UMass Boston

McCormack PhD Program Founder and Northeastern U Russell B. and Andree B. Stearns Trustee Professor Emeritus, Dr. Barry Bluestone Continues Tradition of Supporting Students

04/10/2023| Adam Mooney

For Barry Bluestone, Founding Director of one of UMass Boston’s earliest PhD programs, located at the then-McCormack Institute of Public Affairs, the reason for his continued philanthropic support for current UMass Boston students is simple: “My heart is in UMass.” Dr. Bluestone was the Frank L. Boyden Professor of Public Policy at UMass Boston for more than a decade from 1986 to 1998. Although he has been a professor and program architect at several Boston-area institutions—beginning at Boston College and most recently at Northeastern University, where he retired in 2018—he continues to support a scholarship fund geared just to UMass Boston students. “They’re doing just fine,” he said, referring to BC and Northeastern. “Now that I’m retired and I’ve had a great career, as did my late wife Mary Ellen Colten, I wanted to give back to UMass Boston one more time.” For the past several years, Bluestone has been a faithful donor on an annual basis and intends to continue for as long as he lives.

Barry Bluestone

Reflecting recently on his time at UMass Boston, Bluestone said that it was probably the most productive decade of his 50+ years in academe. While here, he published three books, some 30 monographs, more than 50 scholarly articles, and more than 30 popular articles; gave a few hundred invited lectures; and directed seven research projects, some of which neared $1 million in grant funding. Among many accolades and publications, a lasting hallmark of his legacy was his development of the PhD in Public Policy program, one of the earliest PhD programs offered at UMass Boston. Indeed, that opportunity is what brought him here in the first place.

In the mid-1980s, his close collaborator and friend Mary Stevenson, Professor Emerita of Economics, recommended that he join UMass Boston in light of its new emerging identity as a renowned public research institution. Having relocated from its downtown campus to its current campus in 1974, and having merged with Boston State College in 1982, UMass Boston was allowed, by virtue of the UMass Board of Trustees’ ruling, to offer doctoral programs. That was a first for the fledgling school.

With additional prompting from then-dean of the former College of Arts and Sciences Richard Freeland—who had worked as assistant to Robert C. Wood when Wood was President of the University Massachusetts in the 1970—Bluestone joined the UMass Boston faculty with the objective of developing an applied public policy doctoral program at the young McCormack Institute.

The rationale? “We wanted to expand UMass Boston to be the equal of UMass Amherst and of a major national university,” he said, “with programs running from the bachelor’s to the master’s to the PhD.” A condition attached to the UMass Trustees’ ruling was that UMass Boston could not create a doctoral program that conflicted with UMass Amherst’s doctoral offerings. That immediately ruled out programs in economics, political science, and sociology, among others.

As an economist by training, with deep interests in public policy—particularly urban and regional policy—that suited Barry Bluestone just fine. “I saw no reason for having another PhD in economics,” he recalled. “We thought, ‘Let’s do one that’s really devoted to public policy issues and particularly issues around the city.’”

Bluestone and Freeland then worked closely to develop a program that, by nature, was interdisciplinary. It drew faculty members from economics, political science, and sociology and bringing them together in a program of applied public policy. The program aimed to graduate students who would have the skill set and knowhow to take jobs both as professors at universities and colleges or in policy roles. “It stood out as a program from some other public policy programs around the country,” Bluestone said. “We drove much deeper and really precisely into issues affecting cities, particularly Boston, and state governments.”

While at UMass Boston, Bluestone collaborated with graduate students in the PhD in Public Policy program. Of his many publications during his time at UMass Boston, he said, “I would bet more than half were written with graduate students and, in a few cases, undergraduate students.” That’s a big part of his approach. “At Boston College, UMass Boston, and Northeastern, I’ve tried to engage as many students as possible in that kind of research.”

In 1999, Bluestone went on to create a similar program at Northeastern University with Richard Freeland, who at that point had become Northeastern’s president. The two created Northeastern’s Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. Meanwhile, Bluestone’s perch was as the Russell B. and Andree B. Stearns Trustee Professor Emeritus of Political Economy, which he occupied until his retirement in 2018.

While there, Bluestone continued to invest in opportunities for student success while cementing his belief that one role of the academy is to give back to communities by opening its doors to the public. “I don’t like to think of the university as an ivory tower,” he said. “At least part of what we do should be open to the public. It should make the resources of the university and the intelligence at the university available to the public.”

Bluestone practiced what he preached by opening Northeastern’s doors to the public through his Open Classroom series, which continues to operate. The program focuses on critical social issues via a series of educational seminars for non-enrolled students in the Boston area. In collaboration with Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991 and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Northeastern, Bluestone invited professors around the city of Boston—including Boston University, Harvard, and MIT—and state and local politicians to offer classes on pressing public policy topics. Altogether, the Open Classroom series involved a diverse array of more than 3,000 students. One learner, he recalled, was 91 years old by the time Bluestone transferred leadership of the series to Theodore Landsmark, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and current Director of the Dukakis Center.

Along with educating new generations of leaders and thinkers, Bluestone cites the value of institutions in hosting these kinds of learning opportunities. “One of our main purposes as an institution is to do the kind of research and training to enhance our urban experience, deal with inequality, and address all the critical issues that face towns, cities, states, and governments,” he said.

Barry Bluestone’s commitment to student success is reflected in countless examples across his career. He hopes that he can continue supporting student success at UMass Boston for the rest of his life and beyond. With the help of Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and Mary Ellen Gilbane, Senior Major Gifts Officer of the New England Region at UMass Boston, Bluestone makes a yearly contribution to UMass Boston to support PhD students in the program he helped establish. That’s because he recognizes that that UMass Boston’s alumni and retiring faculty could facilitate its continued success by giving back to UMass Boston when they can afford it.

“This would help UMass Boston become even a better institution and help students to come here without worrying about the financial pressures,” he said. Consistent support and engagement with UMass Boston’s events programming are just two of the ways that Bluestone expresses his enthusiasm for the institution’s future. “I love the place,” he said. “I love its mission. I love the fact that students who might not be able to go somewhere else because they couldn’t afford it can come here, graduate, and do good things for the world.”

McCormack’s interim Dean Rita Kiki Edozie hosted a WUMB Radio conversation with Dr. Bluestone as part of the McCormack Speaks @ WUMB Radio series’ third season, which will air in April.