Eduvation Blog

Derailing the Laurentian “Hijacking”

Good morning, and happy “World Tapir Day” (if you’re into herbivorous mammals with prehensile snouts).  

As more and more institutions wrap up their winter academic term, with students either finishing or finished their exams, springtime weather is bringing the usual high spirits and irresponsible partying. In Ontario, which has been the epicentre of PSE cases for months, students are moving out of residence – but nonetheless Queen’s has new outbreaks in 2 residence halls, and Western has 14 more cases on campus.

Atlantic Canada is experiencing a sudden reversal of COVID19 fortunes as their case counts climb, while Ontario and Quebec numbers are levelling off. Now NSCC has reported 2 new cases, and UNB is facing a significant outbreak in residence, perhaps involving the Indian variant. Several PSEs in Fredericton have abruptly closed their campuses for 72 hours as more testing occurs.

But yesterday was my summary of the pandemic, lockdowns, plans for Fall and mandatory vaccines – today we turn back to Sudbury. The fate of Laurentian hangs on court proceedings later this week…



The Cataclysm Continues

The Laurentian saga continues to unfold, and I confess the details seem more and more sordid the more we learn. (For the recap of everything I’ve reported, in chronological order, since the story broke Feb 1, check out the Insider Recap, “Laurentian in Limbo.”) Since my reports last Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 65 news stories have crossed my desk! Here’s what’s really NEW in it all…


Online Materials Evaporate

Several LU students report that their course materials have abruptly disappeared from D2L, the campus LMS, while they were still working to finish final papers. Faculty members apparently were unaware of the deletions, in courses and programs that are slated to be closed. The LU website “went through some cataclysmic changes last week” too, observes one prof, with a lot of content associated with the cut programs and terminated faculty deleted.  The Lambda


Half of NOSM’s Budget at Risk

Last week the Ontario government abruptly announced that it would begin the process to make uHearst and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine autonomous institutions – without consulting the universities. NOSM had requested funding to compensate for >$20M sucked into the LU black hole: $14M in NOSM endowments, $1.6M in NOSM tuition fees, and $6M in NOSM research money which LU was supposed to transfer to NOSM. (NOSM’s entire annual budget is just $50M.) Instead, MCU pushed NOSM towards independence, to make it “more agile and nimble.” Lakehead U and the city of Thunder Bay have been outspoken in their opposition to the plan.  Globe & Mail


NOSM Accreditation at Risk?

Geoff Tesson, former executive director of health initiatives at LU (who helped launch NOSM), observes that the medical school would in fact be weakened if it were made independent from Laurentian and Lakehead. All Canadian medical schools are associated with universities, and NOSM’s programs are approved by 2 university senates, who grant MD degrees to its graduates. “To split NOSM off from its university hosts puts at risk its continuing accreditation, which is fundamental to its success.”  Sudbury Star


Concerns about Northern Healthcare

The closure of LU’s midwifery programs (in French and English), radiation therapy program, and collaborative nursing program (with Collège Boréal) will have a profoundly negative impact on healthcare in northern Ontario, say patient advocates, NDP politicians, and current LU students. The midwifery program in particular was fully funded by MCU and the ministry of Health, and graduates a third of Ontario’s midwives each year – but Robert Haché alleges “it is difficult for LU to solely rely on grant funding,” and complains that MCU imposed a cap of 30 new students each year.  Toronto Star  |  Sudbury Star  |


Cutting SNOLAB Loose

Astrophysicist Art McDonald, Nobel laureate and former director of the SNOLAB neutrino facility near Sudbury, says LU’s elimination of the physics department will “severely impact the university’s research funding, as it loses some of the greatest minds in science.” Some of the terminated faculty played a big role in the research that won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics. With the loss of Physics and Math, LU will no longer be able to participate in astrophysics research, and the city of Sudbury has been “cut off… from having a substantial role academically in the experiments that are ongoing at SNOLAB.”  CBC



Derailing a “Hijacking”

Supporters of Sudbury, higher ed, Francophone and Indigenous rights, and astrophysics have been outspoken in opposition to the unprecedented CCAA proceedings at LU…


Seeking to Derail a Hijacking

Opposition NDP politicians from northern Ontario and across Canada held a virtual town hall Saturday “to discuss ways of derailing the CCAA financial restructuring process” at LU, by pressuring provincial and federal leaders to take action. “The first round was done in the darkness. It was done without scrutiny,” according to Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus. “What’s going on at Laurentian is not a CCAA. It’s a hijacking,” said former union leader Leo Gerard. (The USW raised ~$500K for scholarships in programs that have now been cut.) The NDP is calling for a “moratorium” on the CCAA proceedings.


