendment was our stick in the closet," Sullivan said. "I think the University would have felt mighty uncomfortable having a statewide referendum about its prerogatives."

But University officials say they were not pressured by any legislators. "I never spoke to such a group, nor, to the best of my knowledge, did any University official," Robin V. Schmidt, vice-president for government and community relations said recently.

While the University opposes allowing Cambridge to regulate the expansion of any non-profit organization, it thought a special exemption for Harvard was "bad public policy," Schmidt added.

City Manager James L. Sullivan said yesterday he was "surprised" that Harvard so readily accepted the limit on its autonomy.

"In the past the University has always fought us tooth and nail," Graham added.

The Massachusetts Constitution has long been interpreted to give Harvard a privileged status on local regulations, but the extent of those privileges remained unclear. In 1979, the legislature decided to let Cambridge regulate the expansion of non-profit religious and educational institutions but exempted Harvard because of its unusual constitutional status.

In February, Graham introduced a measure repealing that exemption. It was passed on a voice vote and signed by the Governor July 5.

University officials maintain that this rapid reversal of the exemption can be explained by a change of heart by Paul Menton, the associate House counsel, Lewis Armistead, assistant vice president for government and community relations, said recently. Menton ruled in 1979 that the bill would be unconstitutional if it failed to exempt Harvard. This year he allowed the exemption to be repealed.

But Menton said yesterday he has not changed his position. "I still think the University has constitutional protection, but my opinion is only advisory and the legislators vote their own mind," he added.

Graham attributed the reversal to increasing sympathy among legislators for Cambridge which is trying to "collect taxes from a stone." Fifty-two per cent of Cambridge's property is now owned by tax-exempt institutions, of which Harvard, after the city itself, is the largest.

Legislators are now more aware of what she described as Harvard's particular brand of "non-commitment, non-participation, and greed."

But Schmidt said that despite Harvard's past immunity, it has always complied with Cambridge's zoning regulations. Sullivan agreed, but added Harvard often had different interpretations of zoning regulations. And the University's constitutional immunity had made it hard for the city to regulate the University at all, he added.

The city issued its first regulations based on the new legislation last week. It forbade institutional expansion into certain residential areas and limited the type of land use permitted in others.

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