Wednesday, April 7, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Although frankly, it’s bound to be a pretty rough morning in Sudbury, in the midst of a rough 3 months. Yesterday, Laurentian’s senate finally got a first (and last) look at the administration’s proposal to close programs and restructure faculty – in a secret, all-day meeting – and within hours they were forced to endorse the plan.
We still don’t know what they approved. Under the terms of the CCAA, it apparently has to be kept secret until put before the creditors. Much like the secret correspondence between the university administration and the provincial ministry back in January. All this secrecy is quite naturally fuelling conspiracy theories, anxiety and suspicion.
Right now, we don’t know what’s alive and what’s dead at Laurentian, based on that in camera vote. (Hence my allusion to Schrödinger.) But we do know that Laurentian’s administration has done its level best to kill off the federated universities – its own progenitors. (Insert your own Oedipal reference here.)
It’s going to take most of today’s newsletter to catch up on the mess in Sudbury. But first, some CdnPSE updates…
Since yesterday, there have been 47 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of ~2,180 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)
Brock U reported yesterday a total of 50 cases in its residence outbreak (up from 45 yesterday). 46 cases are resolved, and 42 students are currently in isolation. Brock News
Trent U reported 7 active cases in residence (up from 3 I reported yesterday). Global
uWaterloo reported 3 more cases in its residence outbreak, bringing the total to 37. UW
Western U now has 83 cases of COVID19 connected with the 6 active outbreaks in campus residences (up 35 from yesterday’s report). Current counts are 30 in Saugeen-Maitland Hall, 19 in Medway-Sydenham Hall, 14 in Ontario Hall, 9 in Elgin Hall, 6 in Delaware Hall, and 5 in Essex Hall. CBC
Despite challenging pandemic conditions in the near term, CdnPSE is continuing to make optimistic announcements for Fall 2021. (Check out all of them on a single page here.) Since last time…
Algoma U is targeting a “fairly active” return to all 3 campus this fall, if Canadians get vaccinated on schedule. “Algoma’s students can expect a gradual return to campus with a mix of online, in-class and blended instruction to start the 2021-2022 academic year.” Sault Star
Mohawk College announced last Wednesday it “is confident that we will be bringing more students and employees back to campus for classes and labs, and other on-campus activities this September.” Despite the fact that Hamilton re-entered lockdown last week, fall plans “are not based on where we are today, but where we think we will be.” Mohawk notes that “any decision regarding mandatory vaccination would be made by the province.” Mohawk
Northern College announced “a tentative return to a new normal” for Fall, on Apr 1. Northern “intends to welcome students back to a traditional learning environment as much as possible, utilizing high flex options, modernized by the lessons learned from this unprecedented pandemic, barring any unforeseen changes in the pandemic situation between now and September.” Student satisfaction over the past year has remained “in the high 90th percentile.” Northern
Queen’s U principal Patrick Deane announced yesterday that “the university is planning for a resumption of in-person activity in September.” Although much remains unknown, the administration is hopeful that “most of the restrictions will be lifted” by September, and that daily operations will be “much closer to what prevailed prior to the pandemic.” Current plans “includes flexibility for staff with a gradual return.” Queen’s Gazette
Sault College anticipates a return to on-campus activity at its Sault Ste Marie, Toronto and Brampton campuses this fall, but remote delivery will continue if COVID19 conditions remain the same or similar to now. Sault
“We understand the need for social connection and the shared learning that occurs when we have face to face activities and shared experiences. We have also gained a much better appreciation of some of the advantages of working remotely. Simply put, we will put together the best of both worlds going forward when COVID19 is finally under control.” – Ron Common, president, Sault College
At 10pm the evening before Good Friday, the height of the Christian calendar, Laurentian U dropped a bombshell on its religious federated universities. Then yesterday came the “day of reckoning” in the LU Senate. Here’s a quick recap of what we know (and what I suspect) so far…
The Sordid Tale So Far
Since Laurentian U announced its insolvency and CCAA creditor protection on Feb 1, I’ve been watching developments there with concern and sadness. I recapped the warning signs starting back on May 1 2020, as LU edged closer to the brink. LU lawyers insisted that it needed to “right size” programs and faculty, while LUFA lawyers objected to attempts to “gut the collective agreement.” We learned that $36M in research funds had been misappropriated, students and research assistants were owed money, suppliers doubted they would ever see payment, and employees worried about their pensions. (Despite LU’s insistence that this is not a bankruptcy proceeding, it really might as well be.) Last week, faculty members were given more of an “ultimatum” than a retirement incentive package, and asked to provide irrevocable written notice of their intention to retire with just 4 days’ notice.
