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Students Kick Off Anti-Austerity Campaign with Pamphlets, Signs

As the Canisius College Board of Trustees convened for their quarterly committee meetings and luncheon, and at the very same time that the first action in months in the layoffs lawsuit was scheduled to take place in court, students took to tabling to protest those layoffs from last year.

Members of the Canisius College Young Democratic Socialists of America (CCYDSA) club were in the Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library on Monday morning handing out literature and displaying signs, which were made and provided by alumni who participated in 2020 protests.

Formed in fall of 2020, CCYDSA’s mission, per its constitution, is to “educate and organize students and young people and to play a helpful and principled role in the movement for social justice both on the Canisius campus and in the local community, engaging in activities which embody our college’s Jesuit ideal of being men and women with and for others.” Club Chair Colin O’Neill said the club’s Say No to Au$terity campaign will be a “focus for next semester.”

Signs included “How much is your pay cut, John?,” an allusion to President Hurley’s region-high salary for a private college president, and “Where’s your magis, Canisius?,” referring to the Jesuit value that stands for “more.” Pamphlets were handed out defining austerity, information about Canisius program cuts and faculty salaries. Data were collected from “publicly available data including Canisius tax documents available on ProPublica.”

Accompanying pamphlets argued, “We must hold [administrators] accountable and stop them from effectively becoming hedge funds with tuition revenue streams.” They urge students to stand together to gain pro-faculty concessions from the administration, who “are betraying their educational mission.”

“Our educators are underpaid in comparison to other local schools — UB, Buffalo State, Niagara and D’Youville.” I cross-checked this with data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (“IPEDS”), which reports salaries equated to nine full-time months, and found it to be partly true.

Canisius’s full and associate professors did indeed earn about $19,000 and $10,000 less, respectively, than their counterparts at those other schools. However, its assistant professors made the most of the four schools; about $9,000 more than the average. Overall, the average professor of all ranks makes less than UB and Niagara’s professors but more than D’Youville and Buffalo State’s.

The other schools have much bigger differences in pay between tenured and non-tenured professors. Canisius’s full professors average just $7,000 more than assistant professors. Full professors at the other schools averaged $35,000 more per nine months than assistant professors.

Canisius certainly stands out in its distribution of faculty pay, but the publicly available data show that the average sum is about equal to that of the named schools. (One thing to note, given Canisius’s accounting and business prowess, is that a higher proportion of assistant professors in the more profitable fields — accounting, business, etc. — may skew the distribution.)

“Canisius educators have not even received cost-of-living adjustments to their pay for 8 years. This is true for adjuncts and full-time faculty.” They may not have received cost-of-living adjustments, but the average faculty salary (again equated to 9 full-time months) has increased from $67,770 in 2012 to $75,693 in 2020, a 12% increase. The other schools increased an average of 15% over the same time period.

The pamphlet also referenced eliminated majors in the humanities and physics, as well as a tuition increase and significant faculty layoffs. Tuition has increased 3% per year since 2017, when the “Excellence Within Reach” campaign slashed tuition by $8,000. But it is actually less than it was a decade ago, as it was $29,600 in 2011. And tuition doesn’t tell the whole story. Canisius’s average net price, which takes into account grants and scholarships, is just 4% higher than in 2011. Net price for the other four schools increased an average of 26% in that time period.

UB and Buff State, both public institutions, of course offer lower net prices. However, Canisius’s net price is lower than the other two private schools, Niagara and D’Youville. (Note: the IPEDS data is for students who receive a grant or scholarship, which at the three private schools is 99%. UB and Buffalo State’s net prices from IPEDS are inflated because 15% and 40%, respectively, of its students don’t receive any scholarships or need-based aid. This means UB and Buff State net prices are likely even lower in comparison than the private schools’.)

The club’s strongest claim concerns the faculty cuts. Full-time faculty decreased 10% between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years, though this doesn’t differentiate between those fired and those who left of their own volition. Part-time faculty cuts were even starker, falling 21%.

Among full-time and part-time faculty combined, cuts were concentrated among non-terminal degree holders. There are 62 fewer professors at Canisius than there were last year. However, there are just six fewer faculty with terminal degrees, compared to 56 fewer non-terminal degree professors, suggesting that adjuncts took the brunt of the hit. To put that in context, 60% of professors last year held terminal degrees. This year, that figure is 70%.

Their final assertion notes that the president makes a yearly salary of $313,908. This number, which was undoubtedly lifted from 2020’s IRS 990 form, reflects President Hurley’s 2019 salary, and actually undershoots the matter; it does not include $42,971 in estimated other compensation.

Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees met in committee from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. before meeting in whole between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The events, which are closed to the public, are held once every three months. The next meeting is planned for March 13-14, 2022.

Erie Supreme Court held a status conference with lawyers representing Canisius College and four laid-off faculty that was scheduled for 11 a.m. Beginning nearly one year ago, the plaintiffs in Astiz et al v. Canisius College allege that the College “failed to comply with its contractual obligations” as stated in the faculty handbook, and seek lost wages, back-pay, front-pay, attorney’s fees and other relief. The College denies these allegations. A status conference is held to set the date of the future conferences, including in this case a settlement conference.

Judge Emilio Colaiacovo ruled on Sept. 27, 2021 that if the parties do not reach an agreement after the settlement conference, “the action shall be referred for mandatory alternative dispute resolution,” in which a third party is used to settle the dispute. The settlement conference was apparently postponed during Monday’s status conference, as another status conference was scheduled for March 8, 2022.

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