Major faculty, program cuts proposed by Canisius Board of Trustees

Canisius’ Board of Trustees is set to lay off 23 professors and 71 more administrative and support staff as part of wide-ranging reductions in spending.

By Mike Pesarchick, Steph Wetzel, Jenna French, Griffin Editors

Canisius’ Board of Trustees is proposing to eliminate 23 professors, many of them tenured, in what the Canisius Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) said would be a “radical re-definition of Canisius College.”

The cuts would also come with eliminations of majors, including: 

-Classics

-Creative & Performing Arts

-Human Services

-Physics

-Religious Studies

-Entrepreneurship

-Urban Studies

-European Studies

-International Business

The proposed cuts have been ordered by the Board of Trustees, according to several emails to faculty and staff this summer by President John Hurley, who warned of major cuts on July 3 and July 10, in order to shore up a projected $20 million budget deficit.

In addition to the professors, 71 administrative, support and facilities workers have already bwen informed their positions have been eliminated.

The 23 professors are responsible for teaching 69 classes affecting around 1,400 students, according to a letter obtained by The Griffin sent Sunday from the AAUP to Canisius faculty.

The letter was signed by Dr. Tanya Loughead, Dr. Rebecca Krawiec and Dr. Girish Shambu, who are each officers in the Canisius chapter of the AAUP. Dr. Loughead is the chapter president.

According to a separate statement from the AAUP obtained Monday by The Griffin, authored by Dr. Loughead, faculty at Canisius were notified of the proposed terminations on July 16 and 17.

Dr. Loughead clarified to The Griffin that the board spoke of the eliminations as “finished” but the AAUP refers to them as “proposed,” hoping to leave room for more dialogue.

Details on the academic cuts ordered by Canisius are as follows, according to the AAUP:

Chemistry: two faculty members must “voluntarily” terminate or terminations will happen starting with the most recent hires. All chemistry professors are tenured.

Classics: Major and department would both be eliminated and Canisius’ only classics professor would be terminated.

Communications: One faculty member would be terminated.

Counseling: one faculty member must “voluntarily” separate or terminations will happen starting with the most recent hires. All counseling staff members are tenured.

Creative and Performing Arts: major to be eliminated.

English: one faculty member on the tenure track will be terminated.

Entrepreneurship: major to be eliminated.

European Studies: major to be eliminated.

Fine Arts: Major and department to be eliminated. Two faculty members are to be terminated.

History: Three faculty members must “voluntarily” separate or terminations will begin starting with the most recent hires. All history professors are tenured.

Human Services: major to be eliminated.

International Business: major to be eliminated.

Management: Two programs would be eliminated and three faculty members would be terminated.

Philosophy: Three faculty members must “voluntarily” separate or terminations will begin starting with the most recent hires. A fourth philosophy faculty member is to be moved into administration. All philosophy professors are tenured.

Physics: Major to be eliminated.

Religious Studies and Theology: Major would be eliminated, two faculty members, both tenured, would be eliminated.

Teacher Education: Three faculty members to be terminated, all tenured.

All of the professors laid off were on the tenure track. 

In a message emailed to students Monday night, President Hurley said students enrolled in the terminated majors would be “taught out” and will receive the degree they started. However, no new enrollments will be accepted in the programs.

“Contrary to many of the sentiments expressed on social media, Canisius is not abandoning its commitment to the humanities,” President Hurley wrote.

“Gutting the liberal arts will not make Canisius “leaner” and “more competitive” in the higher education landscape of Western New York,” the AAUP said in the letter. “It will make us indistinguishable as we lose the thing that has long added value to Canisius education, no matter the program that brought students to us.”

President John Hurley addressed the cuts in a separate letter to the Canisius faculty on Monday.

The main reason for the layoffs, Hurley wrote, is lost revenue attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before spending reductions, Canisius’ budget deficit would have risen from $6.5 million to $20 million.

The school projects net student tuition revenue to be down $8.8 million and will lose an additional $1 million that normally comes from Erie Community College room and board fees, and revenue from the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

President Hurley wrote that the Board of Trustees went through other possible solutions, but were only left with difficult decisions to make.

“It is not possible to postpone these cuts given the size of the budget deficit. I should stress that our response, however, involves more than just cutting the budget,” he wrote.

President Hurley said that the Board feels that they should be shifting their focus to on the programs at Canisius that lead to students being successful both in the workplace and in graduate school.

The Board has directed the college to “streamline” its core curriculum by reducing the number of courses that qualify for the core.

To save money, some remaining faculty will also take a temporary pay cut. President Hurley earned $408,657 in 2018 according to Buffalo Business First. He and other staff making more than $100,000 will take a temporary 4.5% reduction in pay.

Those making $65,000-100,000 will take a temporary 2% cut in pay. There are no pay cuts for faculty making under $65,000.

The school might have legal problems in addition to financial concerns.

The AAUP alleges that Canisius officials have ignored “clear procedures” for laying off tenured and untenured faculty that are listed in the faculty handbook.

The procedure requires Canisius officials to declare an urgent financial condition, known as “financial exigency.” The college must also perform a thorough program review according to “shared governance principles,” according to the AAUP letter. Canisius, the professors allege has done neither.

“First, these changes would decimate Canisius’s identity as a Jesuit university rooted in the liberal arts that encourages students to think deeply and critically about the problems of our world,” the AAUP said in Monday’s release.

“These changes also undermine the claim that Canisius College is a university with a mission centered on justice and ethics.”

According to a Change.org petition, started last week by “concerned alumni” demanding that the school halt the layoffs, Canisius now has twice as many administrators in a “vice president role” as it did in 2008.

As a result of the proposed changes, some Canisius faculty are seeking legal counsel for “multiple lawsuits” against the school, according to Monday’s AAUP release.

In addition to the Change.org petition, a sit-in protest is planned for Thursday from 4-5 p.m. in front of Bagen Hall.

“I had no idea layoffs were happening until I saw the petition on Facebook. My heart just sank. These programs and professors are what make Canisius such a vibrant and special place to be. To push them to the side like they mean nothing is simply unacceptable and shows just how far the administration has strayed from the college’s core values,” senior Simone Riter said.

Other current and former students submitted a letter to local publication Artvoice, expressing their concerns with the proposed cuts.

“Students want to see transparency, and have answers to why the school continues to hire administrators when they claim financial struggle,” senior Charlotte Kacprowicz said. “We need to put educators before administrators. They taught us to be for and with others but they are seemingly for themselves.”

Kacprowicz contributed to the letter published in Artvoice.

Over 4,000 concerned alumni and current students have signed the Change.org petition. Many are calling for the resignation of President Hurley. Others questioned the logic behind the decisions.

“As a former faculty member, I condemn the administration’s decision to fire so many loyal, talented, and hard working faculty and staff members due to their own failure to effectively steward the institution through financially stressful times,” Steven Halady said in a comment published on the Change.org petition.

“While I have been gone for two years and cannot personally affirm everything in this petition, I trust the sense of the people whose names are listed here: indeed, I love many of them, just as I love Canisius College, a place to which I gave fourteen years of my life,” wrote Father James Pribek, S.J., in another comment.

“I do not regret one day I spent there, and I hope and pray these people who represent the heart and soul of the school will be retained. They build up the human family and the people of God.” 

In addition to the Change.org petition, a GoFundMe fundraiser has been started to help pay for legal fees for the faculty. As of July 20, it has raised $1,500 out of a goal of $10,000.

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