Canisius risks losing its identity along with its programs and professors

“It’s one thing to prepare someone for a career, it’s another thing to prepare someone for life.” @mikepesar discusses Canisius’ recent program cuts and why he believes the school is in danger of losing its Jesuit tradition. (Graphic by Korey Martineau)

(Graphic by Korey Martineau)

I’m concerned about Canisius. 

I’m not worried about it shutting down; I’m worried about the loss of its premier Jesuit tradition and its excellent liberal arts heritage. 

A Jesuit education is designed to give us understanding of the whole person and the world that we live in — as Canisius’ own website declares, “A breadth of knowledge through coursework in the humanities and liberal arts that deepens their intellectual capacity and develops faculties of reflection and judgment.”

Yet the decision of Canisius’ Board of Trustees to cut 23 faculty positions and 71 support staff last summer and the continuing fallout from the moves betrays this mission statement. 

President Hurley told me last fall that the curriculum needed to be ”streamlined,” that there was no “consensus” about the goals of the core curriculum and that the school would shift some focus on its strong science and math programs. 

I appreciate this, and I do understand the dire financial situation that the school faced. Indeed, a focus on STEM majors and career prep is a sound economic decision in the ever-changing academic world. 

But it’s not what this school is about, nor is it consistent with a Jesuit education. 

To quote a memo from the philosophy department I received during The Griffin’s initial coverage of the program cuts, the decision was “simply beneath an honorable institution like Canisius College.”
In 2019, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities released a document entitled “Characteristics of Jesuit Colleges and Universities: A Self-Evaluation Instrument.” It asks those in power difficult questions of their schools and their curriculum. The following question caught my eye: 

“Do [academic deans] foster programs within the particular disciplines and professions which support and advance the critical questions and concerns of the Church and men and women of faith and good will?”

Shifting a focus to STEM and career prep may be a smart decision for the future, but it isn’t Jesuit. Chemistry may be exciting, but it won’t teach a student about the human condition. The physician’s assistant program looks to be excellent, but it’s not going to teach you about the quest for truth. 

STEM classes, by nature, can’t foster a Jesuit Catholic identity in the same way religious studies or philosophy classes can. How can we be a Catholic college with no religious studies major?

If Canisius becomes just another STEM school that just happens to have a cross on the dome over Old Main, why should any prospective student choose it over a place like the University at Buffalo 10 minutes down Main Street? 

A Jesuit education is special. That should be the hook to get new students through the doors, not more plain-Jane STEM education. It’s one thing to prepare someone for a career, but it’s another thing entirely to prepare them for life. 

Canisius has taught me so much more than how to be ready for a job. It’s taught me to appreciate the nuances and talents that each individual on the planet is endowed with. It’s taught me to explore different points of view and to give back to my community. I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. 

I understand the straits that Canisius is in, and I completely agree that the school has to be prepared for the students of the future. But cutting back what makes Canisius so special in the first place is the wrong decision. 

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