By Dan Radwan
When I get active in social justice issues, I almost always cite my Jesuit education, my familiarity with Jesuit ideals and the experiences that have come with it, particularly through Canisius College. But these past four years have left me with a question that begs to be answered: how “just” is Canisius College?
My instincts tend to lead me to the answer, “not very.” Sure, certain programs and departments offer wonderful justice-based activities: Campus Ministry’s sandwich ministry, for example, delivers food directly to the homeless. But next year, programs like this, along with countless others, face drastic cuts in funding. All departmental funding is being slashed erratically, regardless of who is affected or what benefits they provide.
The best example of this lies with the sciences, the very field to which our school has so graciously dedicated nearly $100 million. The building looks great, but how about the students and faculty? When I was a senior in high school, Canisius tour guides pitched the building to me; now, as a Canisius tour guide, I pitch the building to prospective students. But there isn’t a single person actively involved in the sciences that believes Science Hall will be fully operational in five years. Many even question 10. Yet this school markets it relentlessly, as if we all actively use it on a daily basis, when in fact it is nothing more than a ghost of what this school used to be: an educational institution.
Our great science program is marketed to absolutely everybody. Usually, the best things are reserved for the best people; Aristotle says that the best flutist gets the best flute. But not at Canisius.
Here, students of all academic abilities are accepted into all programs, even the most vigorous, indiscriminately. This shouldn’t be a problem, that’s what Jesuits are all about, right?
No, this isn’t a problem, as long as you provide the means to succeed for all students. Remember the budget cuts I mentioned earlier? Last week’s spending freeze is just the tip of the iceberg; Canisius has been scaling back and slashing funding for years.
The problem is, then, that in the past three years, Canisius has been accepting lower caliber students, who obviously qualify for less merit-based scholarship. But they still come, because we promise them the world (think 9/10 get into med. school). But in reality, Canisius has been quietly scaling back academic support, all the while making louder and bolder promises. But this isn’t even the crux of my argument.
The true crisis is that Canisius actively gears students for failure. Canisius consciously cuts academic funding, while it enthusiastically invests in showy ads to attract even more young minds to a false promise. The result is clear: four-year retention rates have fallen below 50 percent. Canisius fails its current students in acceptance policy and academic support, all in the name of increasing freshmen enrollment.
In four years, I have seen Canisius transform not from a college to a university, but from a college to a business. But what happens when you treat students like customers? Well, when you run a bad business, your customers leave. The end-all result is a sophomore or junior who cannot maintain his or her already minimal scholarship, who is now a transfer student or a college dropout. But Canisius still wins in the end, netting north of 50 grand from each dropout, which means more subpar scholarship money for more future under-qualified students.
I find it interesting that representatives of the administration have to ask USA how to increase retention when the answer is clear: treat Canisius like a school. Treat professors like they have Ph.D.s. Treat students like students. Instead of that flashy exploitation exploration campaign, invest in your students, President Hurley.