Alums living in Evanston have cause for anger

Jesse Abrams-Morley Column

Vito Brugliera is an Evanston resident. As with many Evanston residents, his relationship with Northwestern could be described as tumultuous at best. There’s only one difference: He’s also an NU alumnus.

An outspoken community activist, Brugliera, McCormick ’55, has become a vocal opponent of his alma mater’s policies toward his hometown.

And he’s not alone. Tad Gage, Medill ’78 and ’79, believes the school could do more for the city and knows others who think the same way.

“I certainly know a number of alums in the area who are disappointed with Northwestern,” Gage said.

As with all issues involving NU and Evanston, the problem can be traced back to the university’s tax-exempt status. It means higher taxes for residents and helps contribute to the city’s mounting budget deficit. Even alumni can’t ignore that.

But this is not just about money. As Brugliera is quick to point out, other elite, tax-exempt schools have found ways to help out in their communities. Brugliera would like to see NU students, perhaps from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, consult with the city on its budget issues: They also could study the problems of bussing in the city or do demographic research.

NU could become a major asset in the day-to-day life of Evanston residents rather than the menace Brugliera once called an “800-pound purple panhandler.” Of course, the school does plenty of good things for alumni, too. The NU Alumni Association sets up events during homecoming weekend and offers job-search assistance to alumni.

“We try to involve our alums, especially if they’re in this area,” said Tom Bull, assistant director of alumni clubs.

The association really does try its best but can’t make the sort of meaningful gesture that could ease the tension between the two sides. That type of initiative has to come straight from the top. Brugliera used to give money to NU, but he got so fed up with the school’s antics that instead he started donating to the University of Chicago, where he earned an MBA.

Sure, losing one alumnus from the pot of potential donors doesn’t exactly crush a giant university like NU. But there’s more than just money at stake here.

Brugliera and Gage should be the connection the school has to Evanston. With various alumni throughout the city, the university should have a built-in base of public support. Just think of the power an outspoken community activist like Brugliera could have for NU.

But that possibility never will be realized. Brugliera believes his property taxes and water bills are higher because of the university. He remembers when NU didn’t work hard to help Evanston achieve integration of its public schools in the 1960s. He bitterly recalls the various smears the university has used against public officials in its effort to block the Northeast Historic District, which gives the city some control over university buildings.

Mostly, though, he just wants the school to reach its potential as a force for good in the area.

“Rather than hatred or tension it’s really disappointment,” Brugliera said of his feelings toward NU. “There’s an enormous amount of human capital there, and it hasn’t been used in the community. I think it’s sad.”

So do I.

Jesse Abrams-Morley is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]