“What’s going on at Laurentian is not a CCAA. It’s a hijacking!”Leo Gerard, former international leader, United Steel Workers



“We put 60 years into this university… We are invested in Laurentian, we are not letting it go, we are holding the government’s feet to the fire every day and you can damn well be assured we’re going to make sure the Trudeau government comes to the table to save Laurentian.”Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay



“No Comment” from MCU

Last Friday, Ontario minister of colleges and universities Ross Romano tried to hold an upbeat media conference to tout the province’s $60M microcredentials strategy – but regional and national news outlets all focused on the repeated questions from reporters about the fate of Laurentian U. Romano’s response was almost always that he could not comment on a matter in court under CCAA, in which the government “is not a party.”  Sault Star


Sunk by the Weight of its Buildings

Radio-Canada hired an independent expert to review LU’s finances, and his conclusion is that a massive $163M campus expansion over the past 7 years boosted LU’s debt from $60M to $102M, while enrolment stayed flat. Robert Haché’s restructuring plan proposes to rent or sell at least 20% of LU’s campus space.  Radio-Canada


Senate Urges Emergency Funding

In Ottawa, the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages adopted a motion Apr 19 to urge the federal government to work with the provinces to create an emergency assistance fund for CdnPSEs serving minority-language communities and whose survival is threatened by financial insecurity. “We must prevent other post-secondary institutions serving official language minority communities from suffering the same turmoil as Laurentian University and Campus Saint-Jean.”


uSudbury Pulls no Punches

As I described last week, uSudbury has formed a committee to steer it on a path to independence as northern Ontario’s francophone university, and it is suing the court to grant it a reprieve from LU’s unilateral attempt to divert its funding, instead seeking to take over itself “all programs, courses and services offered in French at Laurentian University, as well as facilities and related resources.” uS argues that LU’s insolvency is doing “irreparable harm” to the Franco-Ontarian community, but moreover that LU has demonstrated a “lack of interest” in francophone services “for more than a decade.” (Not surprisingly, LU disagrees.) A hearing on the motions by uSudbury and Thorneloe U is scheduled for Apr 29.  CTV



Next Steps

On Thursday, the courts will hear motions from uSudbury and Thorneloe U, and Laurentian’s fate will be determined as the CCAA proceedings either move into phase 2, or fall apart…


Moving into Phase 2

Last Friday, LU’s administration filed affidavits with the CCAA court to confirm it had successfully “renegotiated” collective agreements, terminated staff and faculty, cut programs, and unilaterally renounced the federation, in order to move into phase 2 of the proceedings this Friday (Apr 30). President Robert Haché acknowledged that the process so far had been “disruptive and unsettling,” but claims he is “committed to doing whatever it takes to regain any ground that may have been lost” in rebuilding damaged confidence and relationships. If approved, phase 2 would see LU obtain a further $10M in working capital to survive until Aug 31.  CTV


“We are a community in mourning for the Laurentian that we once knew, a University whose future we must ensure… The University is changing, and it has to change. We are undergoing a seismic shift. And the transition period will be arduous, as these past two months have underscored. From this point, we can only go forward.”Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U



Phase 2 of the CCAA sounds like liquidation of assets and negotiating pennies on the pound for creditors…


Real Estate Fire Sale?

