Tuesday, May 11, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy “Eat What You Want” Day – although that describes pretty much every day this year. It’s also “Twilight Zone Day,” to celebrate a TV show “where everything was strange and surreal and nothing was ever quite as it seemed to be.” (Which also pretty much describes the year we’ve had.)
But seriously, this is National Nursing Week, and certainly we all owe front-line nurses and those studying to join them a big debt of gratitude. Nursing is a challenging career at the best of times, but the past 14 months has made front-line healthcare workers more essential – and exhausted – than ever. (Sadly, we could have made this pandemic easier on them if politicians had simply listened to epidemiologists… but that was yesterday’s topic!)
Today, I want to check in with the latest developments from Sudbury – a whole other kind of preventable disaster! Since my last roundup a week ago (“Scorched Earth in Sudbury”), I’ve seen 34 news items and opinion pieces about the Laurentian U insolvency cross my desk. Assuming you’re up to speed with my coverage so far this year (see the Insider Recap, “Laurentian in Limbo,” if you’re not sure) here’s the latest…
Last Friday, the 2 Ontario Superior Court justices released the “detailed reasoning” behind their rulings on the Thorneloe and uSudbury motions. Of course, the explanations were disappointing and hardly enlightening…
“Least Undesirable Choice”
Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz acknowledged that his decision “could lead to the cessation of operations of Thorneloe. I do not lightly discount the impact on faculty, employees and students at Thorneloe, but the impact is significantly less than if Laurentian and Thorneloe are both forced to suspend or cease operations. Given these two undesirable options, the better choice or to put it another way, the least undesirable choice, is to uphold the Notices of Disclaimer.” He also noted that “Thorneloe was offered an alternative, similar to Huntington, which was not accepted.” Morawetz
Justice Cory Gilmore likewise sought to avoid bankruptcy for LU, and believed to do so required the dissolution of the federation. “Difficult decisions must sometimes be made with unpleasant consequences. This is one of those decisions.” She also noted that it was hard to understand why uSudbury was fighting to preserve the federation, since it had previously announced its intention to pursue autonomy. (Never mind that uS might want more than a few weeks’ notice to complete the massive undertaking.) Now, she argued, uSudbury “is free to reinvent itself as a Francophone university and without the constraints of the Federation Agreement.” Gilmore
Essentially, both judges accepted LU’s argument at face value, that unless they overrode contract law and dissolved the Laurentian Federation, LU could find no other way to secure the measly $10M required to fund its operations until August. (I’ve made pretty clear already that the federal government is obviously willing to spend FAR more than that to save a few jobs, and I have raised some pretty significant questions about both the sealed, secret correspondence between MCU and LU in late January, and the mysterious addition of a new loan condition, just a few weeks ago, that suddenly required the Federation be dissolved.)
It’s truly painful to watch 4 of Ontario’s higher ed institutions scuttled and stripped for parts by a CCAA process which the government should have stopped long ago.
Of course, the official messages coming from the LU administration want to turn the page and put all the unpleasantness behind us…
Stable Spring Enrolment
Spring and summer enrolments at Ontario universities have typically been a small fraction of Fall and winter terms, because in happier times students took on summer employment or even world travel. Under the pandemic, most CdnPSEs have announced record-breaking spring and summer enrolments by students with few other choices. Last week, LU announced spring enrolments “very similar to last year and substantially ahead of our 2019 enrolment,” totalling 4,300 grad and undergrad students, largely studying online. This year’s numbers include enrolments in Huntington’s 2 Gerontology courses, and uSudbury’s 6 Indigenous Studies courses, now being delivered by LU. (If those 8 courses enrolled 10-20 students each, they could be compensating for a loss of hundreds of students from other programs.)
Don’t Trust the Media
It’s never a good sign when a president denounces media coverage and insists that their own press releases are the only accurate source of information. LU president Robert Haché is more subtle than Donald Trump about it, thankfully, but he did write a message to students last week that came close to accusations of “fake news”: “It is important that you have the benefit of accurate and current information from Laurentian itself, and that you do not simply rely on the media or third parties for information concerning your academic future.” (Presumably those “third parties” include the federated universities, faculty association, politicians and yours truly. Which is frustrating, when LU continues to insist on secrecy under the cover of CCAA proceedings.) The letter proceeds to assure prospective students that many programs are still being offered at LU, and that the restructuring to date represents “the key foundational basis for our path forward into an exciting future for a revitalized Laurentian University.” (No spin there.) When a CTV reporter expressed concern, an LU spokesperson clarified that “there is a lot of information coming from various areas, including social media, and we want to ensure that students are getting their course information directly.”
