Friday, June 18, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and TGIF!
Today you’re invited to celebrate either “International Panic Day” or (paradoxically) “Go Fishing Day.” As for me, today I’ll be presenting to Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s senior management, exploring the ways in which “the Future is Fluid.”
But it seems a propos, somehow, that panic or go fishing day brings Laurentian U to mind. We’re overdue to revisit that story, for sure.
And, tomorrow is Juneteenth, now a federal US holiday, which many will recognize today. (Some American colleges have already made today a campus-wide holiday.) If slavery is America’s “original sin,” Canada is still grappling with Indigenous reconciliation – and there have been some more noteworthy stories on that front this week, too.
I guess today’s issue will cover a trio of postscripts…
Yesterday I detailed some interesting trends in OUAC’s first round of undergraduate confirmation statisticsfor Ontario universities, published last week. (ICYMI, check out “Bouncing Back & Winning Shots.”) As I compared enrolment trends and recent vaccine mandate announcements, I speculated about their possible interconnection…
Mac is 17% over Target
Many thanks to McMaster’s AVP Students & Learning, Sean Van Koughnett, who took the time to write me and set the record straight: “McMaster has exceeded its enrolment targets by approximately 17% this year, but the total number of acceptances has decreased over 2020 because we exceeded our targets by an even greater percentage last year. We also have a healthy wait list for students wishing to have a place in residence. So our decision to not mandate vaccinations in residence is completely unrelated to any enrolment considerations.” (So, to answer my own question from yesterday, YES, apparently I’m just getting cynical after 15 months of pandemic.) Sean went on to explain that 97% of Mac students surveyed intend to be vaccinated by September, so “mandating vaccines would have little to no public health benefit, and it would also raise challenges related to equity and privacy.” (I definitely hope CdnPSE sees vaccination levels that high this fall!)
It’s been more than 3 weeks since I updated the Laurentian situation (“A Fresh Crater in Sudbury”), and it’s high time for an update. (See the Insider Recap, “Laurentian in Limbo,” if you want an exhaustive look at the story as it has unfolded over the past year.) Here’s what’s new…
Over the past 5 months, my frustration with the secrecy and doubletalk from the LU administration has doubtless been evident. The correspondence between LU administration and MCU just prior to the declaration of insolvency, ordered sealed by the courts, intensifies our suspicions of a “smoking gun” behind the curtain. Reading between the lines, it has seemed pretty evident that the university board pushed for CCAA proceedings, for its own reasons, even though the provincial and federal governments would never have endorsed the decision. But as the CBC observed, “exactly how the Sudbury school dug itself into a financial hole remains fuzzy.”
Blame Game Continues
Over the past month, some contradictory details have emerged. LU president Robert Haché insists he was “transparent in the magnitude of our financial difficulties” in numerous conversations with federal and provincial representatives for the year prior to the announcement of insolvency, and did make requests for assistance that went unanswered. Charlie Angus, the outspoken NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, suspects that both levels of government must have told LU “you are on your own.” Yet MCU insists it offered financial support to LU, which “the institution declined.” (By late May, we learned Haché requested about $100M from the province in December, but was offered just $12M as a bridge, pending an independent, third-party review of LU’s finances. Haché rejected the offer.) The federal minister for Official Languages, Mélanie Joly, insists she was not told LU was considering CCAA proceedings, but did reach out to the province to offer support in January – but MCU denies it received any communication until Apr 13. Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre apparently offered Haché financial help through the Official Languages program in December, and encouraged him to pursue funding for Indigenous programming through the federal Heritage department, which Haché did not do. The decision to invoke the CCAA came as a shock to politicians at all levels of government.
“How is it possible that an institution built up over 60 years was not given the support to restructure its loans? It looks like both the feds and province walked away on the students of Northern Ontario.” – Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay
“We did reach out and really, as well as provincially through our MPs and otherwise, and certain meetings we achieved and others we did not. And, you know, hindsight can be 20/20. And if we had been more aggressive, more successful, perhaps there might have been a change, but, perhaps not, as well.” – Robert Haché, President, Laurentian U
“Encouraging” Cash Flow?
