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This month, the Cambridge City Council assigned members to its committee specializing in university relations, as the group's chair began discussing topics such as construction and community engagement with Harvard officials.
“There is no formal charge,” new chair and City Councillor Jan Devereux said of the goals of the committee, titled the University Relations and Economic Development Committee. “Any policy that falls under those two rubrics or any topic can become the subject of a hearing.”
Following her assignment as chair, Devereux met with Harvard officials and other local universities, including MIT, to familiarize herself with hot-button issues at Cambridge’s academic institutions.
The discussion ranged from the Harvard Crimson Summer Academy, current construction projects like the Smith Campus Center and House renovations, and Harvard’s engagement in the city’s public schools, according to Devereux.
“One of my personal desires is to see more young people in middle school and high school exposed to computer science,” she said. “It’d be great if professional development-wise Harvard could help secondary and middle schools figure out how to integrate it throughout the curriculum.”
Devereux said she and Thomas J. Lucey, director of government and university relations for Harvard in Cambridge, also briefly discussed the recent report outlining potential reforms to Harvard’s sexual assault prevention efforts. She stressed that such efforts would rely on a partnership between Harvard University Police and the Cambridge Police Department.
Lucey said Harvard continues to speak with the City Council on a matter of issues ranging from affordable housing to sustainability.
“We have an open dialogue with the Cambridge City Council,” Lucey said. “We’ve been engaged with many members of the Council for many years now.”
Devereux and Lucey each described an amicable relationship between the city and Harvard in recent years, striking a different tone than in years past.
“In the old days, in some cases there was more friction,” Devereux said. “At the moment there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of town-gown friction with Harvard specifically.”
Devereux said MIT currently faces Council criticism for its graduate student housing offerings. Meanwhile, Harvard remains focused on its developments in Allston.
“A lot of what Harvard is doing now is across the river.” Devereux said. “Cambridge really doesn’t have a say when dealing with Allston-Brighton, except that obviously traffic going back and forth across the bridge will ultimately impact us.”
The committee is not the only way through which Harvard can interact with the city. The Town Gown reports, a yearly statement dating back to the 1990s from each of Cambridge’s five universities, can provide the city government with statistics regarding construction, employees, and future university plans, according to Devereux.
“Those are presented to the planning board, not the City Council,” Devereux said. “It’s actually been really useful because it forces [the universities] to track data that can be looked at over time.”
Devereux said committee meetings are an extension of the entire City Council and can provide specialization when policy orders necessitate further discussion. The five-person university relations committee also includes Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Councillors Nadeem A. Mazen, Leland Cheung, and Dennis J. Carlone.
The Cambridge City Council currently has 11 committees. Those set to make important decisions in the coming weeks and months are the zoning and ordinance committee, on which all city councillors sit, and the government operations, rules and claims committee, which is charged with selecting a new city manager following Richard C. Rossi’s announced retirement.
—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.
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