Tough Love from MCU
The Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) clearly knew about the CCAA move in advance, although we don’t know what they had to say about it. I told the Globe & Mail in early February that the province seemed to be practicing “tough love,” waiting for LU to develop a more sustainable financial model (and stiff most of its creditors, including employees and retirees) before stepping up with a bailout. By March 1, Sudbury MPP Jamie West was warning that LU would potentially cut one-third of all faculty and programs, and OCUFA was astounded that MCU “knew that Laurentian was heading toward the edge of a fiscal cliff and chose to do nothing.”
In late January there was secret correspondence between LU administration and MCU (just 5 days before the CCAA action was announced) which the court ordered sealed because its contents could be “detrimental to any potential restructuring.” (Did the Minister direct LU to seek creditor protection, merely support the idea, or in fact offer millions in emergency financing that LU turned down?) The unions lost their fight to unseal the correspondence, so we still don’t know.
Conflicting Messages from MCU
The government has consistently made it clear that it will protect students from the fallout, but it has been sending contradictory signals about the institution itself for months. On Mar 10, MCU minister Ross Romano assured the public that “students at Laurentian should feel comfortable continuing their studies at Laurentian because our government is committed to Laurentian University.” MCU encouraged granting agencies to continue to support LU projects. Yet when Ontario distributed $106M in emergency pandemic funding to PSEs last month, Laurentian got zero. Just last week, Ontario’s education minister reaffirmed that the government is “going to continue to be there for Laurentian.” (They have a strange way of showing it.) Then again, as one local resident wrote to the Sudbury Star, “when Sudbury votes NDP, it gets the leftovers.”
LU has taken pride for years in its bilingual, tricultural mandate, and its commitment to the Francophone and Indigenous communities of northern Ontario. Yet many of the dedicated indigenous and francophone programs struggle with lower enrolments and class sizes, raising concerns throughout the past 2 months about LU’s commitment to either in insolvency. uSudbury’s board of regents proposed it drop English-language programming to focus on becoming an independent Francophone university. LU’s Native Education Councilwent public with its concern that uSudbury might abandon its English Indigenous Studies program. LU president Robert Haché broke his silence to issue a media statement that “a new Laurentian will provide our community with the opportunity to reinvent itself and deepen its commitment to Indigenous and French-language education.” (Nobody is feeling particularly reassured.)
Day of Reckoning
In mid-March, Haché told LU’s Senate that the CCAA restructuring plan would need to be finalized and approved by Senate with just a few days’ notice, or “the university will cease to function as of April 30.” (In employment law, I’m pretty sure that would be called “duress.”) It turns out, in fact, that senators had just hours to review the plan and vote on it. LU Senate spent most of yesterday in camera to review the administration’s restructuring plan, reportedly including program terminations and the reorganization of faculty and departments. No documents were provided until the meeting itself began. There was reportedly no opportunity to defer a decision or amend the proposal: “Senate faced the choice of either accepting the omnibus motion or having Laurentian University close its doors after April 30.” Economics prof David Robinson observed that Senators were facing the classic “trolly problem”: cut some jobs in order to save others.
