Canisius College’s new president, Steve K. Stoute, JD, who will begin tenure on July 1st, hopes to bring a breath of fresh air to the campus community, along with a fresh perspective on what being a college president really means. While winding down a four-year career at DePaul University as the vice president for strategic initiatives and chief of staff, Stoute has extensive experience in higher education in a number of different roles. With a passion for Catholic higher education and a dedication to student success, he is eager to step into power and see the transformative impact Canisius will have on its students, on their families, and on the entirety of Buffalo.
Do you have any specific “first orders” of business that you’re hoping to implement when you come into office in July?
I think the first orders of business are to engage deeply in the community on campus and in the city. One of the questions we have to answer is what does Buffalo need at this moment in time and how can Canisius play a unique role in delivering what the city needs? I need to engage with our partners in the city and on campus to understand and derive reasonable, accurate answers to those questions so that we can set about building a shared vision, a shared strategy for how Canisius will help our community, help our city, and help our students achieve their goals. That’s how I see the role of Canisius college and ultimately the role of a higher education institution- It is helping those that we serve to accomplish their goals. There’s this Renaissance happening in Buffalo, and we have to be a part of that. We have to be part of the engine that continues to drive that forward because when Buffalo wins, we at Canisius win and it’s vice versa when we win at Canisius, it benefits Buffalo. That type of relationship with our city and with our community, it means something to me.
What are some changes that you’re hoping to make while president of the college.
In some ways I don’t yet know, but one thing I will say about change is that it is guaranteed, it’s constant and it happens now at a faster rate than any time in our history. We as an institution need to be flexible, nimble and adaptive because that’s what the city is going through, that’s what our students and their families are going through. As change happens how can we help support people in our constituents who engage with the college to adjust to those changes? The challenge for us is how do we prepare students? How do we prepare Canisius graduates for a job that may not exist in 10 or 15 years? That’s the challenge for us. Based on my conversations with the faculty leadership, they’re up to that task, they’re very excited about that task, and we view it through the prism of our Catholic Jesuit values and our liberal arts foundation. That’s how you prepare someone for an unending sea of change. It is grounding in the liberal arts. It is how you think about the world around you and how you interact with that world. It’s how you analyze information. It’s how you make critical judgments about right and wrong.
What would you say that students can expect with you in leadership?
A fierce advocate. As the president of the college, my primary role is to be an advocate and support our students. Their success is what I live and breathe for. Someone who will listen and understand- listen with empathy and understand their concerns, fears, things that stress them. Student mental health is the most pressing challenge for colleges and universities now so how we support our students through this change in our society. When we think about economics, the economic inequities, or the social injustices, or the environmental degradation, when we think about the large social universal challenges that are facing us, those are things our students care about.
Can you talk about the power that a college president has in setting the tone for the student body, or really the overall college experience for students?
I believe in creating an environment and building a team and leading a team where our goals are clear, and those goals are infused with student success.
I learned through this process that the seal of the college says “Canisius College of Buffalo.” So, we’re not just in Buffalo, but we are part of the fabric of this city. Leading for me means setting the tone from the top. It means being engaged, being present and creating an experience that excites our students and that they want to be a part of and the same applies for a community. It’s also about collaboration. No institution, no person can do it alone. We have to think about being in Buffalo differently, think about how we engage with the city and our partners in the city differently, and really grow and develop deep, meaningful collaboration. I want our community to be excited and engaged about Canisius, whether it is through athletics or through speaker series or however we can serve.
Can you speak to the talk behind Canisius college becoming a university?
I grew up in Trinidad and I immigrated to the US, and my high schools are called colleges. As demographics continue to shift in the US, particularly in Western New York, we have to think more globally. The challenge is we have 152 years of history that we have to respect. My understanding is that the leadership and the trustees at Canisius are monitoring the situation and are considering whether this would be appropriate.
I assume it’s something I will have to address in my tenure. That for me means having conversations, listening, and understanding what this would mean for our community because I’m sure like so many issues, there will be some people who say you absolutely have to do this and there will be others who are connected to the name Canisius College. We have to listen and empathize and understand that those are valid- both sides are valid- and find the best solution for the institution.
Are there any words you have for the student body?
I am looking forward to being a part of the team that supports them in accomplishing their goals. I am excited about meeting them, all of them, as many of them as I can, getting to know them, building relationships, and supporting them. If I can do that for our students, then I can rest comfortably knowing that I have served them well.