Eduvation Blog

Deficits, Data Breaches, and Determination

Good morning, and TGIF!

As usual, I started writing this morning’s issue with a very different plan in mind, but the most significant CdnPSE news in recent days has coalesced around financial challenges and remediations (not just at Laurentian, but also at uAlberta and across BC), cyberattacks and data breaches (at Laurentian, SFU and now Lakehead too), and numerous announcements about plans for spring, summer and fall. We’ve also seen 2 more universities announce pass/fail options for the Winter term, and some promising news out of McMaster about one of my favourite orientation/onboarding programs…


Choppy Finances

As colleges and universities across the country struggle with increased expenses and often decreased revenues, the government of BC has acknowledged the inevitability of some deficit budgets…

British Columbia’s government has announced an exemption to its balanced-budget rule which will permit 20 colleges and universities to run deficits totalling $179M in 2020-21, and 17 project another $75M shortfall for 2021-22.  Victoria News


uAlberta has provided an update on its initiative to downsize its campus footprint…

uAlberta’s VP Facilities & Operations provided an update last week on the “Integrated Asset Management Strategy,” which brings all campus space planning and asset management together, to address deferred maintenance and maximize productive space. Major renewal projects include the Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre and the Lister Centre. While “the decision to decommission or demolish any of the university’s infrastructure is never easy,” UofA decommissioned Michener Park and removed Alumni House, and is removing a set of “Ring Houses” on the North Campus. “Space densification” in other buildings will “reduce our reliance on leased space.”  The Quad

“Given that the UofA has the largest inventory of facilities assets among Canadian universities, and limited resources, [extending the life of existing infrastructure] is unfortunately not always possible. The decision to decommission or demolish any of the university’s infrastructure is never easy, with many factors guiding the decision.”Andrew Sharman, VP Facilities & Operations, uAlberta


Meanwhile, higher ed across North America continues to watch the slow-motion train wreck unfold in Sudbury…

Laurentian U has been startlingly quiet in public since filing for creditor protection 18 days ago. President Robert Haché published a “difficult but optimistic message” on Feb 1, indicating that “our financial health is currently amongst the weakest in the province” but that “we intend to change that.” (There was no acknowledgement of the many vendors, partners and researchers who would suddenly be left high and dry by the CCAA move, but of course they have been speaking out ever since.)

“We are facing unprecedented financial challenges and our financial health is currently amongst the weakest in the province compared to other universities. We intend to change that… if all stakeholders work together to implement a vision for Laurentian that includes more financially sustainable operations.”Robert Haché, President, Laurentian U


Then on Tuesday, Haché penned an op-ed in the Sudbury Star emphasizing that “students come first” at Laurentian, and sharing a few details of the first senate, board, and court hearings since the CCAA filing. 6 senators have been elected to represent Senate through the process. Over the next 3 months, Laurentian will restructure its operations and academic programs “with a bottom-line focus on student interest, financial sustainability, and strong outcomes.”

“We, Northern Ontario’s oldest university, are insolvent and the decision to commence proceedings under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) was not one that was made easily or lightly.”Robert Haché, President, Laurentian U


In blunter terms, CTV reported that the judge’s ruling Feb 11 will allow Laurentian to “permanently or temporarily cease, downsize or shut down any of its business or operations,” and “terminate the employment… or temporarily lay off such of its employees as they deem appropriate.” The mediator, Justice Sean Dunphy, will help guide the process of job cuts, negotiate a new collective agreement, review the federated universities model, and resolve >100 outstanding grievances filed by the faculty association. (That is a ton of work to complete by Apr 30!) The court order allows Laurentian to “ignore all freedom of information requests” and to stop making monthly top-up payments into its pension plan. The only constraint on Laurentian’s restructuring is that it cannot “cause any current students… to be unable to continue and complete courses that they are already enrolled in.” Laurentian’s counsel argued that “fundamentally, there are too many courses and programs taught by too many faculty for too few students.”

