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Editorial 11/04/22: All willing collaborators

By Patrick Healy

“We, this Canisius family, invite any and all willing collaborators to join with us so that together we can rise to meet this moment.” Perhaps the most prominent line from his inauguration address, President Stoute spoke it in front of representatives of dozens of other colleges and universities. The symbolism is not lost on The Griffin. We all have been so focused on his role as head of the Canisius bureaucracy, on his effect on campus morale, that we forget he’s also the college’s chief link to other schools.

Stoute has coyly responded to questions about a potential change to Canisius University, and he outright rejected the idea that Canisius might merge with another school anytime soon. But, acknowledging that something must be done, he continues to pitch the “co-creation” of a renewed Canisius. Other colleges should be included in that co-creation, and Canisius should not only focus on its own future but contribute to a shared future for private higher education as a whole.

Here’s the way we see it: change will either happen on our terms or on the timeline of the impending dropoff in college-age students. The longer the college waits, the less time it has to experiment and the fewer options it will have.

Look no further than the helpless flailing of the local Catholic Church as it reacts to what was a predictable decline in membership. Its present solution, the creation of groups of parishes that share a single pastor, is a band-aid at best. Tough decisions such as allowing women to become pastors have not been made, and so they suffer social backlash for that in addition to its handling of priests’ sexual abuse crimes.

Luckily, Canisius is a tad more flexible than Rome. While Canisius is not under the Church’s jurisdiction and thus won’t be subject to unilaterally imposed mandates as, for instance, local Catholic elementary schools are, the (pretty darn visible hand of the) market will act just as viciously if nothing changes. And we are not alone in that predicament.

It is the prisoner’s dilemma. Each college doesn’t want to close, but if none do, then all will suffer. The optimal outcome only arises if they work together. Except colleges have one advantage that the hypothetical prisoners do not: they can communicate with each other. President Stoute has been busy meeting the Canisius community. Cheers to that. But if he’s serious about meeting his goal to increase enrollment and balance revenues with expenses by 2027, then he needs to expand his options.

Stoute often recites the external, demographic factors that seem to spell doom for the college. While Canisius certainly has room to become more administratively efficient and increase its enrollment, these alone are not enough to stave off that stark drop in future enrollment. The Griffin has nothing against navel-gazing, and it certainly supports the new president, but we remain convinced that the answers to outside issues are accordingly outside of the college.

The president also likes to say that nothing significant is accomplished alone. The Griffin agrees. In the context of accomplishing a comeback, or at least a continuation, of private, Catholic higher education, Canisius cannot act alone. Does this mean standardization of credit transferring policies, so that the college accepts more classes from similarly situated colleges so as to incentivize students from those institutions to remain in the private, Catholic college bubble? Or maybe it means allowing students of other institutions to take online classes from Canisius and vice versa.

Perhaps these proposals wouldn’t be allowed by New York State or the Middle States accrediting body. So then Canisius should ally with other institutions to lobby Albany and the accreditation body. Make New York State realize that private education provided many of its present leaders. Governor Kathy Hochul went to Syracuse. Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado matriculated at Colgate University in Hamilton.

Canisius can be a leader in fighting for private education. We’re not the president who is paid [an amount of money not disclosed to the present Griffin scribe] to figure out how to do that. Stoute is. So we only whisper, like the fictional Haymitch Abernathy, “just remember who the real enemy is.” Hint: it isn’t Niagara or D’Youville. -PH

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