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  • Grace Brown

Conservation of Canisius College

By Grace Brown, Columnist

In light of recent debate surrounding Canisius’s institutional suffix, the side of reason needs representation.

“University” has long been a term reserved for large higher education institutions, with multiple graduate degrees and abundant student bodies. In the United States, every state has the freedom to assign a specific meaning to this definition. Since 1969, New York has deemed any “institution of higher education that offers a variety of registered undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and science curricula, degrees in two or more career fields, and doctoral programs in at least three academic fields” eligible for the title of “university.”

Accordingly, Canisius College has remained just that — a college — since its inception in 1870 by German Jesuits. Throughout its history, Canisius has remained a small institution with a student body of less than 5,000 students, counting undergraduates and graduates alike.

This relative quaintness in comparison to mammoth schools such as University at Buffalo (UB), with an enrollment of over 30,000 students, is a remarkably attractive trait to many incoming attendees. Small schools, especially private ones, appear to be more personable and are perceived as having better connections post-graduation because of a tightly knit community on campus.

Additionally, academics at smaller institutions can appear more prestigious due to the ease at which students may ask questions or access their instructors — professors who will actually recognize their faces and who likely care more about each individual’s success. Ideas of massive lecture halls with endless seats and poor acoustics are daunting, especially to incoming freshmen.

Furthermore, Canisius is primarily an undergraduate institution. The scope of offered graduate programs are roughly limited to business, education, sports administration and cyber security, thereby demonstrating a complete disregard for degrees in the fields of liberal arts.

Contrary to the opinion of soon-departing President John J. Hurley, Canisius is widely conceptualized in Western New York as a liberal arts college. Though Hurley vehemently denies the title, it becomes especially clear given the college-saturated environment of Buffalo, which boasts almost 10 institutions of higher education within city limits.

Daemen, Trocaire and D'Youville are reputable for their nursing degrees, while Medaille is known for its social services and mental health programs. UB is recognized locally and abroad for its esteemed engineering and computer science programs, while Bryant & Stratton is a good school for those looking to pursue homeland security or legal studies.

Though Erie Community College and SUNY at Buffalo State are left to fill in the academic gaps, Canisius provides the only opportunity to gain a distinguished education in the fields left untouched by the other eight institutions — i.e., the liberal arts.

Consequently, Hurley’s refusal to acknowledge the strength of Canisius’s liberal arts programs is more than short sightedness. The accolades deserved by the overlooked language and fine arts departments present a missed marketing opportunity as well as a disservice to the numerous esteemed faculty members presiding in each, who should be awarded respect for their diligent and impressive work.

Promoting the prestigious programs of liberal arts degrees offered at Canisius should be a source of pride, not annoyance, for the departing president. Hence, the title of “college” remains relevant to Cansisius, alluding to the high quality education available in an accessible community rooted in the liberal arts.

However, it is true that in January of 2022, the New York State Department of Education ratified a new definition of “university” which entirely excluded the doctoral program requirement and only mandated graduate programs in at least three different disciplinary areas. As a result, the branch bearing the titular fruit of “university” has been lowered within Canisius’s grasp.

Though this amendment was a result of vicious lobbying from colleges across New York State, it still seems to be a futile choice on the part of the Board of Regents. While there is admittedly an international stigma of inferiority attached to the term “college,” it is domestically synonymous with its counterpart “university,” aside from implications of size and post-graduate programs.

As has been established, Canisius is a relatively small school, therefore aligning it with the “size” connotation of “college.” Furthermore, recently demonstrated termination of numerous tenured faculty members without warning is a blatant demonstration of the college’s necessity to remain small. If there is insufficient funding to support the faculty already employed at an institution, it would be asinine to embark on any attempts at expansion.

In regards to the possibility of offering additional graduate degrees, it seems as though the school’s efforts would be better utilized by contributing to the preexisting and underappreciated liberal arts and social sciences programs. If the admirable niches of the liberal arts and social sciences offerings were enhanced, they would likely draw numerous students from surrounding regions who acknowledge Canisius as the best opportunity to obtain a quality education in those disciplines.

We are not a university. We never have been, and we never should be. The term “college” should be a source of pride for Canisius — to abandon this title would be a disgrace to the roots of the college and the opportunities being missed by the present administration.

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