But there could be worse to come…



Mo’ Cyber Problems

You may recall I spent an entire issue on cyberattacks and challenges back in January. Just last Friday, I summarized a press conference from Saskatchewan Polytechnic, who has worked for 3 months to recover from its own attack. Now more CdnPSEs are struggling – and cyber liability threatens to make Laurentian’s financial crisis worse…

Laurentian U has a lengthy list of creditors in its CCAA filing, including media outlets, charities, construction companies, and of course banks (RBC for $71.6M and TD for $18.4M). In all, the list totals $181.74M – and many amounts remain “TBD.” The second-largest creditor, however, is a class-action lawsuit for a 2017 data breach of ~3,000 students’ information, worth an estimated $45M. (A computer science student at the time hacked into university servers, although no data was taken or altered. He was sentenced to 25 hours of community service.) The class action certification is on hold because of the insolvency, and Laurentian is seeking to have the hearing stayed.  Timmins Daily Press

Simon Fraser U reports that one of its servers was subject to a cyberattack on Feb 5. The data breach may have affected 200,000 people, since the server stored information on current and former students, faculty, staff and applicants. The data included ID numbers but not banking details, SIN numbers or passwords. (In Feb 2020, SFU was the victim of a ransomware attack that compromised the data of 250,000 students, faculty and alumni.)  CBC

Lakehead U confirmed a cyberattack yesterday that required all computers on the Thunder Bay and Orillia campuses to be shut down immediately. All data and services hosted by the university, including website and file sharing drives, were taken offline, and Google-based services like email were unavailable for several hours.  CBC

In a tweet yesterday morning, Lakehead warned that all data on its file share servers will be inaccessible until IT can assess what information was affected. The Provost’s office tweeted yesterday afternoon that inability to access the LMS, D2L, could impact students and that assignments, exams, and key dates in the academic calendar are being reviewed. “We appreciate your patience as we work to restore services for the delivery of courses next week.” (As of midnight last night, the Lakehead website remained offline.)


COVID on Campus

As always, the examples from the US are extreme…

uVirginia officials blamed “widespread noncompliance with campus health guidelines” for the 779 active cases of COVID19 currently on campus. Even while cases are dropping in the surrounding region, half of the UVA cases were reported in the past week. Just 18 are employees. An undefined number of cases are the UK variant. In-person classes are apparently going to continue. The student council president blames “a degree of entitlement” in fraternities and sororities holding in-person rush events the weekend before.  Washington Post


Since Wednesday, I have added 2 more COVID19 cases associated with CdnPSE. (Many cases go unreported, but see my master spreadsheet for a running tally.)

uWaterloo reported another case on campus Wednesday.  UW

Durham College reported another case on its Whitby campus Thursday.  DC

Windsor Regional Hospital reported another outbreak Wednesday in the Clinical Teaching Unit at the Ouellette Campus. (Not quite on campus, but the CTU provides field placements to students, presumably.) 3 patients have tested positive, and other patients and staff are being tested.  CBC


And then there’s the misbehaviour that may lead to cases on campus soon…

UBC students were fined >$5,000 on Saturday by University RCMP, for social gatherings that violated PHO orders. 2 party organizers were fined $2,300 each, and 2 partygoers were fined $230 each.  CTV


Spring, Summer, Fall

Quebec premier François Legault has presided over “arguably Canada’s worst pandemic response,” but is nonetheless pushing to reopen schools and businesses…

Montreal universities and Cégeps are “in the planning phases” for returning to class as urged by the provincial government. “It won’t be happening anytime soon en masse.” A McGill student union spokesperson says the administration seems to be prepared for the logistics, but the students and staff have all “settled into the idea” of a fully online semester, and many are living outside QC or outside Canada. As of Feb 8, some optional in-person activities resumed at McGill, and the government has made it clear that it expects a return to class “as quickly as possible.” (It gave institutions 2 weeks to comply.)  Global


CdnPSE announcements continue to roll in regarding the spring/summer terms (spoiler: if they’re announcing anything, it’s blended or online)…

Algonquin College announced Wednesday that all its campuses have transitioned out of lockdown (grey) and that numerous campus restaurants, retail and athletic facilities are again open. Under the campus access policy, however, only “students participating in hands-on instruction and authorized employees who support these activities” are permitted on campus. Acting president Chris Janzen added that the “current model of limited on-campus and primarily remote course delivery” will continue through the Spring term (and Fall – see below).  AC

