By Aidan Ryan
Assistant Opinion Editor
The position of Dean of Admissions at Canisius College has recently been vacated. College officials will neither release the name of the interim dean nor will they provide any information as to the former dean’s departure, although rumors abound that President John Hurley confronted the administrator formerly known as Dean Donna Shaffner “with an offer she couldn’t refuse” – or that she has left to pursue her dream career in professional golf.
The reasons for her sudden and quiet departure notwithstanding, I believe it is my duty, in this difficult time of transition, to provide the college with some advice and a suggestion for ex-Dean Donna’s replacement: myself.
My credentials are impeccable, and I know several college faculty members who would (I hope) be willing to provide character references to President Hurley and the Board of Trustees. My resume is available on request; instead of awaiting the college’s offer, I think it would be prudent to roll up my sleeves and get right into the job.
The most pressing problem facing the Admissions Department, if not the college, is low enrollment. High school graduation rates are dropping across the country, and Canisius needs to compete in a broader market to stay afloat. The administration’s strategy thus far has been to spend lavishly on advertising in intellectual hotbeds like the Galleria Mall. My approach would be somewhat different. Instead of spending money to try to discover Canisius’ character through the lens of a Philadelphia hipster’s hi-def camera, I would provide faculty members with a small travel and dining stipend, and encourage them to go out into the community and recruit individual students.
I would not be at Canisius if it weren’t for Dr. Cochrane doing just this. He was kind enough to treat me to lunch and answer some of my questions. He even gave me a few books and invited me to a reading and dinner with visiting author Colm Toíbín. Like most students, I was intending to “go where the money is” – that is to say, I had better offers elsewhere. But money isn’t really what sells schools, for most students. Just as the number of personal connections a student has to a school will improve freshmen retention rates – whether it be through friends, clubs, or, most importantly, personal relationships with teachers – so too do these personal connections exponentially increase the chances that a high school senior will enroll at a given college.
Now, I know that my presence on campus is not the most convincing argument; but other students were won this way, too. The Griffin’s own Jonathan Beck decided to enroll at Canisius after a conversation on the American Constitution with Dr. Galie. Dr. Robert Butler used to recruit this way, as did Dr. George Kermis. Dr. Roger Stephenson uses this method to recruit students for the Urban Leadership Learning Community Scholarship.
Canisius’ small size is one of the main draws of the school – prospective students know, in theory at least, that if they come to Canisius they will enjoy small classes and personal access to professors that care about them as scholars and individuals. This strength can also serve the school in the enrollment arena. Professors do have time to reach out to students, to establish connections with teachers at the local high schools who will literally feed their best and brightest students into the welcoming arms of me, Dean Aidan Ryan, and my merry band of Admissions Officers. Give professors a six-dollar lunch voucher at the Dining Hall and a few free Ice Capps at Tim Hortons, and they just might make your money back by hooking one or two $120,000 suckers (or $160,000 suckers, if they decide to stay on campus).
Of course, it is unlikely that our busy faculty will be able to individually recruit some 800 freshmen. But they don’t have to. My strategy works both in the long and short terms. The key is that faculty will handpick the best students. By catching bright high school seniors who might have been lured away by the prestige of a Cornell, the hefty scholarships of a school like Fordham, or the wider research opportunities of a state school like UB, my cohort of smooth-talking professors will increase Canisius’ academic profile with each new class. Over time, Canisius’ reputation will improve, and together we will have established a self-perpetuating cycle toward renown and financial stability. We just have to remember to keep greasing the wheels.
My approach is organic. It’s radical. It worked for years. And yet for some inexplicable and inexcusable reason, it was routinely discouraged by the past two deans of Admissions.
I plan on turning this around. If the college will hire me as the next Dean of Admissions and give me a couple grand to toss around – no more than the cost of one adjunct’s pay for one course – I’ll bring in the largest freshman class in recent history (and all without breaking the bank on financial aid!). In ten years, we’ll be nipping at Georgetown’s heels.
And finally, in the spirit of sacrifice and in dedication to balancing our (still unreleased) college budget, I will take a fifty percent pay cut.
If President Hurley would like to hash out the details of my plan (and my pay), he can call me today; I get out of class at eleven.