Of course, the rosy picture presented by LU announcements is drowned out by thousands of outraged voices from across the province…
As a uSudbury Indigenous Studies prof explains, LU would need to hire at least 6 new full-time faculty to replicate or carry on the Indigenous Studies specialization, concentration, minors and courses developed at uSudbury over the years, in a way that is “on par with the discipline as it has evolved across Canada.” LU claims it may develop new courses – but that cannot be done without full-time faculty and a department to support them. Obviously, the solution is for LU to hire the “cadre of eminent scholars” who in fact developed the courses at uSudbury. Ignoring that talent suggests LU’s claims are “simply another bit of public relations spin” to “maintain the façade that it is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” Timmins Daily Press
Fired Nobel Laureates
LU played a critical role in developing the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNOLAB), a particle astrophysics lab 2km underground in Creighton Mine that led to Nobel Prize-winning research in 2015. (In fact, 5 of the 7 terminated physics profs were part of the Nobel-winning team.) A former Physics Department chair urges LU to seek ways to preserve its strong particle astrophysics research and graduate training program at SNOLAB. LU’s outgoing Physics chair also warns that cutting the department means the end of a bachelor’s degree program in radiation therapy, which has run for 19 years. “Basically now the North loses the ability to train future generations of radiation therapists that will be needed to continue the fight against cancer.” (So far there has been no word whether NOSM might pick up the program.)
Calls for Accountability
For several weeks now, faculty associations across Ontario and national groups have been calling for the resignation of LU senior administrators, the board chair, and Ontario’s MCU Ross Romano. Retired police investigator Craig Davies is collecting complaints from LU creditors – including students and faculty members – and will submit his findings to the Auditor General. Following the court decision last week, uSudbury president John Meehan added his voice to the outcry: “Until we see accountability, there’s not going to be any trust.”
“I know many have called for an investigation or an inquiry and I think we have to ask ourselves, where is the leadership and the accountability? Until we see accountability, there’s not going to be any trust. I really support calls for accountability.” – John Meehan, president, uSudbury
Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk, will be descending on LU with a team of accountants for a thorough investigation of institutional finances, to “track every penny” and determine whether wrong-doing led to the insolvency. Technically a “value-for-money audit,” the AG has legal authority to demand access to financial details going back 10 years, including those currently shrouded in secrecy under the CCAA. CBC
30+ Ombuds Complaints
Last week, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office reported >30 complaints to date about LU, including those from francophone students who feel their educational rights have been undermined by the elimination of 24 French-language programs. (There could be more complaints to come, since LU has ~2,000 francophone undergrads, and the online form takes just minutes to complete. The Ombudsman has put out a call on social media to invite more complaints.) The Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario has filed its own complaint, and is glad to see others: “We’d like the French Services Act to have more teeth, to be able to bite harder.” uOttawa CRC on Francophone Rights François Larocque observes that French-language services are constitutionally protected, and that LU has “made no effort to protect its bilingual mandate.” He concludes, “Basically, the francophone community in Sudbury feels like they’ve been thrown under the bus by Laurentian.”
“Basically, the francophone community in Sudbury feels like they’ve been thrown under the bus by Laurentian.” – François Larocque, Canada Research Chair in Francophone Rights, uOttawa
Concern for Greenspace
As the LU administration eyes 283 hectares of “undeveloped bushland” around the campus as an asset to liquidate in order to satisfy creditors, the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury is among the community voices raised in opposition. The campus trails and greenspace are “well loved by the public,” and the group worries that “the CCAA process does not consider what the community wants or needs.” The coalition is encouraging Greater Sudbury residents to lobby councillors before LU’s plans are announced. CBC
Former Huntington U chancellor Patricia Mills is calling on Greater Sudbury City Hall to ensure the campus lands are not liquidated, “to spearhead the resistance to further dismantle the university.” She says “the only opportunity to preserve assets” under CCAA “is for us to buy them,” perhaps with matching funds from the provincial and federal governments, and then perhaps to lease them back to LU. She suggests the lands might hold a future Innovation Park (rather than being bought up for lakefront condos). Sudbury.com
Lakehead & NOSM
Although LU has been silent on MCU’s announcement that it would make the Northern Ontario School of Medicine an independent university, many at Lakehead U (the other partner in NOSM) have been vocal opponents of the idea. President Moira McPherson spoke out immediately (as previously reported). Lakehead’s VP Research is concerned that the move will undermine his university’s research capacity. Lakehead’s Senate has opposed the proposal “in the strongest possible terms,” and thousands of emails and letters of support have been sent to the government. There are as yet no details about how NOSM would be severed from Lakehead, nor how much additional administrative overhead would be created by the move. “The existing model works well and we should be celebrating, and not dismantling it.” The bill is scheduled for third reading at Queen’s Park in mid-May. Sudbury Star
Expect even more anguish and outrage over the summer, as LU liquidates assets, the Auditor General digs into the financial mess, and the university tries to negotiate for pennies on the dollar with creditors, ranging from local suppliers and national banks to the employees owed severance pay. The administration’s eagerness to announce an “exciting future” for the institution is premature.
