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The Griffin Editorial 11/03

Our future leaders deserve better

This week in The Griffin, we reported on Canisius’s handling of endowed scholarships and financial aid. Students who have received endowed scholarships have ended up seeing nothing, or very little, taken off of their final student bill, instead having money taken out of their other financial aid sources, like scholarships from the school itself. This reporting is extremely concerning as a person who is invested in both the image and the state of the institution. It undermines much of what Canisius University is supposed to stand for.

One of the underlying themes of President Stoute’s State of the University address a few weeks ago, and throughout his time here, is about the need for transparency at Canisius. (To be clear: We do not know if President Stoute was aware of this practice and do not mean to imply that he was.) He is right: Canisius, just like every place of higher education, owes it to its students to be transparent. For the money we are paying, it is the least they can give us. But this is the exact opposite of transparency. And this lack of transparency is on a subject that will probably remain with us long after we leave the halls of Canisius: our college tuition and the debt that comes with it.

The stakes are extremely high — our student loan situation could be the difference between whether we are able to buy a house or not, or a new car, or a meal. When we make a decision regarding our college tuition, we must have all of the information we can possibly have in order to ensure that such important decisions are fully informed. And yet this transparency is nowhere to be seen. That is extremely disappointing. When a student earns a scholarship, the assumption of the student is that their tuition will be lower. When they open up their student bill and find that that is not the case, they are potentially suddenly thousands of dollars poorer than they had anticipated.

Another obvious problem here is the fact that this simply takes away from the impressive achievements of those great future leaders. When a student earns an endowed scholarship, like the one Natalie Faas earned from The Buffalo News or that Mason Bowes earned from his excellence in the honors program, it is the student that earns it, not their university. What the University is doing here is not very different from stealing the money that students have earned through their hard work and using it to pay their own bills. Canisius speaks often about its Jesuit values, and rightfully so: it is one of the things that sets the institution apart. One of the key pillars of those Jesuit values is being “for and with others.” The Griffin struggles to see how pocketing students’ scholarships is in line with that; in fact, it is pretty much the opposite. As the old saying goes: talk is cheap; to express your values is one thing, to live them is another — and more important — thing. I also recall the eighth commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”

Anything that has to do with tuition and endowments, of course, is automatically tied into the institution’s finances, and the school's financial situation is not ideal with things like its recurring deficit. That is clear and is well known. Canisius has to pay its bills, and The Griffin acknowledges that, but when it gets to the point where the school is taking money earned by the students, then the question arises of whether the school exists primarily to be an institution for higher learning, as The Griffin says it ought to be, or if it is a business putting profits first. There is nothing inherently wrong with being a profits-first business: we all live in the real world, and we know how important money is. But if that is the path Canisius is taking, then we need to come out and say it.

As pointed out in this week’s front-page Griffin article reporting on this topic, practices such as the one Canisius is doing here are commonplace in schools across the country. That should be acknowledged in fairness to Canisius. But that does not make the practice any less immoral. And with that, Canisius should be held to a different standard than other schools. With bigger schools, the focus is placed more on the institution, specifically the tradition of the institution. In that context, the school using immoral means to advance its financial well-being is somewhat expected. At a school like Canisius, which sells prospective students not on the school’s name and legacy, but on how prospective students’ college experience can be focused on the students themselves, there is a greater responsibility on the part of the school to allow students to reap their rewards, even if Canisius sees an opportunity to make money.

The Griffin hopes that Canisius will allow students to reap the benefits of their earned scholarships in the future, or at the very least let them know and explain exactly why they cannot. Let this also serve as a warning to the Canisius student body to take a closer look at their student bill the next time it comes in.


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