tags: education, history, academia, labor
Brendan P. O’Malley was an assistant professor of history at Newbury College.
It was Thursday evening, and grades were due Friday at noon. My plan was to review my last batch in the morning, submit the grades from home, and then attend my son’s elementary school holiday concert. But then I received an email from the college president, Joseph Chillo, requesting all faculty and staff to attend a meeting on campus at noon the next day, December 14, 2018. I was nearly certain why.
Everyone knew Newbury was struggling with finances and enrollment. Administrators had been working frantically on potential mergers and alternate business models, and we all wanted to believe one of them might pan out. Longtime faculty assured us newer hires that the college had survived similar difficult periods in the past, and it would likely do so again. How could a college just disappear, when every day we saw the classrooms with our own eyes, every day the offices, the dorms, the dining hall all still there?
When Chillo came into the auditorium the next day, he told us, in a wavering voice, that Newbury College would be closing after the spring semester. The students, most of whom had already left campus for the winter break, were being given this news at the same time by email. One longtime faculty member remarked it was “one of the rare times it’s better to be old–at least I have Medicare!” Another suggested we head to a local bar.
I had to head back home in time to pick up our daughter from daycare. Then, over the weekend, came emails from students, not asking why they got a B+ instead of an A-, but rather: “Should I bother coming back next semester?” “Will you write me a recommendation?” And from the first-year students: “Why didn’t they tell me this could happen?” “Why is this happening to me?” One student even asked me how I was feeling and what my plans were.
I felt pretty gutted, but at least this was not like what had happened the previous spring at nearby Mount Ida College, where the president and trustees announced the school’s immediate closure just a few weeks before the end of the semester, leaving the whole community in the lurch. The Newbury administration, by contrast, had given itself enough time to set up transfer agreements for students, and the faculty and staff had several months to make some sort of transition (although the season for traditional tenure-track jobs at four-year schools was pretty much over).
Newbury joins a growing list of small private nonprofit colleges in the Northeast that have closed their doors, including Marion Court in 2015; Burlington and Dowling in 2016; and, this year alone, Green Mountain, Southern Vermont, the College of New Rochelle, and the College of St. Joseph. As it began to sink in that Newbury was now one of those colleges, it felt like a cruel joke—all the time and energy devoted to curriculum design, faculty governance, student advising, all this planning for a future that would not exist. And I was about to lose my job.
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