Canisius “will not be returning to” Lyons Hall
By: Jon Dusza, Managing Editor
President Stoute’s State of the University Address & Interview
President Stoute gave his annual State of the University Address to the Canisius community last Wednesday, Oct. 11. In it, he announced, amongst other things, that Canisius would not be returning to Lyons Hall.
After the speech, Stoute sat down for an interview with The Griffin and answered questions concerning the topics presented in the speech.
Stoute began his address by speaking about the school’s deficit. The school has been operating at a deficit for eight years now, and last fiscal year was no different, with the deficit measuring $8.5 million. That is higher than last year’s projected deficit of $7.4 million. Stoute attributed this discrepancy to disappointing fundraising numbers and a lack of enrollment retention.
Discrepancies such as these have long-lasting effects. As President Stoute explained in his interview with The Griffin, “It changes the baseline, because every year builds on each other, … and if we’re more successful [in decreasing the deficit], then great: maybe we can get more aggressive. But if we’re less successful, then we’ll have to moderate.”
As for this year, Stoute said that the school will still be operating in a deficit, with the expectation being that that deficit will be $7 million. Stoute says the plan as it stands now is to eliminate the deficit over the course of the next five years. When asked if five years was enough time, Stoute replied by saying that the environmental conditions which hurt the debt, like the economy, are subsiding and are shifting in a better direction. Stoute said he feels “extremely positive about our ability to get to a balanced budget in five years. Or sooner.” He added, “Right now, we are $300,000 ahead of what we planned for this year in the fall alone.”
Key to reducing the deficit is raising revenue, which Stoute addressed both in his speech and his post-speech interview. Stoute highlighted that Canisius is a “tuition-driven institution,” and so enrollment must be the primary source of revenue, as is the case, Stoute says, for most “small, private institutions like us.”
Stoute also spoke about raising money, both for and through Canisius’s endowment. The school is embarking on a new fundraising campaign. “More than 50% of our endowment is invested in public equities,” Stoute said, which means that much of the endowment is tied to the market. Accordingly, when the market does well, Canisius does well, and vice versa.
Stoute then addressed this year’s enrollment situation. Undergraduate enrollment increased by 10 compared to last year, and graduate enrollment increased by 43. Of this, Stoute said, “We have a good story to tell.” New transfer students increased from 78 to 161 students. Stoute said that a lot of these students transferred from Medaille, which closed its doors last year, but even without the total from Medaille, Canisius still would have reached its transfer goal.
Regarding enrollment in the future, Stoute referred to the upcoming “demographic cliff,” which is the lack of college-aged students in the freshman year of 2025-26 related to decreased birth rates after financial crises in 2008. Stoute said of the crisis, “It is not insurmountable. It just means that we have to think differently about our enrollment mix.” This entails focusing on “non-traditional” first-year students, and, Stoute says, a focus on enrollment totals as a whole, rather than by focusing on freshman class size.
Next, Stoute discussed tactics which the school is working on to reduce its deficit. Including the aforementioned revenue growth tactics, Stoute mentioned that a change in the way endowed scholarships are allocated could save money. When asked in his post-address interview if these changes would affect current student scholarships, Stoute said, “Perhaps.” When asked if a lot of students would be impacted, he emphatically replied, “No.” He noted that of the $20 million awarded in financial aid by Canisius, one million of that comes from endowed scholarships, which is “not a material number in terms of the amount of financial aid we award.”
He also spoke of more “efficiency” regarding course scheduling, saying that, if done well, it could save the college $750,000. Stoute said that this would “not be easy, not be difficult, but different,” and that such changes are “necessary.” As Dr. Sara Morris explained later, that entails reducing the number of adjuncts “by one, per faculty member, on average.” With that comes a question of whether a course could be offered online or not, or if one rather than two sections of a course should be offered. Morris emphasized that Canisius is not trying to eliminate adjuncts and acknowledged their importance, but she also explained that the school has to allocate its resources “as wisely as we can.”
Stoute spoke of how it is important for the school to “take advantage of strategic opportunities.” One of these opportunities he described was the renewal of the university’s deal with Chartwells for the next 10 years. Chartwells promised in that deal to invest “a significant sum to allow us to invest in student center spaces.”
Another one of those strategic opportunities was the destruction of Lyon’s Hall in what President Stoute called an “act of God.” Stoute explained that after discussions with the Board of Trustees and the Finance Board, Canisius will “not go back to Lyons Hall.” He continued that Canisius has “almost 200,000 square feet of undeveloped space” without including Lyons Hall, which, Stoute said, is enough to meet what the school needs.
Instead, Canisius will negotiate with their insurance provider in order to settle the claim for the damages to Lyons. From there, Canisius will “negotiate with [their] debt holder and leverage some of the proceeds from the settlement” to move the prospective date of debt payments “well out into the future.”
“It’s like a mortgage,” Stoute explained later to The Griffin. He continued, “We know when the maturities are, and some are further out than others, and the more we can be thoughtful about how we engage in conversations with our debt holder about what is in their best interest, and our best interest, I think that will support what we are trying to accomplish as a university.”
To close out the speech, Stoute reviewed the university’s four pillar Strategic Plan and answered questions from the audience, the answers to which have been recorded above in this article when appropriate.