In 1996, Richard Freeland looked across the sea of crumbling parking lots that was Northeastern University and saw an opportunity few others could. As the school’s new president, he had inherited a third-tier, blue-collar, commuter-based university whose defining campus feature was a collection of modest utilitarian buildings south of Huntington Avenue, with a sprinkling of newly planted trees.
The university had been a victim of many things, most notably federal cutbacks—rolled out in the mid-’80s—that had left many colleges scrambling for money to close their budget gaps. These cutbacks, combined with dwindling enrollment, had forced Northeastern’s previous president, Jack Curry, to slash the budget and cut 875 jobs in the early 1990s. When he announced the layoffs to his staff, Curry burst into tears. “To say it was an institution in turmoil would be an understatement,” says a vice provost from that time.