By “Concerned International Scholars”
Authors’ note: Out of respect for ongoing privacy issues, the authors of this collective are requesting anonymity. Some are in their tenure application processes in 2020; others, including the “laid-off” tenured and tenure-track professors, are still seeking rescission of employment and/or are under the advice of legal counsel.
Purge is a strong word. For Canisius College professors, that’s what it was.
Over the past five weeks, some 25 tenured and tenure-track professors in the humanities (Classics, Creative/Performing Arts, History, Philosophy, Religious Studies/Theology) and across the curriculum (Teacher Education, Management, Communications) were fired alongside 71 staff members.
The firings were part of a “layoff” plan executed by President John J. Hurley, the Vice-President for Academic Affairs Sara R. Morris and the Board of Trustees on the pretext of a COVID-19 shock doctrine, in violation of shared governance and with a brazen overconfidence in their corporate power.
A small liberal arts college in Buffalo, NY just across the Peace Bridge, Canisius College was in trouble long before the exposures of Catholic abuse scandals and dirty upstate redevelopment plans. Woes are systemic: a bloat of admins having doubled in size over ten years; underpaid faculty with no raises in seven years; alienated alumni who won’t donate; a clumsy brand(s); obsessive overinvestment in local property and sports; and similarly conspicuous forms of mismanagement. Now Hurley’s Board of Trustees hurries toward a neo- (or post-) Jesuit Tech: a STEM-plus-vocational school minus meaningful focus on ethics, humanities or social justice. Programs such as Classics and Religious Studies were dissolved at the President’s whim, without faculty input. One can only speculate on why leading Jesuit public figures have been willing to give Hurley a pass, without delving deeper into the College’s affairs.
Canisius College’s power scenario was a kind of “Hunger Games.” The President’s opaque firing plan was executed starting on July 16. The tactic applied to four major departments: Philosophy, Religious Studies, History, and Management, in which professors with outstanding records of publication, teaching and service were effectively terminated. In English, they outright fired the one tenure-track professor, an award-winning Shakespearean. Hurley told the media he’d wisely had to cut low-enrolled programs, but in fact, the targeted departments such as Classics and Religious Studies (each abolished) and History and Philosophy (each halved in terms of tenured faculty) routinely have had some of the College’s highest per semester average seat counts. In History and Philosophy, three people in each department had to “voluntarily separate” from the College. Those who “separated” would get a “choice” of a year of severance or a one-year terminal contract. Senior professors were pressured to “volunteer” to retire and save another colleague’s job. If “volunteers” were not found before July 27, the most recently hired faculty would be fired. Making matters worse, administrators shamefully resorted to “Dear Faculty” form letters and “off the record” phone calls to fire people.
It ruined and demoralized everyone. Tenured professors were “laid off” by intimidation and deception—shady tactics of divide and rule. Hurley, his Board, and his recently appointed VPAA Morris gutted their way through the core liberal arts curriculum. They blatantly ignored established protocol as laid out in the Faculty Handbook and AAUP guidelines. Completely disregarding shared governance, deans of the three Schools unceremoniously informed longtime tenured and recent tenure-track professors of their terminations. No financial exigency was declared, though this is a required first step before eliminating any tenured faculty. No legal procedure of faculty-administration dialogue was ever initiated by the administration. By bullying and noncompliance, Hurley and his hirelings seem to have acknowledged that they were acting on questionable legal grounds. Included were newer hires and tenured mid-career faculty (with 8, 11, 12, 12, and 14 years of service); international faculty (at least 6, including 3 Canadian citizens and one permanent resident); women (8 and perhaps more, identified by The Griffin); and several POC (at least 4 of the 19 identified). These statistics provide a glaring contradiction to the administration’s claimed commitment to diversity.
In a heroic rally by faculty on July 22 defending the principle of shared governance, the Faculty Senate voted “no confidence” in Hurley and the Trustees and the College’s growing AAUP chapter called for his resignation. At a standoff, the administration’s Senior Leadership Team did an end-around to gain approval from the Committee on Faculty Status. Because the VPAA and VP of Finance were unwilling to follow procedures necessary to justify the layoffs, i.e., they refused to appear before the Senate to lay out the specifics of the financial situation, the Committee on Faculty Status staunchly refused to ratify the firings. Rather than pausing for dialogue, the Canisius administration unilaterally continued to fire faculty. Hurley & Co. liquidated some of the College’s best personnel.
The President, a corporate bankruptcy lawyer, played on COVID-19 and budget issues. Hurley invited 11 faculty members to be a part of a secret Faculty Budget Working Group (FBWG); these faculty had to pledge absolute confidentiality, no information in or out. A dean was kicked off of the committee for sharing a bit of information from the committee to faculty. The president thus counted on people not talking to one other. He justified “hard but necessary” firings and the “adjustments” he had to make to trim his $12.3 million deficit in 2020. (It was $3.6 million in 2010.) Few careful observers bought it. Citing enrollment again, he said nothing of labor law violations or nationally patterned firings of tenured professors at Ohio University and the University of Akron. He even let slip to a local TV station about how confident he was that faculty could be “kept on a short leash” to quickly streamline a new core curriculum. Hurley’s claims to have welcomed Canisius faculty into negotiations are pitifully false.
