Wednesday, May 26, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Blueberry Cheesecake Day (if you’re into that).
(I must have lost substantial geek cred yesterday, by omitting to mention both Towel Day and Geek Pride Day. Mea culpa! It’s a very busy week for me.)
Today, I’m excited to be delivering a virtual keynote to CAUCE 2021 on how Continuing Education is “Moving to Centre Stage” as higher ed pursues greater flexibility and lifelong learning.
But this morning, we look north again, to the slow-motion train wreck in Sudbury – insolvency proceedings at Laurentian that professor emeritus Bill Crumplin colourfully describes as “dropping an asteroid from space that is going to leave a fresh crater in our city.”
It’s not pretty, but I can’t look away…
It’s been more than 2 weeks since I revisited the Laurentian insolvency (see May 11’s “Fake U and Fake News in Sudbury”), so it’s time we caught up. If you want to review all of my coverage from the past year, see the Insider Recap, “Laurentian in Limbo.”
The Perfect Storm
Former LU leaders, including former president Dominic Giroux and 3 former board chairs, wrote the deputy minister of colleges and universities to argue that LU’s insolvency was due to a “perfect storm” that “no-one could have predicted”: the loss of 137 Saudi students in 2017 ($4M), the government’s 10% tuition cut in 2019 ($14.5M), and of course the pandemic ($18.3M). (One retired prof and a former VP Academic argue that these contingencies should have been anticipated by the board.) The former board members argue that LU’s $322M in liabilities are simply “on par” with 9 similar-sized Ontario universities, “which have a median of $315M.” LU was, however, “enormously impacted” by the province’s decision to allow Lakehead U to construct a satellite campus in Orillia, which undermined LU’s planned Barrie campus (closed in 2016). Sudbury Star
COVID the “Final Straw”
On May 20, LU president Robert Haché fielded student questions about the university’s finances in an hour-long Zoom town hall. He explained that he “was aware of the financial challenges” before taking on the job, but that the “true state of the finances” was not clear until he brought in Ernst & Young. The COVID19 pandemic was the “final straw,” adding $10M in unexpected expenses to a “balanced budget.” He emphasized that no further program cuts were expected, and that LU should emerge from creditor protection late this fall. CBC
“Our efforts are now firmly focused on the future. On what comes next. On building forward. On making sure that the sacrifices made by so many are not squandered.” – Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U
Something they’re Not Telling Us
Yesterday, LU president Robert Haché was summoned to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women, where he was questioned about Indigenous midwifery education and LU’s finances. Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus shares my suspicion that neither MCU nor Ottawa would have encouraged the CCAA proceedings, challenging Haché, “You’re not telling us something here.” CBC
“You’re not telling us something here… Did Minister Romano tell you you were on your own, or the federal government? I can’t imagine they all just said ‘Hey well, whatever. We’ll just see it all torn down.’” – Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay
As LU enters phase 2 of the CCAA proceedings, it plans to liquidate assets to satisfy creditors, without many of the usual accountabilities of a public university…
Chief Redevelopment Officer
On May 21, LU asked the CCAA court to appoint Ernst & Young executive Lou Pagnutti as “Chief Redevelopment Officer,” to assist with restructuring and oversee a governance review. The CRO would “participate in discussions with numerous stakeholders, including labour partners, representatives of the Indigenous and Francophone communities, the Provincial and Federal governments and various ministries thereof, lenders, the City of Sudbury and the broader community, donors, alumni and research granting agencies.” (To me, it sounds like a way to cement E&Y’s grip on the CCAA process, and insulate LU’s own leadership from some of the inevitable fallout of phase 2 of the CCAA process.) Laurentian
Campus Yard Sale
LU has issued an RFQ for consultants to help review its real estate holdings, including lands and buildings, and “investigate the potential to monetize” them. (LU president Robert Haché told a Commons committee yesterday that LU has a “duty” to review its space and identify what is “truly surplus” to the needs of students.) The deadline for vendor submissions is this Friday. Sudbury Star
Out-of-Shape Fitness Centre
