“We will all miss him greatly”
By Jessica Ullian
When Richard Towle arrived at Boston University 25 years ago, he thought he would stay for “a couple of years.” But after completing his initial assignment at the University — improving labor relations — he says he became “very fascinated with the opportunities here,” and moved on to tackle the restructuring of the Medical Campus. An expanded role in the University’s master planning process followed, along with stints supervising areas as disparate as the Police Department and Student Health Services. By the time he was named to his current position of senior vice president in 1999, he was playing a leading role in the development of most major new construction and renovation projects on both the Charles River and Medical Campuses.
“He has been an integral part of the complete reorganization of the administration,” says Executive Vice President Joseph Mercurio. “He’s developed expertise in everything, human resources and labor relations all the way through campus planning and real estate development.”
Towle’s recent announcement that he will leave the University on July 1 to pursue new business opportunities is consequently “a huge loss,” says Mercurio. But as University officials begin considering how to “fill the void,” Towle says he is looking ahead to the time when he will be simply “a volunteer, a community member, and a friend of the University.”
“There are seasons to a person’s life,” he explains. “I’ve served under three superb presidents, and it just seems like a good time to start something new.”
While Towle has served in a variety of administrative positions and is widely praised for his leadership in planning new facilities on both the Charles River and Medical Campuses, he began his career here working in Personnel, and considers his role in faculty and staff relations among his more significant accomplishments. He arrived at the University as a labor negotiator at a time when the relationship between the administration and the employee unions was often contentious — in the late 1970s and early 1980s, tensions were high among both service workers and faculty, and strikes were a frequent threat. Since 1990, however, the University has negotiated dozens of agreements without strikes or significant job actions.
“He’s a man of his word, and that means a lot with labor unions,” says Manuel Monteiro, associate vice president for human resources. “Every union leader that sat across from him respected not only his ability to negotiate, but the fact that he could explain what the University was looking for, and explain the reasoning behind it.”
His involvement in labor relations also led to a key role in the changes on the Medical Campus, among them the 1996 merger of Boston University Medical Center Hospital and Boston City Hospital, creating Boston Medical Center. Through his positions as chief business officer and Charles River liaison to the Medical Campus, Towle has been involved in every aspect of the Medical Campus’s transformation, from personnel to facilities. The physical changes have included the renovation of the School of Public Health’s Talbot Building and the School of Medicine’s Housman Medical Research Center, and the continuing development of the BioSquare research park — all of which are points of pride for Towle. Comparing the old facilities with the new, he says, “is like night and day.”
In the past 25 years, Towle has also contributed to all three of the University’s master plans, supervised the development and construction of the Photonics Center, the John Hancock Student Village — comprising new student housing, the Agganis Arena, and the Fitness and Recreation Center — and taken a leading role in ongoing projects such as the Life Science and Engineering Building and the national biocontainment lab at the Medical Campus. Overall, he has managed 2.5 million square feet of construction at the University, at a cost of more than $800 million.
“He has contributed in so many different ways and in so many different roles,” says President ad interim Aram Chobanian. “I am much indebted to him for his valuable assistance while I was at the Medical Campus. We will all miss him greatly.”
Towle has become so integral to the University’s administration, Chobanian says, that his departure will likely prompt a restructuring of the department and position. “The position and the duties and the responsibilities that Dick has were designed around his particular talents,” says Mercurio. “They evolved over time. I’m certain that we won’t be replacing him in kind.” Mercurio plans soon to consult the staff members who have worked with Towle in order to reassess the position of senior vice president and begin a departmental reorganization.
Towle lives in Boston and Scituate with his wife, Nancy, and son, Jared. An avid sailor, he hopes to spend some time on the water to “plan and contemplate the next 10 years.”
He has watched the University become “transformed into a first-rate institution,” is confident that the institution is continually looking to improve, and is thrilled to have been a part of so much growth and change. “It’s always been exciting,” Towle says. “It’s been a real joy.”