The shocking proposal by the town of Brookline to seize 7 acres of the Pine Manor College campus for use as a K-8 school is deeply unfair to our students and faculty, and a poor way to treat a nonprofit resident that has been a good neighbor for more than a half-century.
This proposal pits two important educational missions against each other. At the same time, it destroys seven acres of open space while putting at risk an educational institution that uniquely serves the traditionally underserved.
My biggest concern — more than the harm to our idyllic landscape, the threat to our important educational mission, or the damage it does to attracting prospective students — is this: The taking sends a terrible message to our students — predominantly black, brown, and low-income — about who is valued in our society, and how they are treated.
There is something fundamentally disrespectful about the proposed land-taking. Where once Pine Manor College was all women, mainly middle and upper income, and largely white, now 85 percent of the student body identify as students of color, 80 percent of our students are low income, and 50 percent are multilingual. Eight out of every 10 of our students are the first in their families to go to college. These students and their families chose Pine Manor College because they know that their chances of success are greater (graduation rate three times the national average for their demographic) and their outcomes upon graduation are better: By the most recent accounting, 100 percent of our students were admitted to graduate school or employed within six months of graduation. In essence, Pine Manor College ensures they have a better pathway forward in life.
The college has helped bring this about by reshaping itself. The changing demographics of students, and the need for all-women colleges to adapt to new realities or die, have dramatically changed Pine Manor College. We have not been alone in needing to craft a new identity — Vassar, Wheaton, and Colby-Sawyer have all had to look beyond their origins as all-women colleges in order to remain viable. It is no secret that there have been major bumps along the way, and our college has faced some lean years. However, we have now achieved a level of financial stability that eluded us only a few years ago. Our students are succeeding. We are a college on the rebound.
On Nov. 14, voters at Brookline Town Meeting will decide whether to advance the effort to take our front yard. If they vote to include Pine Manor College in Article 1, current and prospective students will be poised to lose 50 percent of the open space on campus, their traditional graduation venue, important athletic fields that serve the 40 percent of our students who are student athletes, and their pond that serves as a natural lab for their biology courses, our largest major.
Town officials have pointed out that years ago the college re-zoned the 7-acre open space into housing lots — without also noting that the change was undertaken only to enable refinancing, not development. It is not for sale.
Pine Manor College has been a good neighbor to Brookline. Our library is open to anyone with a Brookline library card, and town departments have used our facilities and meeting spaces free of charge. The college also makes voluntary payments in lieu of taxes to the town.
I am encouraged by the people I talk to in Brookline who have stepped forward to say this is a bad decision for both the college and Brookline.
A hostile taking of Pine Manor College’s land is against everything Brookline says it believes in — an embracing, welcoming community, open-space preservation, education for all, walkable-neighborhood schools, reducing the carbon footprint, and open and transparent government.
Our students — in all they have overcome to get here, in all they represent for our future — deserve this special place to go to school to learn, to thrive, and to call home. That is the message we hope that Brookline sends them on Nov. 14.Thomas M. O’Reilly is president of Pine Manor College.