The recent announcement by the administration of the impending closure of the Lowell Institute School raises questions about MIT's priorities for technology education, and the soundness of its decision-making capabilities. The Lowell Institute was set up according to the will of local philanthropist John Lowell, who died in 1836 leaving a quarter of a million dollars to set up an institute which would provide free lectures to the citizens of Boston. The school was founded in 1903 as the Lowell Institute School for Industrial Foremen to provide an opportunity for working people to get an education in the technology that was then coming into the workplace. Today it still functions in this capacity, keeping people who work in technology abreast of the latest developments and providing an upgrade to the skills and thereby the employability of technical workers. Where MIT as a university focuses on the theory and design of technology, the Lowell Institute School provides the necessary know-how to implement and utilize this technology in the workplace. This combination has made MIT a somewhat more holistic technological institute, addressing many aspects of technology from culture, gender, policy, and design perspectives to applications and everyday use. In addition, Lowell has catered to a somewhat diverse student body, which includes recent college graduates, current MIT students and staff, and residents of Massachusetts and surrounding states. Many who enroll already work with technology, or were laid off and need to upgrade their technical skills to compete for jobs. Some students have PhDs, some are recent immigrants, and about 125 per year are employees of MIT who are seeking skills that will be useful to them in their jobs here. The mean age of Lowell Institute School students is 35. Over the years, the school has offered a wide variety of courses including computing, signal processing, video technology, glassblowing, electrical engineering, machine shop, drawing and drafting, and Japanese. The availability of a course at any given time depended on the availability of staff to teach the course and MIT facilities in which to teach them. In a recent interview I conducted with Provost Marc Wrighton, he argued that the use of MIT resources by the school placed pressure on MIT that needed to be alleviated, especially during this period of budget cuts. But what resources exactly does the school utilize, and what are the benefits that validate this drain on resources? For a start, MIT provides very little direct financial support to the school. MIT currently pays the salary of the school's director, which including benefits amounts to a total of about $95,000. The Lowell Institute School has offered to absorb this cost entirely, thus freeing MIT of any direct financial commitment. There are also many indirect costs associated with the school's current operations. For example, the school occupies 1017 square feet in building E32. At current market rates for the Kendall Square area, this property is worth $15,000-$20,000 per year. Dr Bruce Wedlock, director of the Lowell Institute School, ventured that the school could probably pay for this if MIT asked. The Lowell Institute School also uses MIT labs and has around 120 Athena accounts operating during any given term. Wedlock pointed out that the school's use of MIT labs and computing facilities is restricted to 5-7pm on weekdays and Saturday mornings, which are off-times for MIT classes and student use. Regardless, Provost Wrighton argued, MIT still incurs a cost. While this is undoubtedly true, there has been no study to determine the actual level of the costs involved. Wrighton also voiced concerns about the similarly unstudied burden on MIT of Lowell Institute School students "walking down the corridors and using the bathrooms" and so forth. In apposition to these costs, the nature and level of which remain unknown, are the benefits to MIT and the broader community of having the school remain. As mentioned above, over 100 of the school's students in any one year are MIT employees for whom the school's training enhances job performance and satisfaction. MIT currently pays the tuition for employees to attend the school. If it were to be closed down, Wrighton admits that these employees would enroll in similar courses at other schools, such as the Harvard extension program (which, incidentally, was also set up by the Lowell Institute), Northeastern University or Wentworth Institute of Technology. Comparable courses at these other schools cost at least $500 more than Lowell Institute School courses, which represents an additional cost to MIT of at least $50,000 per annum. Given that there has been no study of the indirect costs to MIT of hosting the school, it is impossible to say whether the savings or the expenditure is greater. There are other important issues apart from the finances. For example, there is a sense in which the Lowell Institute School serves the Cambridge and Boston communities in a way which MIT's more academic activities can not. The presence of such a school allows the local communities to benefit from the technological advances that we so proudly pursue. While it is true that these skills can be acquired elsewhere in the community, for MIT to end direct community access to its facilities makes a strong, and potentially undesirable, statement about MIT's priorities for technical education. MIT has always had a more down-to-earth feel to it than many other universities, largely due to the inclusion of multidisciplinary and practical programs in its activities. Provost Wrighton and President Charles Vest have received many letters from Lowell Institute School students, past and present, that make it clear that the image of MIT in the community and the workplace is greatly enhanced by the existence of the school within MIT. Academia, however, is not what it used to be. According to Wrighton, Lowell courses are not taught by MIT faculty (although Lowell Institute School staff do teach MIT courses, interestingly enough). It seems that implementation and theory of technology are increasingly diverging. Junior faculty are invariably involved in the publish or perish roundabout that typifies academia today, and therefore can not afford to spend time teaching practical courses that won't advance their research and personal careers, useful though it may be to the working community. By the time an academic has published her or his way into a senior post, he or she has usually backed into a very narrow theoretical corner and is unsuited to teaching current job skills to workers. MIT must clearly decide whether it wants to be an inclusive technical school, or an ivory (Lego?) tower uninvolved in teaching technical skills to those who will use them. Provost Wrighton made reference to the "mission" of MIT, the need to simplify and to concentrate efforts on what benefits students and faculty, and to eliminate that which does not distinguish MIT from other schools. Interestingly, he argues that the Real Estate center in the school of Architecture and Urban Planning is appropriate even though it neither teaches nor researches technology because its students are degree candidates (not to mention the fact that it brings in more than the odd dollar for MIT). As to the Lowell Institute School, he conceded that no single thing of that magnitude would interfere with MIT's mission, but that many things of that caliber could. There are several inconsistencies in his argument. First, according to page 11 of the official MIT Bulletin, the institute's mission is "to provide the highest quality programs of education and research in all areas of study and investigation where strength and competence have been developed and to do so with a strong commitment to public service and to a diversity of backgrounds, interests, among faculty, students, and staff." The Lowell Institute seems to fit the official mission better than a lot of other programs at MIT, though Provost Wrighton finds a loophole: he interprets "students" to mean degree candidates. That's interesting because MIT has many students who aren't degree candidates; there's even a classification for them: special students. And what does this say for the future of other programs such as the Community Fellows Program which also do not, in Wrighton's estimation, have any "students," but are excellent examples of what MIT can do with its resources when it cares to use them to benefit someone other than wealthy corporations? Second, with regard to eliminating things that don't distinguish MIT from other schools, it could be argued that the Lowell Institute School actually helps to distinguish MIT because the school gives MIT a more comprehensive approach to education that is absent elsewhere. The administration apparently doesn't think so, but has not offered any explanation as to why or why not. Wrighton makes reference to goals and strategies that are not in the open, not agreed on by the institute, and therefore not valid. With no numbers to back the financial argument, and the "mission" argument apparently based on some secret or incoherent agenda, the closure of the Lowell Institute School remains unjustified. Perhaps Wrighton's comment that the future growth area of technical training is biotechnology rather than digital technology might be relevant. Apparently MIT looked at the possibility of providing biotechnology workplace training through the Lowell Institute School, but the lab space was deemed to be unavailable and administrators felt that it would be difficult to get teachers. The move was scuttled as 'unrealistic.' It seems unreasonable, however, to go from this to a justification of shutting down the school as it currently exists, especially when there is still great demand for it from students from all over the community. The administration should articulate its real reasons for closing the Lowell Institute; until it does, this will stand as another example of unjustified decision making by the MIT untouchables.