As an anti-model of corporatist abuse, the firings of faculty and staff at Canisius have inspired a grass-roots change.org petition (“Stop Canisius from Firing Professors”) started by “concerned alumni” on July 18, now with nearly 6,000 signatures. An active Facebook group has tapped into the popular outrage. To counter this bad publicity, on July 20 the Office of Alumni Engagement, another arm of the Board, also released form letters and a bizarre “impact report.” The Office apparently forgot to take out an image of a revered professor of Philosophy and Women and Gender Studies who was among the fired tenured scholars.
Sanctions are flooding in. The American Historical Association (12,000 members) on July 23 was the first to advocate for its members. Given Canisius’s proximity to Canada and the urgency in 2020 to protect rights of international students and faculty, the AHA was followed by the Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS, 600), the American Philosophical Association (APA, 8,000), the Canadian Philosophical Association (ACP/CPA, 600), the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES, 3,500), and the Modern Languages Association (MLA, 24,000). In a report on shared governance, the national AAUP indicated that if Canisius’s problems are not soon resolved, they will conduct a formal investigation.
Meanwhile, protesting students preparing for fall 2020 have lost dear mentors without warning or coherent explanation. Those professors who come back for a final terminal year show their continued devotion to their students, but the institution is broken. Will its administration be held accountable? Hurley & Co. have trashed a sanctuary for Jesuit higher education, and with it, the institution of tenure at Canisius College. Faculty continue to organize and international outrage continues to grow.
After Canisius College’s purges of professors and the cynical use of COVID-19 as a pretext, other woefully mismanaged US institutions in denial may show similar desperation.
Concerned International Scholars says
link 1 (above) to: “similarly conspicuous forms of mismanagement”
Canisius College, AAUP Chapter Report
Media Release: July 28, 2020
“A Decade of Failed Leadership”
Over the past ten years, the senior leadership team including John Hurley have made a series of poor strategic choices that have failed Canisius College. Their actions have culminated in this current financial crisis. While all schools in Western New York are experiencing the same external pressures, Canisius is the only four year institution in the region that has resorted to widespread layoffs. The current crisis at Canisius cannot be blamed on COVID alone—it has been 10 years in the making.
The strategic and financial failures of the senior leadership team include:
• Steady enrollment decline from around 4900 undergraduate and graduate students in 2011 to just over 3100 in 2019.
• An inability to balance the budget and continual deficit spending, which have drained the college’s reserves. We have gone from a budget deficit of $3.6 million in 2011 to a projected $20 million for 2020 2021.
• Weak fundraising, including the failure to finance the completion of Science Hall and to roll out a robust capital campaign during our 150th anniversary year.
• No clear vision for the identity of the College, resulting in repeated unsuccessful rebranding campaigns, from “Where leaders are made” to “Go Exploring” to “Yes you CAN.”
• Two poorly executed faculty retirement incentives, in 2014 and 2017, which did not take student course needs into consideration, cost millions, and plunged the College deeper into deficit.
• An ill-conceived tuition reduction in 2018, which alienated current students because it also cut financial aid, and still did not fix our budget woes.
• Steep rise in overall spending on administration and a steady decline in spending on instruction. During the period 2014-2018, administrative expenses rose by 40%, while spending for instruction was slashed by 25%. In the last 7 years, faculty have not had a single meaningful raise that covered even cost of living.
We regret having to list these leadership failures, but we must speak openly now, after many years of struggling to be heard. A successful future depends upon truth and respect. Mr. Hurley said in the media yesterday that he plans on keeping faculty “on a short leash” in matters of curriculum reform. This is the very opposite of working with faculty as respected colleagues.
The Board must immediately suspend all proposed layoffs for the next year. And we join the Senate Faculty Welfare Committee in calling for John Hurley to step down as President. We fully understand that financial restructuring is necessary, but the proposed cuts—poorly and hastily conceived—are the wrong way to do it. Canisius College needs a new leadership team that welcomes participation from all stakeholders.
We are confident that we will find solutions when we come together as a community.
Concerned International Scholars says
link 3 (above) to: “blatantly ignored established protocol”
27 July 2020
Statement from the Faculty Welfare Committee
The Faculty Welfare Committee feels compelled to immediately condemn the recent terminations of tenured and tenure-track faculty at Canisius College. While we recognize that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated an already-tenuous budget situation, without a declaration of financial exigency, the complete disregard for the institution of tenure, AAUP guidelines, and Faculty Handbook policies, is unconscionable.
The loss of so many faculty, primarily from the humanities, but also from professional programs and the sciences, will make it difficult to provide a well-rounded liberal arts education to our students and will only lead to further declines in enrollment. Likewise, the elimination of programs across the college threatens the quality of our offerings, and ability to attract and retain students. Additionally, the loss of so many women and minorities will further exacerbate the diversity issues that Canisius College has had over the years. Some graduate programs risk loss of accreditation as a consequence of faculty reductions. While all schools in Western New York are experiencing the same external pressures, Canisius is the only four-year institution in the region that has resorted to widespread layoffs.
