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Cuts to Canisius College leave a predominantly white faculty even less diverse

Posted at 8:59 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 12:21:49-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — One consequence of the budget cuts at Canisius College to help solve its $20 million deficit is a hit to the school's already limited diversity in its faculty ranks.

Two Department of Teacher Education faculty members on the list of layoffs are people of ethnic minority.

Those two faculty members, a male assistant professor who is Black and Dr. M Fernanda Astiz, a female professor who is an Argentina native, are the only minority faculty members in the entire Department of Teacher Education, according a 7 Eyewitness News analysis of the major's entire faculty body.

Dr. Astiz calls the diversity challenges at Canisius a reflection of the structural inequities in America, and what we're seeing in social and political institutions across the country.

"Students that are first generation, that are minority first generation, need to have some form of role models that can guide and support their educational process," Dr. Astiz said. "The students are going to miss that if they don't have enough faculty members that [teach resiliency and guide students from personal experiences], and relate that to the current American politics today."

Dr. Astiz won the College's 2020 Martin Luther King Junior Award for her work in the field of social justice, and in 2013 she was the recipient of the Hispanic Heritage Award from the City of Buffalo.

A "large number" of faculty members who have notified the Canisius College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors that they're being laid off are women and people of color, according to the Association's President, Dr. Tanya Loughead. But because decisions about layoffs have not yet been finalized in some departments, Loughead could not provide precise numbers or a demographic breakdown of those losing their jobs.

"We serve that population best when the professoriate is as diverse as they are. It is not. And we at Canisius — like many universities in the USA— have a lot of work to do," said Loughead, who is also a Professor of Philosophy at Canisius.

When asked about the impact that the $2.5 million in cuts to academic programs and personnel would have on faculty diversity, Canisius College President John Hurley said cuts were based on student enrollment and seniority.

"The decisions on faculty positions were driven by non-discriminatory factors, primarily enrollment in the programs in which they teach. Canisius has a good track record of hiring women so they are well represented in our faculty ranks, but again, all decisions were based on enrollment trends and seniority and not on any basis prohibited by law," said Hurley.

Hurley announced publicly Monday that the Board of Trustees ordered him to make $12.3 million in budget reductions, due in large part to a loss of tuition revenue and the impacts of COVID-19. As a result, the school administration is discontinuing majors in Classics, Creative and Performing Arts, Human Services, Physics, Religious Studies, Entrepreneurship, Urban Studies, European Studies, and International Business, among other reductions.

In an interview with 7 Eyewitness News Anchor Ashley Rowe on Thursday, Hurley acknowledged that there are a fewer faculty of color at Canisius College than he would like. When pressed about whether efforts could be made to retain those diverse faculty who's jobs are currently on the chopping block, Hurley said "all things are possible" and suggested that professors might benefit from taking the College's offer to remain at the school for one year versus taking the severance offering.

"[Faculty] have a choice. They can walk out the door and take a year's severance, or they can take a terminal contract, remain at Canisius for a year and teach," said Hurley. "I can't make any assurances to people, but that at least gives people some period of time to see what might happen."

The School of Education and Human Services, which houses the Department of Teacher Education, will be merged into the College of Arts & Sciences. In a letter to faculty and staff on Monday, Hurley said "there will be other moves to streamline and improve the department structure of the college."

Dr. Astiz says she understands that COVID-19 exacerbated existing budget challenges, but feels that the cuts and restructuring efforts could have been done with more sensitivity.

"I wish we could have done better as a community. We could have embraced those values that we supposedly take at heart," Dr. Astiz said. "A thoughtful evaluation would have prevented some of this ugliness that we are sensing in this process."