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Curry and Covid: A Tale of Survival (Part One)

By Jacob Force, Currier Times Correspondent//

Editor’s Note: This is a three-part series, written by Currier Times reporter, Jacob Force, a senior Communication major, who chronicles one of the most challenging academic years in the history of Curry College.

The Curry College Learning Commons

Retrenchment

noun

  1. the reduction of costs or spending in response to economic difficulty. (Oxford)

Grant Burrier has spent his time at Curry College investing his heart and soul into academics as well as student and campus activities. Anyone who’s had class with Grant (and yes, he wants students to call him Grant) knows he emphasizes the importance of getting to know people outside the classroom while you’re in college. Students all over campus frequently mention his name among their favorite professors. Unfortunately, in late October 2020, Burrier was informed that he wouldn’t be returning for the fall 2021 semester.

“At the end of October, my nephew was staying with us, and I was cooking dinner and I got a frantic text from other people in my department who were chairs,” said Burrier. “And they had been at a chairs’ coordinator meeting and essentially they found out that I was going to be fired the next day.”

Professor Grant Burrier, who was retrenched due to the Covid crisis.

As the end of the 2020-2021 academic year nears, the time seems fitting to reflect on what a year it’s been at Curry. Amid the pandemic, last year’s senior class lost the chance to have what was supposed to be a celebration of their time here. This year’s class had a buckled down senior year. Some widely loved faculty and staff had to be let go. Freshman had to navigate the Covid regulations while also getting used to college. Virtual learning took center stage. Sports teams endured shortened seasons, if they had seasons at all. And, perhaps most important, Curry College, along with many other schools in the area, faced immense institutional and financial struggles. 

Enrollment is declining in schools across New England, a region with a very high concentration of small private colleges. Curry is far from the only higher education institution to face financial issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

In this three-part story, The Currier Times will examine the effect the pandemic and the financial struggles have had on the college. In this first installment, we’ll look at the current state of higher education in the area and how those issues have applied to Curry. The second part will examine the retrenchment process and how the college decided what—and who—had to be cut. The third part will look to the future and what it holds for the institution.

As previously mentioned, Curry and other colleges were struggling financially before the pandemic. Read what The Boston Globe had to say about Becker College closing its doors at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.

When speaking to The Currier Times, Curry President Ken Quigley outlined the problem that many institutions in the area—specifically in Massachusetts—are facing. 

“Higher education, particularly in the Northeast, is very much going through an evolution,” Quigley said in a recent interview. “And that’s driven by demographics. It’s driven by public perception and the wants of students and families.”

Kenneth Quigley, President of Curry College

Quigley explained that Curry has been forced to step back and evaluate the demand of incoming students while simultaneously remaining consistent with the Curry College Mission.

Fewer and fewer students are enrolling in colleges in this area, despite Massachusetts being near the top of the nation in colleges per capita. An area densely populated with schools seeing lower enrollment rates leads to schools having to close. Mount Ida College and Becker College are only the latest to close due to financial woes. 

What sets Curry apart from most other colleges of its size is the strong foundation provided by its nearly $100 million endowment, one of the highest in the Commonwealth Coast Conference. Think of the endowment as Curry’s “rainy-day fund.” It’s not intended to be used as operational capital, which is where the shortfall has occurred.

Sarah Augusto is a professor in Curry’s sociology and criminal justice department and member of the faculty union executive committee, the same committee that negotiated with the college during retrenchment.

“We are facing a real crisis in higher education,” Augusto told The Currier Times via email. “Declining demographics mean there will continue to be less college-age students for the next several years at least. And I think even after the pandemic we’re going to see more of a demand for flexibility in terms of course modalities. The whole landscape is changing, and that means Curry needs to change along with it.”

“The whole landscape is changing, and that means Curry needs to change along with it.”

Sarah Augusto, Curry professor and member of AAUP, American Association of University Professors

General Education professor Alan Revering also noted the struggles that schools in the northeast have been facing.

“The revenue shortfalls came about especially in the spring (2020) because we had to close all the dorms,” Revering said. “That was a serious issue. As well as the budget deficit that was already in place. You know, part of this is Covid-related, but really a larger part of it is that Curry is shrinking a little bit, like colleges all over New England.”

In light of this reality, the administration had to step back and examine programs and the associated financial impact of each. Unfortunately, retrenchment will result in the school losing valuable programs, majors, faculty and staff. This issue will be covered more in the next article, in which The Currier Times will explore the questions remaining in how administration came to retrenchment decisions.

1 reply »

  1. Jacob Force did a fantastic job in terms of his reporting on Prof. Grant Burrier, the retrenchment process of Curry College and elsewhere in New England, and about the Covid-19 experience this year in terms of virtual learning. Thanks so much for publishing this. I will definitely follow the Currier Times for now on.

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