Blogging Education

The New York Times runs something of an odd story knocking Harvard under the guise of a story on national trends, Slump Revives Town-Gown Divide Across U.S

The rats are out in spades this spring in North Allston, a gritty neighborhood wedged between the Charles River and the Massachusetts Turnpike, and residents are blaming Harvard.

Harvard had big plans to expand its campus into Allston with a science complex. But last winter, the university announced that the recession would force it to slow — perhaps even halt — the $1 billion project. Now Allston residents are living with a gaping hole and a bunch of vacant buildings instead of the prospect of a revitalized neighborhood.

We do get this tidbit, though:

Some cities and towns — including Ann Arbor, Mich., Durham, N.C., and Princeton, N.J. — have renewed calls for local colleges and universities to make voluntary payments to the communities because they have tax-exempt status.

Others have proposed levying taxes on dorm rooms or even on students, whom they say use municipal services at the expense of property taxpayers.

In Providence, R.I., Mayor David N. Cicilline has proposed charging students at the city’s four private colleges and universities, including Brown, a “municipal impact fee” of $150 per semester.

And in Worcester, Mass., one elected official has gone so far as to propose a tax on dorm rooms, an idea that is gathering support as layoffs take place.

“Police, fire, all the city services that colleges use are being cut,” said City Councilor Michael J. Germain, who proposed the dorm tax. “So now is the perfect time to go to the colleges and say, ‘Hey, we need a little bit more.’ This is a way to force their hand as far as I’m concerned.”

First, I don’t think these calls are serious, as Amy Goodenough couldn’t wring a quote out of anybody from Ann Arbor, Durham, or Princeton. This reads to me like name-checking top institutions where Times readership is fairly high. Second, I’d like to read some legal analysis of a municipal impact fee arbitrarily imposed on a group of residents who are basically indistinguishable in a legal sense from any other resident of a city. You remember Wilkins v. Bentley and Symm v. Walker, right? The state and U.S. court cases on voting that declared that excluding students from voting was a violation of 14th Amendment rights. A grad or undergraduate resident is no different from any other resident for voting purposes and I’d wager such residents are legally no different from other renters or homeowners for “municipal impact purposes,” either.