Administration’s semester marred by communication failures

By Justin Smith

News Editor

The controversy at Canisius this year began before any student had set foot into their first classroom to begin the semester.  Public Safety Director H. Wil Johnson would find himself in the spotlight at several points throughout the year, but his first appearance to the school community came on August 23 when he declared that the parking ramp “will not be reopening this year.”  This turned out to be untrue, despite one student (whom The Griffin reached out to, but wished to remain anonymous) having their windshield cracked by debris falling from the parking ramp sometime between September 6 and 10.

If Canisius decided to close the parking ramp, and it was ultimately unsafe for at least one student, then why has it been open since August 31?  The answer, in large part, relates to failure of communication among administrators.  Firstly, while Johnson was the one who hit ‘send’ on the email that closed the parking ramp, he was not the one who actually closed the ramp.  The Facilities Management Department, directed by Thomas Ciminelli, made the decision to close the ramp, which they relayed to Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Mangione, who then directed Johnson to send the e-mail.  The problem: according to President and former Griffin editor Joseph J. Hurley in a visit to USA Senate on September 6, no one told him the ramp was closing.

It’s concerning that such a large decision was kept from the President of the College.  It’s equally, or perhaps more, concerning that the decision came after many commuters had already purchased their non-refundable parking passes.  And, to complete the trifecta, it’s concerning that President Hurley sent the August 30 e-mail to reopen the parking ramp (“after hearing of the inconvenience caused by the closure”) without telling Public Safety Director Johnson, as Johnson indicated in a September 6 interview with The Griffin.

To summarize: On August 23, Hurley is surprised to find that his own parking ramp has been closed.  On August 30, Canisius’ Public Safety Director is surprised to find that the series of e-mails he’d been sending over the past week, affirming and re-affirming that the parking ramp was indeed closed, were now obsolete.

At the time, perhaps one could chalk this failure of communication up to some sort of normal beginning of the year inefficiencies, but that would prove not to be the case.  Failure of communication would turn out to be the theme and refrain of the semester.

On October 18, Vice President for Business and Finance Marco Benedetti visited the USA Senate to discuss the state of the school’s budget.  Ostensibly this is a good thing, but the problem wasn’t so much with how much was revealed as with what was not revealed.  The Griffin has been covering the Canisius Adjunct Movement (CAM) for nearly a year now, and as Adjunct professor Kurt Schneiderman put it in a November 2 interview with The Griffin, “students should be outraged” at the budget.  Canisius, as a private university, has a right to withhold its financial records for up to four years, and they take full advantage of this.  Needless to say, CAM was not pleased with the numbers Benedetti put forth.  Last semester, in a March 17 interview with The Griffin, Schneiderman claimed that economists from Georgetown looked at Canisius’s publicly available 990 tax returns from 2013 and found that seven administrators made over $200,000.  How many administrators make $200,000 or more this year?  No one is allowed to know, because Canisius refuses to make its financial records public.  Why should adjuncts, who work for Canisius, need to consult economists from Georgetown, a fellow Jesuit university, in order to find out financial information for the school for which they work?  In truth, nothing that Benedetti said at his October 18 visit to the Senate can be corroborated so long as Canisius refuses to communicate its budget.  This represents a particularly strong tension considering that, according to a poll on The Griffin’s website, forty-one percent of a total of seventy participants want The Griffin to cover school spending over issues such as the advertising budget, school safety, and even diversity (which currently sits one vote behind school spending in the poll).  It’s impressive that school spending manages to outpace diversity and school safety in the poll in light of the infamous baby doll incident on campus this year, which, in itself, represents another failure of communication.

On November 8, the night of the country’s Presidential Election, a black baby doll was found hanging in a Frisch dorm room, as well as placed inside the Frisch elevator, after it was allegedly left behind in the laundry room by a child who was at the College.  On November 9, students convened in Grupp for an impromptu meeting, in which one student profoundly called for “swift and appropriate punishment.”  At the time, the investigation was less than twenty-four hours old, and it was understandable that administration would be slow on answers.  At the same time,  President Hurley and Public Safety Director Johnson both stated in interviews the week following the incident that it would be the school’s response to the incident that would deter future acts of racial hatred.