Lambton College will extend its “Hybrid Academic Plan” into the Spring term. Theory-based courses will be offered online, labs F2F, and services provided both remotely and in-person. “Conversations” about Fall 2021 have “begun.”  Education News Canada

Loyalist College announced last week that Spring/Summer 2021 program delivery will be blended or entirely remote, like Winter 2021. Although the region has reopened in the “Green” zone, Loyalist will continue to follow the “Grey” (Lockdown) stay-at-home order, “because so many of our students and employees travel to and from other regions.”  LC


Likewise, any announcements about Spring convocations have been virtual ones…

Vancouver Island U is planning a virtual convocation celebration on Jun 24.  VIU

uWaterloo will hold its Spring 2021 convocation in June as a virtual, online event.  UW


The outlook for Fall, as I’ve said before, is still too close to call (for the first time in a year). It’s certainly reasonable to assume, with the Winnipeg PHO, that CdnPSE will be delivered in some form of blended approach. And while McMaster may well end up there too, so far they are making much more optimistic sounds…

Algonquin College announced Wednesday that the “current model of limited on-campus and primarily remote course delivery” will continue through the Fall term, but that “we remain prepared to expand on-campus offerings in Fall 2021, pending any changes with the pandemic and public health guidelines, and factoring in students’ ability to transition to in-person activities.” Algonquin provide updates on any changes for Fall by “early summer.”  AC

Red River College says the PHO “has told us that a blended approach combining both remote and in-person working and learning will continue to be part of our College’s operations for the rest of the calendar year – including the fall 2021 academic term.”  RRC

“As current public health orders continue to evolve and adapt to the pandemic’s pressures, we continue to work collaboratively with Public Health, who has told us that a blended approach combining both remote and in-person working and learning will continue to be part of our College’s operations for the rest of the calendar year – including the fall 2021 academic term.”Red River College


McMaster U announced Wednesday that, “though there are still many unknowns about how the pandemic will progress, the shape of the Fall 2021 semester remains at the top of our minds.” A “Return to McMaster” group of committees has been formed, to guide “agile and evidence-based” planning about the Fall. The Oversight Committee will develop guiding principles. The COVID19 Expert Advisory Committee will include researchers with expertise in vaccine development and distribution, testing, and public health. Other committees will represent the employee and student experience, teaching and research.  McMaster Daily News



Supporting Students

More universities have announced cr/ncr options for students this term, and one is reporting on a successful onboarding program launched last fall…

uCalgary announced last week that undergrads will have the option to convert one course grade of C- or higher in the Winter 2021 term to a CR (“Completed Requirements”), “to support student mental health and wellness.” Grad students can convert one grade of B- or higher.  UC

McMaster U’s “Archway” program was launched in summer 2020 to help incoming first-year students overcome the academic, social and personal challenges of learning in an online environment. So far, >4,500 students have been placed in cohorts of 35, led by 200 mentors. Intuitively, the program seemed like a great initiative to me, and anecdotally many students sing its praises – but now a group of researchers will be analyzing its effectiveness in a longitudinal cohort study.  McMaster Daily News

Wilfrid Laurier U’s senate announced Jan 27 that students will have the option to convert up to 0.5 credits in the Winter 2021 term to a “credit” format.  WLU




Although they’re perhaps a bit TOO short for maximum impact, 2 new spots from PEI’s Holland College nicely reflect the balance between uncertainty and determination that CdnPSE fall reopening discussions are also highlighting…

Define What’s Next!

Holland College released a 6-sec and 15-sec commercial last week aimed at prospective students “on the fence about college because you don’t know what’s next.” Instead, it urges them to “define what’s next” – illustrated with fast-paced clips of students in a variety of hands-on programs, preparing for rewarding careers. (I’d rather see a 30-sec version, guys…)


As always, thanks for reading!

Perhaps you’re winding up your reading week, or about to start it, or neither – but I hope you enjoy some R&R this weekend!

Be safe and stay well,


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