Canisius faculty have effectively experienced salary stagnation for over a decade. The few modest salary increases we have had do not even approach a cost of living increase, and reductions in benefits have further exacerbated this situation. The newly-announced layoffs and salary cuts have further burdened faculty at a time when we are all experiencing financial stress.
In President Hurley’s email to the Faculty on 21 July, he notes that we should “focus on our signature academic programs that lead to success for our students in graduate and professional school and in the workplace”. The single most important factor that employers seek is strong critical thinking skills. By gutting the humanities, we risk losing this important component of a Canisius experience. It is further puzzling to hear the assertion that the liberal arts are not being abandoned at Canisius when so many programs that provide breadth and diversity are being eliminated. Furthermore, many of the affected faculty members teach college core courses and honors courses. The College advertises our liberal arts core and tradition, and a strong concentration in the liberal arts will advantage all of our students as they enter the job market or prepare for graduate or professional school, even when their degrees are in narrow specialties.
While we acknowledge that Covid 19 has led to significant disruptions throughout all of academia, it appears that other schools in Western New York have weathered this and other crises much better and with much less harm. All institutions have been impacted by the Great Recession, the Excelsior Program, and the changing demographics of Western New York. Our problems pre-date Covid 19 and are a result of a long-standing lack of clear vision and leadership and the inability to manage through challenging times and craft a successful strategy for Canisius College. Covid 19 served to expose the weaknesses of leadership that have existed for a decade. Our deficit has grown steadily, from $3.6 million in 2011, to a projected $20 million in 2020-21.
We are deeply troubled by the loss of tenured faculty in programs that are critical to the mission of the College. The erosion of tenure represents a serious breach of trust and one from which the College may not be able to recover. The reputation of the College will be irreparably harmed by this decision.
The Board of Trustees and the Senior Leadership team must reconsider this decision and reinstate all faculty. Such decisions need to be made thoughtfully, gradually, with open discussion and through established processes of shared governance, and implemented humanely.
In conclusion, based on the above points, on the lack of trust in the Senior Leadership, the long standing decline of faculty morale, the poor financial performance of the College, the declining enrollment trends, and the inability to uphold community and Jesuit standards, we call for John Hurley’s timely resignation as President of the College. His continued presence calls into question the survival of the College. We hope the Board of Trustees will see the necessity of this action for the future of Canisius College.
Faculty Welfare Committee of Canisius College
We reiterate the following from the Faculty Handbook. Although the passage has tenure-track faculty in view, its guidelines would apply even more to tenured faculty members.
“For compelling budgetary reasons documented by the College Budget Committee, faculty members holding tenure-track positions may be released even if the performance of the affected faculty members is satisfactory. In such cases the Vice President for Business and Finance will provide to the Faculty Senate for its timely review all relevant information used by the College Budget Committee in deciding to cut tenure-track positions. The Faculty Status Committee will review with the Vice President for Academic Affairs the particular faculty members designated for release, to determine whether they have been selected in an arbitrary or capricious manner.
“Should the President decide not to reappoint a faculty member this decision will be made known to the faculty member according to the timetable which the Board of Trustees of Canisius College adopted as its own from the 1970 Interpretive Comments of the AAUP which may be found in this Handbook at the end of Chapter 5 (see Interpretive Comments, article 7).” (p 10, Chapter 3, section B)
The AAUP guidelines stipulate the following timeline: “Notice of nonreappointment, or of intention not to recommend reappointment to the governing board, should be given in writing in accordance with the following standards:
(1) Not later than March 1 of the first academic year of service, if the appointment expires at the end of that year; or, if a one-year appointment terminates during an academic year, at least three months in advance of its termination.
(2) Not later than December 15 of the second academic year of service, if the appointment expires at the end of that year; or, if an initial two-year appointment terminates during an academic year, at least six months in advance of its termination.
(3) At least twelve months before the expiration of an appointment after two or more years in the institution.” (P 28, chapter 5, section F)
Canisius College…an institution rife with gangster-ism and unethical behavior has been at this dishonesty game for decades. Pitiful displays of “leadership” since you turned the keys over to a greedy lawyer to make critical decisions regarding vision and mission. As a humiliated and embarrassed alum, I will NEVER EVER give this school one penny of my money. Why would anyone contribute to a school that insists on playing monopoly up and down main street while hard working academics/staff are sent packing without warning. You know how you payback a greedy college trying to remain relevant? Stop applying, stop paying attention to their pathetic attempts at appearing to be a relevant 21st institution of learning, and stop thinking that this school will ever return to the credibility it had in the 70’s and 80’s. Go to UB, go to Buffalo State. I am ashamed to be associated with this place, and will always be grateful to those Jesuits who never got proper credit for making this school successful. Hurley and the pack of flunkies he surrounds himself with will inevitably end up with a defunct institution. Shame on all of you for allowing this deterioration to occur. GO GRIFFS will soon be a thing of the past.
Update on lawsuit Canisius faculty vs. Canisius (breach of contract):
Another loss for faculty and tenure:
College of Saint Rose: