A Message from President John J. Hurley

Dear Canisius College Alumni -

I want to share some important information about challenges and changes at Canisius College. 

In the years I have served as president, I have attempted to initiate discussions on campus around the many challenges facing private higher education and their implications for Canisius. We have conducted strategic assessments and worked diligently to adopt creative, new approaches to improve the financial outlook for the college while increasing the college’s quality and value for our students and families.

In the Covid-19 pandemic, however, colleges and universities across the country now confront grave new financial threats, and Canisius College is no exception. Increased operating expenses, major hits to all forms of revenue, and declines in enrollment have left many schools with staggering deficits that threaten their very existence. As Canisius was announcing its budget moves last Friday, The New York Times reported on the severe challenges facing all of American higher education.  Clearly, we are not alone.  https://nyti.ms/392uE4W  

The story reports, “This month, the University of Texas at San Antonio laid off 69 instructors, while the University of Michigan, Flint, last month eliminated more than 40 percent of the 300 lecturers who handle a majority of the teaching load on campus. Since May, Ohio University has had three rounds of layoffs, including more than 50 nonunionized faculty members.”  Around the country, a similar picture emerges: a $1 billion deficit at the University of Michigan; $77 million at the University of Rochester; $100 million at Fordham; $55 million at Quinnipiac; $375 million at Johns Hopkins, and $31 million at Erie Community College here in Buffalo.

For Canisius, Covid-19 has exacerbated the college’s financial situation that has been stressed by major population declines and demographic shifts that have adversely impacted enrollment. We cannot afford to wait for the storm to pass and consequently, the college’s Board of Trustees directed me this summer to develop a college-wide restructuring plan, one that would help us achieve financial stability but also chart new strategic directions for the college.

At its June 25 meeting, the Board of Trustees adopted a budget for 2020-21 and directed the college’s senior leadership to make $12.3 million in adjustments as part of a plan to address an expected $20 million deficit. This plan leaves us with an operating deficit, but one that the Board feels we can manage from a cash flow standpoint.  Knowing that some of the deficit is temporary, the Board approved a 7% draw from the scholarship endowment, 40% higher than in a typical year.

As part of this restructuring, there are reductions in academic programs, faculty positions, non-teaching personnel, the intercollegiate athletics program, and other operating expense lines.   We will be outsourcing a portion of our facilities maintenance function. But, academic programs and personnel face a cut of $2.5 million, leaving $9.8 million to be absorbed in other areas.  If we were to simply abandon any cuts in academic programs, we would need to generate another $1,500 from each of our undergraduate students to cover that shortfall. 

Last week, we notified 71 staff members, including 51 full and part time administrative and support personnel and 20 facilities and maintenance staff that their positions were being eliminated. 

On the academic side, we are discontinuing majors in Classics, Creative and Performing Arts, Human Services, Physics, Religious Studies, Entrepreneurship, Urban Studies, European Studies, and International Business.  There are reductions in Philosophy, History, Management, English and Chemistry, although the majors are being retained.  Between 23 and 25 tenured and non-tenured faculty associated with these programs will see their positions eliminated.

Many of these changes were the result of low or significantly declining enrollment or overlap with other programs.  For example, over the past six years, we have awarded an average of three Classics degrees per year; less than two in Religious Studies; fewer than 10 in Entrepreneurship; about four in Urban Studies; fewer than three in European Studies; about 10 in Human Services; and fewer than four in Philosophy.  History has fallen from 27 degrees six years ago to 10, English has fallen from 20 to 13 (although Creative Writing adds about another 10 degrees).     

Contrary to many of the sentiments expressed on social media, Canisius is not abandoning its commitment to the humanities.  But these numbers require that we trim these programs.  The elimination of the majors in Physics and Religious Studies does not mean that courses in these disciplines will no longer be taught at Canisius.  Religious Studies will remain a part of the college’s core curriculum.  We will continue to teach Philosophy, English and History.  Our decisions are connected to long term enrollment trends and the need for the college to make strategic choices to be able to continue to support our signature academic programs.  

While Canisius is increasing its focus on offering degrees and certificates that provide a pipeline to professional careers in high demand areas, this does not mean an abandonment of our commitment to our Jesuit identity, especially as that has been reflected in the undergraduate liberal arts and sciences core curriculum and the college’s Honors Program.  But It does mean a rethinking of core requirements to streamline the curriculum and enable the college to offer a more consistent and coherent core experience to every undergraduate student.  The goal of the core and the Honors Program remains the same: to provide every undergraduate with a diverse array of courses that promote critical thinking, oral and written communication skills, ethics, and an understanding of significant moral issues.

These moves will be accompanied by a restructuring of the academic division of the college.  The School of Education and Human Services will be merged into the college of Arts & Sciences and there will be other moves to streamline and improve the departmental structure of the college.

These measures are painful to implement as we are losing valued colleagues at every level in the college and there will be pain for those who remain.  The Board examined all options and there are no easy answers.  I should stress that our response, however, involves more than just budget cutting. This involves building on our academic strengths, investing in emerging growth areas such as allied health, and meeting the needs of our increasingly diverse student population, all while maintaining our commitment to Canisius’ standards for academic excellence and our Catholic, Jesuit mission and identity.  Our commitment to the liberal arts remains, but it must change as a result of the unprecedented challenges we face.

I appreciate your commitment to alma mater and your dedication to and support of our students. Thank you for the patience and dedication you have shown to Canisius throughout many seasons of changes and challenges.  I share your concerns and frustrations and I remain committed to working with you to create a brighter future. 

Very truly yours,
JJH Signature