When Vanessa Curry first began her career at the University of Texas at Tyler, she never imagined 11-years later that the college would be telling her to leave.
During the most physically and mentally draining time in her life, facing brain surgery and frequent trips to the doctor’s office, she was left without a job and without insurance to cover her medical expenses for her upcoming operation.
“I was blindsided,” Curry said. “I asked to see the chairman of the [communication] department to discuss what we were going to do about our move to a new location, but when I showed up for the meeting I noticed the chairman was joined with the assistant dean. They preceded to tell me, that the college was not renewing my contract. I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. It was just so surreal for me.”
Some students who attend a few of Curry’s classes felt threatened to give their names, afraid of the repercussions of speaking out against her. They described how Curry repeatedly embarrassed them in front of their friends and classmates.
Curry expressed her concerns regarding the college’s decision. She wondered if someone had complaints against her, why she wasn’t notified before this sort of action was taken, giving her time to address and rectify the situation before resulting in her permanent dismissal from the University.
“Not knowing exactly what these complaints were and who was making them, are very puzzling to me,” Curry said. “I haven’t been told much about what was done wrong. I can’t defend myself or what my students have done or written about, when I don’t know what the complaints are. If someone had a complaint, I wish I had the chance to address them before it reached this point.”
Members of The Patriot Talon, UT-Tyler’s student newspaper were aggravated due to the lack of communication regarding many issues within their department.
“At this particular college, it’s all or nothing,” said Kamren Thompson editor-in-chief of the Talon. “Not talking to anyone like ever, is pretty typical of this university. If there is a problem, you never know it until it’s to this point. No one has talked to us despite a rumor we heard from a source about an investigation, which apparently turned out to be true.”
Despite the claims and complaints, the staff of the Talon believes the college’s actions are based on a different motive. The department has undergone changes in the last few semesters, forcing the Talon to move across campus in order to allow more room for a computer lab to take their place. The newspaper wrote an editorial about the move, expressing their concerns and as a result, they believe that led to the firing of their adviser.
“Specifically, it wasn’t entirely about the move but about how they never talk to us about anything,” Thompson said.
“They never come to us to tell us what’s going on and we are never allowed to ask questions. I think, Dr. Dennis Cali felt betrayed because of the editorial and that he also felt it was an attack on the university. I believe this [Mrs. Curry’s dismissal] is a result of what we published.”
When the Talon was presented with the opportunity to move, they respectfully declined the college’s offer. They were not opposed to the move, just to some of the issues that were potentially problematic for the newspaper and the staff.
“The new building is really far away on the outskirts of the campus,” said Thompson. “We would be disconnected from the students and also security is a main concern with little to no lighting. The building is almost in the woods and we are often up working late at night. That’s something to seriously consider. Our professors are right across the hall, but if we moved, we would be separated from the department.”
Thompson explained that if something wasn’t done immediately than the Talon staff would seek justice.
“We are trying to handle this issue the best we know how,” Thompson said. “If it can’t be resolved internally then we are going to pursue a lawsuit. We’ve already talked to a lawyer at The Student Press Law Center and Adam Goldstein is representing us momentarily until we find an official representative.”
Although this is a hard time for Curry and the staff of the Talon, they hold on to and cherish the good times and memories they made together. They explained how much they have improved as journalists and how much they’ve learned while under Curry’s advising and instruction.
“The most important attributes Curry possesses is her passion for journalism and the truth,” said Hattie Kemp, Talon opinions editor. “She injects humor into everything and she has a great teaching style that many don’t. I remember she filled in for a professor because he was sick one day. She came in without any notes and we gave her a standing ovation when the class was over. She breathed life into the subject instead of reading from a textbook or notes. It’s something that I’ve never seen before out of all my years in college. She made the lesson relatable to real life.”
Despite the alleged positive influence Curry has had on the staff of the student newspaper, Beverley S. Golden Director of Marketing and Communications released a statement regarding the conditions of her dismissal.
“This is about Ms. Curry’s performance and conduct inside of the classroom and workplace. It’ is not about the content of the student newspaper, nor the First Amendment. UT Tyler is strongly committed to the right of the students who participate in the Patriot Talon. This is about what is best for the program and UT-Tyler students.”
Although Curry managed to reschedule her surgery from June 2 to May 26 before her insurance expires, she still faces medical bills that she will be forced to pay once the operation is over.
“I’ve stayed awake many nights crying or just wondering how my life will change,” Curry said. “I tell my students, just because I’m gone don’t quit. Think about your life and the experiences the newspaper will provide you with.”
The Talon staff explained that with Curry gone, they will still try their best to continue bringing the news to their college campus for as long as they can. The newspaper is very important to them and they will try their best to keep the legacy going strong.
“We will always have each other,” Lea Rittenhouse online managing editor said. “Because of the staff and because of what we all bring differently to the table, our paper has thrived and grown. We love what we do and being apart of something that is bigger than ourselves, keeps us going and committed to our college campus. The readers are what will keep us writing and why we must continue bringing them the truth.”