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Tufts dental school lays off staff, faculty, and suspends certain community programs

Tufts University campus grounds in Medford.
Tufts University campus grounds in Medford.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Tufts University is laying off or furloughing nearly 20 percent of its dental school employees in the institution’s first staff cuts due to the pandemic.

Blaming a decline in revenue from its clinics, the dental school said Tuesday it will lay off 77 faculty and staff, put another 26 workers on furlough for four months, and suspend a dental hygiene program that it provides to low-income students in the Boston, Lynn, Lowell, and Lawrence public schools.

The Tufts dental school employs 560 faculty and staff. Before the pandemic, the school saw 625 patients a day in its clinics, but that was greatly reduced during the state shutdown, when only one clinic remained open to served 12 emergency patients a day.

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Even as parts of the state have reopened, social distancing requirements and safety measures have continued to keep patient numbers down, Tufts officials said.


As a result, the dental school faced $22 million in losses, driven mostly by reduced revenue from its clinics. The school had closed its budget gap through previous cost saving measures, Tufts officials said, but a significant deficit remained, requiring Tuesday’s further cuts. 

“Although it managed to maintain emergency care for its clients — and indeed was the only dental school in the Boston area to do so — the loss of revenue from the clinics has been substantial,” Nadine Aubry, Tufts provost, and Mike Howard, the university’s executive vice president, said in an e-mail to staff.

Tuesday’s cuts are limited to the dental school, Tufts officials said.

Colleges in Massachusetts and across the country have been cutting staff and faculty this past summer. More layoffs are likely as a clearer picture emerges of how many students enroll in classes this fall, and how much room and board revenue institutions will lose because they have been forced to teach online instead of bringing undergraduates to campus.

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In recent months, Boston University announced plans to lay off or furlough about 250 employees as part of its plan to close a $96 million budget gap. Springfield Technical Community College is eliminating seven entire programs, including biomedical engineering technology. The University of Massachusetts Boston informed as many as 325 lecturers that their contracts for the fall may not be renewed and furloughed about 50 staff and 30 administrators.

Dentistry in particular has been hard hit by the pandemic, said the school’s dean Nadeem Karimbux, in a message to the school’s staff.

“We were forced by the pandemic to close our clinics, with the exception of emergency care; to move some of our instruction to an online educational model; and to ramp down our research,” Karimbux said. “We all have worked to make sense of and adapt to a new understanding of our world.”

Meanwhile, the school also had to spend money on plexiglass barriers, significant changes to the heating and air-conditioning systems, more protective gear, and other safety measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Tufts officials said.

The dental school decided to suspend at least for one year certain programs, such as the community clinics for at-risk students, because it anticipated that with some schools closed, it would be difficult to see the young patients.

Tufts, however, will keep the Boston-based Josiah Quincy community hygiene program in Chinatown open.

“Our priority throughout this process has been maintaining the quality of our core education, clinical, and research missions,” Karimbux said. “We are confident that the education and care we provide, and the research we conduct, will continue to be of the highest quality.”

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Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.