According to its most recent court filing, LU intends to review its real estate holdings in phase 2 “to determine what assets may exist that could be monetized for the benefit of stakeholders, or that could create future financial efficiencies.” This would include real estate and “buildings leased to other parties.” (This sounds like a veiled threat to sell off the land beneath the federated universities.)  CBC


A “Sad Note” for Music

Yoko Hirota, chair of LU’s music department, is heartbroken that the program has been eliminated. “We are the hub of the North and also the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra.” Although students are being assisted to transfer to other universities, she is also concerned that LU will liquidate the music department’s expensive instruments to generate quick cash. (Donations helped pay $30,000 for a grand piano, and $10,000 for each upright.) “That’s going to break my heart, definitely. If we lose them we cannot rebuild the music program here at Laurentian, or here in Sudbury.”  CBC


More Turmoil Ahead

Successful extension of CCAA protection on Friday won’t help the students and faculty impacted by LU’s restructuring, says one of them – “it just extends the secrecy of the process.” CCAA prevents terminated employees from accessing severance, says Reuben Roth, and uncertainty is driving students to consider other universities. “The school will continue in turmoil and students will flee. They are leaving in droves right now.” Sudbury Star


You can bet we’ll be discussing Laurentian again on Friday…




Spring Fever

As higher ed completes the Winter term, students are moving out of residence and population densities are declining – so we might expect fewer outbreaks as well. That being said, many students have been celebrating the end of exams with irresponsible behaviour…


Dalhousie U is considering “disciplinary action,” including “immediate suspension,” after Halifax police ticketed 22 people $1,000 each for attending a large social gathering Friday night, despite the regional lockdown. (Apparently students boasted on social media that the tickets were “#worthit” so the province is now doubling the fine to $2,000.)  CTV


Hundreds of Ohio State U students threw a destructive outdoor “rave” just blocks from campus last weekend – overturning at least 5 cars, breaking several house windows, and smashing hundreds of beer cans. Police dispatched >30 squad cars to shut the party down at 3am Sunday. OSU is working with local police to hold rioting students accountable, with sanctions ranging from formal reprimand to probation, suspension or dismissal.  Newsweek


Queen’s U principal Patrick Deane confirmed last week that 40 students were disciplined, and a “significant amount” in residence were evicted, for failure to comply with COVID19 guidelines. Queen’s recently experienced 2 outbreaks, logged 176 cases Mar 8 – Apr 11, and was responsible for almost one-quarter of all cases in Kingston. (And 2 more halls have now been affected – see below.)  Global News



COVID on Campus

Since Friday, there have been 36 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of 2,600+ cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)  

Brock U reported a confirmed case on campus Friday, and another yesterday.  Apr 23  Apr 26

McMaster U reported a confirmed staff case on campus yesterday.  Mac

Mohawk College reported Thursday an on-campus employee at its Stoney Creek campus had tested positive.  Mohawk


Outbreaks at UNB Fredericton

Yesterday, public health declared an outbreak of at least 6 confirmed cases at the Fred Magee House residence on the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus, and more cases may be to come. (The apartment-style residences are for mature students and their families, with young children who may be in local daycares.) “The transmission pattern of the variant in this outbreak is very concerning,” says the CMOH, who also announced the first case of the India variant (B.1.617) in the province. Other residents, family members and staff of Magee House are awaiting test results, and residents and staff at Elizabeth Parr-Johnston residence will be tested today, due to “an exposure.” All residents are self-isolating, and are not permitted to leave campus for any reason, including moving home. (Students are complaining to Global News about groceries, food service and garbage removal.) Early yesterday UNB restricted access to campus and moved to an essential services model for 72 hours. Adjacent St Thomas U and NBCC Fredericton have done likewise.  NB  |  UNB  |  CBC


Niagara College reported a case at its Niagara-on-the-Lake campus Friday.  NC

Nova Scotia Community College reported a case on its Akerley campus Sunday, and another case on its Ivany campus yesterday. (This doubles the cases I have noted at NSCC since Sept.)  Akerley  |  Ivany

Queen’s U reported outbreaks in 2 campus residences on Sunday, in the midst of the school’s move-out period. So far, 10 students have tested positive in Chown Hall and Victoria Hall. (>300 cases have been linked to Queen’s.)  Global News

Western U’s residence outbreaks have added 14 cases since my last report. The latest totals are 21 in Delaware Hall (up 1), 15 in Elgin Hall, 12 in Essex Hall, 10 in London Hall (up 4), 34 in Medway-Sydenham Hall (up 1), 18 in Ontario Hall (up 1), 31 in Perth Hall (up 3), and 58 in Saugeen-Maitland Hall (up 4).  Global News





As always, thanks for reading!

 Please do drop me a line if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool happening on your campus, or elsewhere in the world!

 Stay safe and be well,


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