Eventually, though – likely in about 5 years – community chaos will have subsided, and students (and perhaps even donors) might feel more willing to trust LU with their time and money. What will the vaunted “Laurentian 2.0” look like, and how will it get there? For starters, it looks as though the federal and provincial governments are going to stand back and wait for the CCAA process to unfold…
Federal Aid for LU
The federal government is reluctant to meddle in PSE, a provincial jurisdiction, but Liberal Nickel Belt MP Marc Serre notes that it does have a responsibility to support minority access to services in both official languages. Franco-Ontarian MPs and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly have been considering their options, drawing on $120M for francophone education in the 2021 budget, and preparing options to assist LU – when a request is finally made by the province. “There has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes.” Sudbury Star
Resist the Bail-Out
Of course, there are voices objecting to the idea of a government bailout of LU, such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who says it would be “throwing good money after bad.” LU has had years of financial mismanagement and issues with transparency. “Laurentian doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has an expense problem.” CBC
The federated universities will be in very different circumstances a year from now. Huntington and Thorneloe sound like they may become mere shells of their former selves, without undergraduate students at all. uSudbury might be successful in charting its way forward – certainly the Francophone community is vocal in support…
As promised, Thorneloe U has already filed an appeal motion to the court decision that approved the unilateral dissolution of the Laurentian federation, and is seeking an expedited hearing. The motion argues that LU’s move would effectively drive TU into bankruptcy, TU is a creditor of LU, and poses no competitive threat to LU. TU employs 7 full-time faculty and a total staff of 28, with 90 students of its own. “Laurentian is taking advantage of the CCAA proceeding to try and eliminate Thorneloe,” and dissolve a federation agreement that was intended to be permanent. The result will be millions in legal costs and pension liabilities. Sudbury Star
Uniquely among the 3 federated universities, Huntington U signed a transition agreement with LU instead of fighting it in court. The agreement transferred HU’s Gerontology program, course material, curricula and library materials to LU, in exchange for LU assuming responsibility for HU’s pension plan. The agreement also indicated that HU would continue to offer student residence accommodations and parking, which LU would promote for 5 academic years. HU will presumably continue to house non-credit programs for the Canadian Finnish Institute, Peruvian Canadian Institute, and the Lougheed Teaching and Learning Centre. Sudbury.com
Last week, a group of former LU faculty members, artists and activists launched the Université libre du Nouvel-Ontario (ULNO), or Free University of New Ontario, a “fake university” to usher in the establishment of a real francophone university in Sudbury. (The rebellious, tongue-in-cheek tone of the group is evidenced by a YouTube trailer that parodies the opening crawl of Star Wars Ep4: A New Hope.) The group’s “VP Resistance,” Serge Miville, emphasizes that they are “free to think, create and act, free from any commercial imperative.” This spring they will offer 6 free online courses and nurture arts and cultural programming, culminating in a symposium Jun 23-25 they hope will support uSudbury’s independence. “The university is in crisis and we must seize the opportunity to project French Ontario into the future we want for it.” Radio-Canada | Le Droit | CBC
While uSudbury continues to work towards reinventing itself as an independent Francophone university, its Indigenous Studies programs were delivered in English, and while LU is willing to deliver 6 courses this spring using sessional instructors, they have not signalled an interest in adopting the program in its entirety. (LU’s proposed “Indigenous perspectives” courses are being denounced as “by whites for whites.”) Many are calling for the establishment of an autonomous university by and for First Nations peoples in Northern Ontario, and uSudbury has offered one of its charters – although there is no provincial organization ready to take up the challenge. Radio-Canada
We’ll revisit the Laurentian saga as significant news arises, but I have to admit I find this tragedy far more upsetting than the relentless pandemic news – perhaps because there seem to be some clear villains here, and the wanton destruction could have been avoided.
My YouTube feed has been overflowing lately with thousands of convocation videos from about 1,000 colleges and universities around the world. (It’s far from all of them, I know, but it’s plenty.) This week, though, I also noticed a couple of videos specifically recognizing Mother’s Day. Here’s a pretty well-done one that combined both themes…
A Message from Mothers
Northeastern U (in Boston) released a 1-min video compilation of clips from its open-air convocation ceremony at Fenway Park, with some sweet, moving messages from mothers to their new grads. “Be smart, surround yourself with good people, and save money.” “Enjoy life, and don’t stress about things.” “Go follow your dreams, guys.” 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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