“If the recommendation to the Senate is turned down, the university will cease to function as of April 30. It is not an if, and, or maybe. That’s when the money runs out.” – Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U
“We are being asked to engage in a process that is deeply unethical.” – Jen Jonson, Assoc Prof, Dept Chair, Senator, Laurentian U
“Asking the senate to consider and vote on an omnibus programming package, without input on the academic criteria and in the span of a single day during an in-camera session is a clear violation of collegial governance, senate’s mandate and the responsibility of a public institution to the community it serves.” – Rahul Sapra, president, OCUFA
Let the Bankers Decide
Media are being told that details of the LU Senate discussion cannot be released under the terms of the CCAA process, and so far virtually nothing has leaked. The next step is to propose the restructuring plan to major creditors, particularly 3 big banks: RBC (owed $71M), TD ($18.5M) and BMO ($1.3M). Labour studies prof Reuben Roth explains that creditors are the major decision-makers under the CCAA: “‘Laurentian 2.0,’ as Robert Haché describes it, will largely be, if not made by banks, approved by 3 of Canada’s big 6 banks.” Any future funding from the province will come too late to save the programs on the chopping block. “Laurentian won’t be allowed to fail, but the Laurentian that survives will be a fraction of its current self.” Sudbury Star
Collapse of the Federation
From the beginning, the federated universities (Thorneloe, Huntington, and uSudbury) were clearly in the administration’s cross-hairs, and were being set up as scapegoats for LU’s insolvency. In late February, LU said it would “re-evaluate the federated universities model in such a way that recognizes and preserves their historic significance while ensuring that the relationship reflects the current financial realities of each organization.” Last week, LU announced (at 10pm on April Fool’s Day) that it was unilaterally terminating agreements with its 3 federated universities effective May 1, and keeping “millions of dollars” in flow-through government funding for itself. (Since the smaller institutions do not have independent degree-granting authority, the fact that they still own buildings and residence halls – on land owned by LU – makes little difference. Their storied histories come to an abrupt end. And MCU has made it clear they do not fund religious institutions.) LUFA called the move “a betrayal.” Faculty and students are facing uncertainty about their futures in the midst of final exams, and are naturally ready to “jump ship.”
“The federated universities… are deeply embedded in Laurentian’s culture. This action will tear a hole in the fabric of the university’s mission, one that may prove impossible to repair.” – Christopher Duncanson-Hales, prof, uSudbury
If you’ve seen season 3 of Star Trek Discovery, you know that the Federation collapsed in the 32nd century because of a cataclysm called “The Burn.” LU’s announcement last week effectively “burned” the federated universities too. And then, the administration made a grab for their programs and students…
You Will Be Assimilated
LU says that students enrolled in programs at the federated universities will be offered a place at Laurentian “in a similar or alternative program.” Huntington U and uSudbury have reportedly already cancelled their spring semester classes. Thorneloe’s attorneys are applying for a court order, since there is no termination provision in the 60-year-old agreement. “We will oppose this attempt by Laurentian to shut down Thorneloe as a scapegoat for Laurentian’s self-inflicted financial problems.” The organization “Save Our Sudbury” estimates the dissolution of the federation will cost Sudbury $15M in annual economic impact. Faculty watching unique francophone and Indigenous programming disappear remark that “this will forever be a stain on Laurentian University, like the Residential School is to Canada’s history.”
“Termination of the federation agreements was necessary in order to ensure that millions of dollars paid by Laurentian to the federated universities each year relating to the delivery of programs and courses will remain within Laurentian, as part of its path to future financial sustainability.” – Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U
Watching Laurentian exterminate its federated, founding institutions so abruptly makes it impossible to believe the hypocrisy of its official Apr 1 release: “We remain proud of these three federated institutions and the pivotal role they have played in our community’s history, whose traditions we will continue to celebrate at Laurentian.” No April Fools’ gag writer could have done irony better.
There are some 27 affiliated or federated religious colleges at Ontario universities, and one has been in the news lately too, for seeking to rewrite the terms of its agreement. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at what’s been happening between Huron and Western U.
If, like me, you need a little puppy therapy after all that bleak stuff in Sudbury, here’s a suggestion…
Meet Yale’s Handsome Dan
Actually, 12-week-old Kingman is Yale’s 19th furry mascot, Handsome Dan XIX. (And nephew to Handsome Dan XVIII.) In this 4-min video, handler and recent Yale grad Kassandra Haro gives us a look behind the scenes at her job, and Kingman’s, from Zoom calls and photo shoots to maintaining his Twitter and Instagram accounts. (Oh, and of course, chewing his own tail and playing with his lobster, Brewster.) YouTube
As always, thanks for reading! (My sincere apologies to those of you at Laurentian.)
Please 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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