President Hurley said that “the best prevention is a strong reaction,” and Johnson said that “the speed of our investigation and the results of the investigation have spoken very loudly about the absolute lack of tolerance here at Canisius for this type of event.”

But what became of the investigation?  The Griffin attempted to find out if the investigation was closed, at which point President Hurley and Public Safety Director Johnson proceeded to contradict each other.

“The investigation is complete,” said President Hurley in a November 16 interview with The Griffin.  “What I reported to the campus on Thursday (November 10) represented the complete investigation.”

However, the day prior, November 15, Johnson stated that the investigation was not complete, but rather “very close” to being complete, and that it would be done “within the next few days.”

It was once again concerning that the President and Public Safety Director were unable to communicate to each other.  More than two months after the parking ramp incident, administrators were still unable to communicate with one another to deliver a cogent message to the campus.  What was worse is that both these statements cannot be simultaneously true, but when The Griffin attempted to discern the truth, keeping with the theme of the year, administration refused to communicate.  On Monday, November 28, The Griffin reached out to Johnson to ask about the discrepancy in the update to the investigation, and Johnson did not respond until Friday morning of that week–too late to be quoted in The Griffin.

“Thank you for reaching out,” said Johnson.  “I wish you much success as you prepare for and take your finals.”

As it turns out, Johnson was unwilling to provide further updates about the investigation, one in which updates were supposed to be the ultimate deterrent from future occurrences of similar acts.  One must wonder: if administration refuses to even confirm that the investigation is complete, then how can students ever know what the result of the investigation is? And if students never know what the result of the investigation is, how is it that “the results of the investigation have spoken very loudly about the absolute lack of tolerance” of the incident?  It was a nice show of support for Johnson and Hurley to show up at the event at Grupp, but when students call for “swift and appropriate punishment” and the administration responds with lethargy and obfuscation, then how can students believe that administration truly heard their concerns?

Finally, and most recently, there’s the issue of the Travel Team.  Director of Purchasing Gary Lew said, in a November 9 meeting with various faculty and students, that “The College […] is very satisfied with what the Travel Team has been doing.”

This quote represents a massive failure of communication with students, who have been expressing displeasure with Travel Team for several years now.  Just in September, the Canisius Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO) had a flight price jump “basically one-hundred percent,” according to USA Vice President of Business and Finance Jeff Spencer, between the original booking of the trip and the approval of the trip by Finance Board.  This price increase represented an additional $2,608.30 taken away from student tax dollars.

Then there’s Unity, who two years ago had Travel Team unnecessarily book a hotel an hour away from the conference they were supposed to attend in Washington D.C.  Or last year, when Travel Team attempted to book an $800 limousine for Unity when public transportation was available for only $2 per person — Unity managed to cancel the limousine to avoid wasting student tax dollars in this case.  On the same trip, Travel Team cost students an additional $960 by waiting a month to book the trip and missing a deal on a hotel that Unity had told them about.  There are many other stories which students have brought forward to The Griffin, all of which carry a similar theme of seeming waste.

So how great must the failure of communication be if it was only “after reading articles in The Griffin” that Lew said he realized “there [were] communication and process problems that needed to be resolved”?  How can administration be so disconnected from students?

Whether it be the parking ramp, the budget, the baby doll, or Travel Team, administration’s communication skills have been particularly inept this year.  Students, faculty, and even administration itself should be upset by the lack of effective communication plaguing the school.  If the President and Public Safety Director cannot even communicate well enough to know if the parking ramp is open or closed, then how can administration possibly communicate well enough to handle even more delicate issues, like adjunct pay or racial justice?  Without communication, how can Canisius call itself a community?  At a time when students and faculty are speaking out about important issues, will administration listen, and will they respond?  If this semester is any indication of what to expect going forward, the future looks dim.

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