Ten Reasons Why We Won’t Give a Dime to Canisius College, and Neither Should You

Canisius Alum and professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado Steven Seegel gives his critique of recent donation drives held by the college amidst managerial scandals, stating that “it’s entirely unclear to us if Canisius has any values left.”

Alum donations are critical to the budget of any college, but what happens when the college proves itself undeserving?

Steven Seegel (Canisius ’99)

If you’ll forgive the tired sports metaphor, this year’s annual Canisius Giving Day was a full-court press. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

My family and I judge Canisius and its donation push of March 3, 2021 to be a complete disaster. As we have done and intend to do before our coils shuffle off, we’d be pleased to make donations if only someone trustworthy was in charge.

For an institution that no longer practices Jesuit values, and now sees itself fit for a future with a halved philosophy department and removed religious studies faculty, no one can tell where the Catholic collection plate money is going. We cannot support this lack of accountability. It invites an even greater abuse of power than what we witnessed in the United States in 2020. And we have lived under tyrannies — real ones, in fact.

In its pathetic public relations campaigns under President John Hurley, Canisius doesn’t just have one slogan for success anymore. It has about 20. We are careful readers in philosophy, history, world literature and religion. We are supporters of humanities and the arts, in and beyond Buffalo. We are lifelong teachers, educators and students of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” It was taught at Canisius, after all.   

As graduates of multiple institutions and friends and allies of faculty, journalists and public intellectuals around the world, we are not impressed by corporate pretexts.

The Canisius College Magazine has to be one of the worst efforts at fundraising we’ve ever seen. Full of propaganda and platitudes, it redefines stale diction and word misuse. To name just a few: education innovation, demonstrative strengths, purposeful change, resilience of community, programs of promise, elements of success, care for the core, cuts the ribbon, extraordinary times. Or is it unprecedented times? What’s “transformative” if everyone is transforming?  

We are fully aware of longstanding cynical media “props” and “ops” of poster students, teachers and professors at Canisius. Professors featured for their creativity — creative, no doubt, because that’s why they came to Buffalo, hoping for job security — from departments cut in half. Inspiring people with doctorates are left in post-firing climates of fear; of post-traumatic cover-ups and denialism; of pushes to “just move on” in which talented personnel, our friends, have already been run out of town. Students we know have transferred, too.  

We’re also well aware of the fact that chairs and heads of stripped-down programs are strong-armed and overworked. They are punished unjustly. They send out appeals to us in equally desperate measure, in the form of clumsy, hasty or oddly impersonal letters.

After all that money and time which could have been spent on rehiring faculty and staff, or nurturing student relationships with deposed mentors, the alumni office even managed to put the wrong date on their precious “Winter 2021” Light Bulb magazine. But let’s not get petty.

If Canisius College can continue to prioritize and salary its athletic coaches under a bloat of collaborating admins, none of whom have been cut in the “extraordinary times” of 2020, all the while sending accomplished international faculty packing, we’re guessing that it does not need our money or support.

At a time when the Board of Trustees has lost its moral compass with three no-confidence votes against the leadership by an unprecedented number of faculty, Canisius is now subject to a major lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court. All of this is on top of a national investigation and an international plummet in its reputation. The college faces censure and loss of accreditation. It is already compared in local media to better managed colleges such as D’Youville, Niagara and St. Bonaventure. None of this is proper fodder for glossy 2021 #CanisiusGivingDay, after all the easily proven and admitted violations in 2020 (by its own president!) of basic principles of shared governance and tenure.

The final key is betrayal: it’s entirely unclear to us if Canisius has any values left. It wants to have values. Who doesn’t in 2021? We understand the need for Griffin alumni to have their experiences count for something. Otherwise, they would not be so generous. And we/they are generous, but we’ve seen and known too many Buffalo scandals like these. The Canisius leadership must be removed for the institution to traverse forward and begin to ask for anything. Some 6,000 people on the original grass-roots alumni petition said as much.

Canisius now represents the very opposite of transparency. Poor management and unethical decisions should not be rewarded with donations. 

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