END OF AN ERA: CANISIUS REBRANDS TO UNIVERSITY
By: Julia Barth and Patrick Healy
According to an email to families as well as posts to social media on Thursday evening, Canisius College officially announced that it has received approval from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents for university designation. Beginning August 1, the institution will be rolling out its university title and a new branding strategy.
Students who will graduate in May 2023, will still have Canisius College on their diploma.
In a statement, President Steve Stoute said, “This achievement reflects the work of so many at Canisius to expand our academic programs and provide greater opportunities for students to access our transformative education.” He continued, “We’re pleased that our name will more closely reflect how we view ourselves — as a comprehensive university with a breadth of excellent academic programs. I am grateful to all of our dedicated faculty and staff whose hard work made this possible.”
According to the release, Canisius is able to receive this distinction because of its vast educational opportunities, specifically regarding its graduate programs, which in recent years reached the threshold set by NYSED to qualify for a university. The potential name change has been in administrative discussions for months now, with Stoute himself addressing it at his State of the College speech last fall.
Additionally, The Griffin reported in the March 3 issue that the banner of the school’s website had been changed to read “Canisius University” for a short time. The incident, while described by Stoute’s Chief Communications Officer Eileen Herbert as a test, nevertheless was an example of the speculation which has surrounded a potential name change over the last few years.
In an interview with The Griffin two days prior to the announcement, President Stoute addressed the topic and said that the college had already put in their petition with the Board of Regents. Before he would officially make the change, Stoute cautioned, the college must first “plan for and articulate why this is important. The other institutions [in the Buffalo region] — and this is not a criticism — in my opinion have missed an opportunity. To me, it is more than a name change: it is an opportunity to restate the value proposition, re-articulating in a new, compelling, exciting way why Canisius University is where leaders are made.”
Referencing the college’s recent sesquicentennial anniversary, he noted, “When we do this, we will be Canisius University for likely another 150 years. We have to do this intentionally and strategically. That is what has taken us time.” This once-in-a-generation moment is something, Stoute said, he hopes “we can all celebrate in the months to come.”
President Stoute discussed other topics with The Griffin before his Tuesday town hall, including the renovation of Lyons Hall, 2023-24 enrollment and a reflection on his first year as President:
One of the most prominent issues that Stoute spoke on was that of the reconstruction of Lyons Hall. He started by saying that “Lyons Hall will be offline for the foreseeable future,” and he later clarified that it will not be back in operation for the 2023-24 academic year. Stoute emphasized his trust in the Strategic Plan and Prioritization Committee (SPPC) to reimagine Lyons Hall. It is a conversation they have “not yet started,” but he recognized the building's importance on campus.
This semester, admissions has had to move to Science Hall because of the damages Lyons faced in the blizzard. Stoute noted that this relocation “is not in the best long-term interest in the institution,” which is why administration is going to work with Admissions over the summer to make their accommodations more suitable for their work. “We want to ensure that our prospective students and parents have the best welcome to Canisius and the best experience when they are here,” he said.
Despite this, Stoute said that enrollment numbers are not any different for the upcoming academic year than they were at this time last year. “The number of deposits is about single-digits down from last year,” he said. “It is not statistically significant, the difference between last year where we were at this time and this year.”
Admissions will also be seeing a change come next fall, when Canisius officially goes test-free. While the response has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Stoute said he has “encouraged internal and alumni leaders to understand rationale for decision,” asking that they ask the college administration how the decision could help to “eliminate barriers to what we know is a world-class education and creating significantly more opportunities for capable, committed students to achieve their full potential.” He pointed out that the change will not take effect until fall 2024 and, thus, the results of the reform cannot yet be measured.
Stoute also addressed role changes within his presidential cabinet. Cece Gotham, a Canisius alumna and its former director of alumni engagement, was recently named chief of staff to replace Assistant to the President Erica Sammarco.
Compared to Sammarco’s duties as assistant to the president, Gotham’s role as chief of staff has a “different scope and different responsibilities” along with “elevated expectations.” Stoute confirmed that Gotham’s background in institutional advancement and alumni engagement portend a more external role as chief of staff.
The decision was influenced by the nearly complete work of the SPPC. “We are a complex institution, and as the strategic plan comes into focus, it was very clear to me that I needed in this office to effectively administer the institution and to operationalize the plan, a different level of support,” he explained. “One of the core components of the plan will be the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in the institution’s history,” he emphasized Gotham’s experience at multiple institutions in furthering such initiatives.
Something that Stoute said he also wanted the SPPC to focus on is how our current faculty can address the lack of diversity among professors and staff on campus. At a meeting of the Undergraduate Student Association (USA) this semester, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Fatima Rodriguez Johsnon showed the statistics that demonstrate the lack of faculty of color on campus. With a growing student-of-color population, she noted that academic departments need to keep up in order to ensure the best education for all students.
Stoute agreed with this sentiment, saying, “It’s important for us to have a faculty that more closely reflects the current student body.” He noted that administration doesn’t have much say in who the departments hire, but he hopes that they “pay particular attention to those processes.”
Sustainability has also been an important issue for Stoute and the college, and this year, USA Sustainability Chair Genevieve Fontana has taken the initiative with making Canisius a more sustainable campus. Stoute commended her for her successes, and he noted that the college has taken a more active approach to being more environmentally friendly. He said that 66% of energy at Canisius is from renewable sources, citing a contractual agreement the school has with a solar farm in South Buffalo. He also discussed the school’s dining service, Chartwells, saying, “Our partnership with Chartwells has led to a significant increase in recycling and recyclable materials. We are currently discussing a long-term partnership to invest in sourcing food and growing food in ways that add to our sustainability goals.”
When asked if “RISE” (Renew, Inspire, Serve and Empower) would remain his presidential slogan, Stoute said the phrasing may change but that the underlying values would remain the same. He did, however, double down on the college’s long-standing “Where Leaders are Made” tagline. This definition of leadership is “not about a title, a position; it’s about how you commit to serving others. ‘Where Leaders are Made’ will be how we talk about Canisius and its distinctiveness in the market. This is where leaders are made, and this is how we do it. This is what our society needs: values-based leadership.”
Stoute took some time at the closing of the interview to reflect on his first year at Canisius. When asked to give himself a grade, he gave himself a B-. He is proud of his accomplishments, including his determination in getting to know students, faculty and staff, as well as having us as an institution go test-free.
“There is work that remains to be done,” he added, continuing that this includes “establishing a foundation that will allow us the firm footing — the solidity — to move forward in bold, ambitious ways.”