Archives and Special Collections
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Collection Overview

Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:Office of the President (Curry) records
Dates:1967-2002 (bulk 1989-1995)
Call Number:A72

Historical Note

John A. Curry (JAC), the fifth president of NU from 1989 to 1996, has a long history of involvement with NU. JAC graduated from NU in 1956 as a history major and earned a master's degree in education the following year. While he was a co-op student, he worked under NU President Carl Ell and Provost William C. White. Between 1957 and 1963, he worked at various public schools in Massachusetts as a teacher and administrator. In 1963 JAC was hired by the NU Department of Admissions and was named its head in 1967. Following a two-year hiatus during which he worked for a public school, in 1972 he was hired as an aide to Kenneth G. Ryder, then executive vice president. After Ryder was named president in 1975, JAC served as vice president for administration (1975-1979), senior vice president for administration (1979-1984), and, finally, executive vice president (1984-1989).

During JAC's tenure as president, NU faced drastic budget cuts due to a dramatic decline in enrollment. Freshman enrollment dropped 28% from 1989 to 1990 alone. This decline in college-age freshman occurred nationwide. Since the late 1970s, the number of 18-year-olds had shrunk by more than 20%. Because NU depended on tuition for more than 90% of its operating budget, JAC enacted various measures including laying off nearly 200 employees, freezing wages and hiring, merging programs, restructuring debt, and creating revenue-generating initiatives. These measures enabled him to balance the budget annually. JAC's vision for boosting NU's academic standing and stabilizing its financial position, which was captured in the widely used phrase "smaller but better," were largely realized. NU's fund raising reached new levels under JAC's leadership. Building on the success of the Century Fund-Phase II, which brought in $186 million from 1986 to 1991, JAC oversaw the Centennial Campaign, which generated $268 million between 1992 and 1997. Annual fund raising from private sources tripled during JAC's tenure from $9 million to $27 million. JAC doubled the annual budget for development activities, which relied more on volunteers, including faculty, board members, and alumni.

JAC strengthened NU academically by changing the composition of the student body, supporting NU's research efforts, and fortifying its co-operative education program. Re-envisioning admissions at NU, JAC created an Office of Enrollment Management to stabilize enrollment and build stronger classes. NU rapidly evolved from an essentially open-enrollment institution to a much more selective one. The average SAT scores of incoming freshman and the student retention rate increased dramatically between 1989 and 1996. NU attracted brighter students with expanded financial aid programs and limited the number of those less prepared for college by reducing the size of the Alternative Freshman Year program, which accepted students who showed some promise in their high school records but lacked the overall grade average or SAT requirements. The honors program grew from 150 students in 1989 to 1,250 students in 1996. The numbers of prospective students from outside Massachusetts increased from 45% to 53% of incoming freshmen.

Under JAC's leadership, 27 new academic programs were created. To strengthen research, NU initiated a University Distinguished Professor program to recognize faculty with outstanding records of research and scholarship and provide ongoing research funding to recipients. The University Distinguished Professors spoke before potential donors their research and NU to assist JAC and the Development Office with fund raising. During JAC's tenure, outside research funding rose from $19 million to $32 million.

As JAC transformed NU from a teaching institution to a research university, he reaffirmed the value of co-operative education. JAC revitalized the co-operative education program by reintegrating structured practical experience with traditional classroom learning to enhance the program's educational benefits for students. The management of the co-op department was reorganized, and the status of its faculty was clarified. JAC advanced the cause of co-operative education by promoting co-op programs in the United States and through an international co-op program. JAC served as trustee of the National Commission on Cooperative Education and president of the World Association for Cooperative Education.

During JAC's presidency, he led NU in combating discrimination and promoting diversity. Implementing recommendations made by the Presidential Commission on Diversity, Tolerance and Community, he hired an ombudsman for diversity; centralized procedures for gathering data about diversity among students, faculty, and staff; and instituted diversity training at all levels.

At the same time, the NU campus was transformed with new buildings and landscaping. NU spent $100 million on construction of the Egan Engineering/Science Research Center, the Marino Recreation and Fitness Center, Snell Library, and Shillman Hall, a new classroom building. Other classrooms were renovated, and the School of Law, Curry Student Center, Ryder Hall, and Dodge Hall, the former library, were rehabilitated. Cabot Physical Education Center, Matthews Arena, and other athletic facilities were also renovated. In addition, NU created a campus-wide information technology network. NU's outdoor spaces were improved aesthetically with new courtyards, gateways at campus entrances, walkways, trees, benches, lighting, and sculptures.

JAC strengthened NU's relations with the community, including its neighbors in the Fenway and Roxbury. NU became involved with the Boston-Fenway Program, which improves the streetscape along Huntington Avenue. JAC served as a trustee of the Boston Plan for Excellence in the Public Schools, which sponsored education reform initiatives. He actively participated in state and national education organizations, including the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, which sought to increase declining state financial aid for students and supported statewide education reform efforts, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, through which JAC protected federal financial support for students, cooperative education, and academic research.

Feldscher, Karen. Northeastern University, 1989-1996: The Curry Years, Smaller But Better. Boston: Northeastern University, 2000. CALL NUMBER: LD4011.N22 F45 2000