What we do know is that LU’s Ben Avery Physical Education Centre was doomed by the federal government’s rejection of a $20M infrastructure funding request in Aug 2020. The funds were for overdue roof replacement, accessibility improvements, pool upgrades and improvements to the infield turf. Although the pool was in use until the campus closed due to the pandemic on Mar 11 2020, it has not reopened since. A KPMG report urged LU “review” the existing 1975 agreement with the city and 4 school boards, since 75% of the facility usage is by the off-campus community. It is “the most dynamic, multipurpose recreational complex in northern Ontario” and important to the community. (Which sure makes it sound like an ideal candidate to sell off to local government.) Sudbury Star
Defending the Earth
Not surprisingly, community advocates are vocal in defending LU’s 200+ hectares of undeveloped land bordering on Lake Nepahwin, which includes hiking and ski trails, beaches and greenspace – and a 10km loop of the trans-Canada trail. (The lands are adjacent to the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area, and many argue it is “de facto” part of the conservation lands. The community has fought against development or even road construction in the area multiple times, and Sudbury city council is holding in camera sessions to discuss the possibility of acquiring it from LU.) Haché told the LU Senate in March that the university’s real estate holdings are worth $650M, although somehow also claimed it was only sufficient to secure $25M in emergency financing. Sudbury Star
It may be tougher to convince LU of an ecological argument when they have disbanded their once world-renowned environmental science departments…
As LU unilaterally dissolved the federation that was its own foundation, aided and abetted by the CCAA court process, the federated universities have been pushed to the brink of extinction and Francophone communities, students and programs are reportedly fleeing the institutional implosion…
President Robert Haché told the university Senate on May 18 that LU is “working to reach service level agreements” with Thorneloe U and uSudbury “to provide for smooth transition,” like the agreement already reached with Huntington U. The provincial government will also need to amend the Laurentian Act, since the federation no longer exists. Sudbury.com
“Evolution is a constant, not only for species but also for organizations. When faced with crisis, evolution is the path to a strong and sustainable future.” – Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U
“I think for faculty, staff and students to believe in this great future that the president speaks of, we need to be motivated by something other than the possibility of potentially losing our programs and our jobs as well.” – Dan Scott, Senator, Laurentian U
IFO Cuts Ties with LU
After 45 “often acrimonious” years, the Institut Franco-Ontarien de Sudbury is severing its ties with LU and moving to uSudbury, because LU “has unilaterally eliminated the federation, obliterated its core French-language programming, and thus its Francophone soul, and decided to espouse a mercantile logic.” Serge Miville, the IFO director, writes that LU “will become, de facto, an English university.” uSudbury traces its roots back to 1913, whereas “the last 60 years at Laurentian have been nothing more than an interlude.” Sudbury.com
The CBC reports that some francophone students are leaving LU after their programs or favourite profs have been terminated, considering continuing their studies at uOttawa, Nipissing, or even uMoncton. uAlberta has extended its application deadline specifically for LU students interested in its French programs: “More than ever, solidarity between Francophone university institutions in a minority context is essential.” CBC
Partial Victory for uSudbury
uSudbury declared “partial victory” when Superior Court Justice Cory Gilmore denied its motion, but confirmed the urgency of transforming uS into an independent university: “Justice Gilmore could not be clearer about the importance of the French-language University of Sudbury, and I quote the judge: ‘This is a laudable and important goal which it is hoped that (the) University of Sudbury can achieve in the near future.’” uSudbury
If there’s one form of recreation and team competition that has been buoyed by the pandemic, it’s varsity e-sports…
Press Start at UNC
UNC Chapel Hill released a suitably impressive 2-min video to unveil its new Carolina Gaming Arena, featuring 36 PC stations, 3 game console zones, student lounges, some impressive wall-sized monitors, bubbling pillars, and plenty of gorgeous (and on-brand) blue lighting. The facility will be used by the varsity League of Legends team, but also by social e-sports gamers and researchers. (I’m sure plenty of other institutions have cool e-gaming facilities too, but do you have such a nice video?) YouTube
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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