Neal F. Finnegan BA’61, H’98

On the Northeastern experience in the 1950s when it was primarily engineering and business students:
“My favorite starting point in terms of understanding Northeastern is that it’s been what its students, what its constituents needed it to be at the time.”

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On co-op and the 10 week-term system:
“We had the 10-week term system back then...The term system gave you many opportunities to work and short bursts of time in school. It did not create a lot of bonding.”

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The Finnegan Family celebrating the dedication of Neal F. Finnegan Plaza in 2008.

On the physical expansion of campus and the quality of architecture:
“If you look at the graduating class of ’61, you will see we weren’t a massive class. The classes at Northeastern don’t get big until you’re into the Asa Knowles era. My president at Northeastern was Carl Ell.”

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On when Northeastern was a part of the YMCA in 1898:
“Northeastern starts for a noble reason. In the late-1800s Northeastern is built to fulfill a three-corner mission that the YMCA had: mind, body, and spirit.”

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Neal Finnegan with his 1961 Cauldron yearbook.

On why Northeastern becomes independently chartered in the 1930s:
“The leaders of Northeastern, including Ell, became Northeastern-focused as opposed to YMCA, which continue to be focused on their total mission.”

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alumni center

Neal Finnegan in Northeastern's Alumni Center in 2008.

On Northeastern’s emergence as a residential college:
“That was 20 years ago or more – when we concluded that Northeastern needs to be a residential college, needs to focus on its co-op brand, needs to strengthen student quality.”

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On the quality of faculty in the 1950s:
“All of the liberal arts courses were taught by junior people who were smart and dedicated but not notable. But the courses in management, accounting, finance were taught by capable professors who were tenured.”

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Finnegan sailing

An avid competitive sailor, Neal Finnegan races several thousand miles each year.

On the work ethic of Northeastern students today:
“Every co-op employer I talk to these days – it sounds like a broken record: ‘These are great kids. I’ll take all of them that you can send me. They come with desire to work, a desire to learn. They’re in early and leave late.’”

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On the value of his co-op experience:
“I came to Northeastern University originally thinking I wanted to be an engineer. Technical High points you in that direction.”

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Presidential Medallion

Neal Finnegan proudly displays his Presidential Medallion, the highest honor awarded to a member of the Northeastern University community.

On his involvement at Northeastern through the decades:
“When I was at Northeastern, I understood it. I’m not sure all the students did. I mean, I understood what the school was trying to do and why. Sometimes I agreed with it, sometimes I didn’t.”

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On heading the Special Committee on the Drop in Enrollment and authoring “The Finnegan Report”:
“When the school crisis came about our board was very heavily split between what to do – our enrollment had dropped, our budgets looked terrible – George Matthews asked me to head what was called the Special Committee on the Drop in Enrollment. It turned out to be a special committee to look at what to do with the school strategically.”

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Dedicated in November 2006, the Northeastern University Veterans Memorial was the culmination of a building effort led by Neal Finnegan.

On Northeastern’s outstanding education today:
“What we did in the new Northeastern – Northeastern Today, as I like to call it – is to conform it to what its constituent group needed it to be. We are now the quality choice in the liberal arts, in the Boston area. That wasn’t there 20 years ago. We’ve got great programs. Our science-slash-liberal arts offerings are just great, among the best.”

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This interview is available in its entirety in the Northeastern University Archives. Photos: Neal Finnegan, Heratch Ekmekjian, and University Libraries and Special Collecetions Department.

Neal F. Finnegan


After completing 10 years as Chairman of the Northeastern University Board of Trustees in 2008, Neal Finnegan, BA'61, H'98 can lay claim to a unique perspective on the machinations of a world-class University. A graduate of the College of Business Administration with a degree in finance, he embarked on a long and rewarding career in the world of finance but never strayed far from Huntington Avenue.

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