Q&A with Professor Michael Curry
Theatre Professor Michael Curry is the current chair of the faculty’s Curriculum Committee, which, with the Budget and Planning Committee, oversaw Goucher’s program prioritization last summer. We asked him to walk us through the process and what to expect in the future.
Goucher Magazine: Where did the idea for the reprioritization come from?
Michael Curry: It came around March last year, as a mandate from the board. The finances of the college were such that cuts had to be made to the academic program; it had swollen over time. It was felt that there were simply too many faculty positions, and too many academic programs were running with under-enrolled classes, particularly at the highest levels that service primarily majors. The college simply couldn’t afford to be running all the academic programs.
There are huge disparities. A program like psychology might have 150 students. Then other majors have two or three people majoring in them. The costs related to running those programs can be really great. The mandate came from the board that we needed to make cuts in order to make the operating budget sustainable going forward. The board gave us a timeline to present a list of programs by the October 2018 board meeting.
GM: Do other colleges that are a similar size have a lot fewer than 33 majors?
MC: Yeah, a lot of them do, as far as I know. We are not the only school that has gone through prioritization. I will say that the other ones that I have heard of have taken more time with it, but there is some evidence that we should have started this earlier.
I had no idea, until recently, how much the faculty numbers had grown. There is no question in my mind that there was a necessity to do this, as painful as it is. There was too much growth that was undesigned.
The faculty governance written decades ago says that the Curriculum Committee of the faculty and the Budget and Planning Committee of the faculty work together as an internal review team to make recommendations about priorities and possibly discontinuing programs.
GM: Was that process difficult?
MC: Nobody on those committees wanted to do it, but we felt an obligation not to turn our backs on that responsibility. There were, I think, eight people combined on the Budget and Planning and the Curriculum Committees. In addition, there were, I think, four nontenure-track people elected to supplement that, and there was the chair of the faculty, Micah Webster, and Nina Kasniunas, the member at large. The provost sat in on the meetings.
The college hired a guy who crunches numbers. He was a former president of a college and is now a consultant. He looks at a wide array of data points, including number of inquiries for each major, number of students who come in thinking they might major in a certain discipline, how many of them actually finish, how many students are enrolled in classes within a particular discipline, how many faculty members are in each discipline, what is the operating budget of each of these programs, and more.
Over the summer, after having put together this elaborate, complicated, and exhaustive rubric, we looked at data and scored rubrics. We also had all of the disciplines turn in a long survey that gave us other numerical and qualitative data, including an opportunity analysis. Every program had the opportunity to say, this is what we do, this is what we contribute, and things like that. Then, here’s a list of adjustments we might be able to make to become more cost-effective or to recruit more students.
We scored all of these things and identified which programs, including our own, we would recuse ourselves from. We looked at all the numbers maybe four or five different ways, weighing different criteria. Then we would see which programs consistently fell below the benchmark. We did everything we could think of to do this as fairly, as equitably, as possible. Once we made the list, we took a week off, came back, and looked at them all over again to see if we had new ways of thinking about it.
Eventually, we said, “All right, here is the list.” That’s what we showed the faculty, and letters were sent out to all the programs. None of us was looking forward to that. Those are our friends and ourselves. It was agonizing. My program, the theatre major, was discontinued. The minor in theatre was not, however.
Students came back and wanted to have meetings to discuss what was going on. There was a Town Hall meeting in September where I said, “This is what it was like. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t calculated.”
GM: Do you have a sense of how many faculty members are going to leave?
MC: A number of them have elected to already. I don’t know how many more. It’s hard to predict because we’re trying to teach out the majors [to the current students].
GM: What happens next?
MC: The opportunity was provided for anybody who had a new program in mind to propose it. Two new majors passed the committees and were approved by the faculty in December, but those proposals must go to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, where they will be vetted on a state level before they can be offered at the college. Other programs that the combined committees looked at were thought to have merit but were deemed not ready for different reasons. They can be reworked and submitted again, and new programs can still be proposed, as well.
GM: What’s the future for Goucher?
MC: I can offer some optimistic thoughts. My son and my daughter-in-law, who both went to Goucher, had a baby [in the fall]. That makes me optimistic because these two are amazing parents and amazing people.
I look at how much joy they have at being parents, in being New Yorkers and young professionals, and how they make all that work, integrate all that stuff, and how clearheaded they are. I swear, a lot of that came from the four years they had here.
I recognize in them the alums that I have known all through the years. I look at the alums and I think, “This is what the school can do.”
We help make diamonds; we’ve done that for the three decades I’ve been here. Historically, I know it’s true, and I meet people on our board who are alums. They’re outstanding human beings, some of which is their own persons, but it’s also because of their experience here. I do feel optimistic. I mean, I feel weary right now, but I also feel optimistic.