On Jun 15, president Robert Haché advised the LU Senate that the university is “drawing less” on its latest $35M bridge loan than originally expected – when the supposed urgency of that loan, and the extraordinary strings attached to it, was used as the sole excuse for unilaterally terminating the federation agreement and renegotiating collective agreements. Haché asserted this is a “positive development,” but emphasized that “the number 1 variable is Fall enrolment… the single biggest cash flow into the university.”
Of course, yesterday I shared the worrying news…
Laurentian is Down 30%
Laurentian U didn’t announce its insolvency until Feb 1, so as I noted in April, applications were down just -3.3%. Then just 5 days later (“Black Monday”), LU cut 35% of its undergraduate programs, which it claimed would affect only 10% of students. But as of last week, those cuts have started to take a toll on enrolment for the Fall: high school confirmations are down by almost a third (-30.5%), and non-HS confirmations aren’t much better (-23.5%).
Repatriating French Programs
On Jun 3, a northern Ontario coalition for a French university urged the House of Commons Official Languages Committee to “immediately transfer” all francophone programming, and federal funding for them, from Laurentian U to uSudbury instead. By Jun 12, the coalition was calling on the Ontario government to take action before Jun 24, Saint Jean-Baptiste Day. LU, they say, has lost the confidence of the community by cutting 28 French-language programs in April. uSudbury’s board chair says the coalition has retained a constitutional lawyer and is gearing up for a constitutional fight. Although Queen’s Park has deferred to the CCAA process before the courts, the coalition rightly observes that didn’t stop them from granting NOSM independence. LU president Robert Haché acknowledged “we do have work to do to rebuild trust, and re-earn the confidence and trust of the community,” but he asserted LU will continue to offer francophone programming. For her part, federal Official Languages minister Mélanie Joly has written MCU to offer $5M in funding to restore the cut francophone programs, potentially at uSudbury. Sudbury.com | CBC | Sudbury Star | Radio-Canada
“By abolishing 28 French-language programs in response to its financial challenges on April 12, Laurentian University reneged on its commitments to the Francophone community.” – Denis Constantineau, Northern Ontario Coalition for a French-Language University
“It is time to create our French-language university in Sudbury by, for and with franco-Ontarians. This is an historic event.” – Pierre Riopel, Board Chair, uSudbury
Standalone NOSM U
The Ontario government passed legislation earlier this month severing the Northern Ontario School of Medicine from LU and Lakehead U, and making “NOSM University” the first standalone medical university in Canada. The decision was made despite vocal objections from administrators at Lakehead, Ryerson, uToronto, the Council of Ontario Universities, and some 2,000 letters to MCU minister Ross Romano. They argued that a standalone NOSM would face “significant regulatory burdens,” millions of dollars in new expenses, and would definitely not be cost-neutral. NOSM Dean Sarita Verma dismissed Lakehead’s “interesting propaganda campaign run by a communications firm,” and observed that “some innocent bystanders got harmed by it, frankly.” She also reassured the public that NOSM will continue to operate its campuses in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, although it is also considering expanding to other communities. NOSM is also working “relentlessly” to recover $14M in endowment funds held by LU. (The same Bill 276 also made uHearst independent of LU.)
On Wednesday, the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario announced it is investigating cuts to English and French-language programs at LU, after receiving 80+ complaints about the transparency and fairness of the process. One focus will be to determine whether LU, MCU, and the Ministry of Francophone Affairs upheld their obligations under the French Language Services Act during the restructuring process. (This is the first formal investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office under the FLSA.) Sudbury Star
Thorneloe Still in Court
Thorneloe U filed its appeal of the court decision permitting LU to terminate the federation within a day, on May 3, but the matter remains before the courts. New filings assert that LU does not “subsidize” the federated universities, but collects funds earned by them “in a clearing house manner,” so “those funds do not belong to Laurentian.” Sudbury.com
Creditors Get in Line
Ernst & Young proposed a process to handle hundreds of claims against LU from creditors including banks, vendors, unions and former employees. Claims would fall into 3 categories: debts owing prior to the Feb 1 insolvency declaration, those caused by the insolvency (including federated universities and terminated employees), and “directors and officers” claims against senior administrators or governors claiming negligence, fraud, or financial mismanagement. Most creditors would have until Jul 30 to make a claim, and a court monitor would decide whether to accept all, part, or none of each claim. A separate process will be developed in conjunction with the LUFA and LUSA unions, for “tens of millions of dollars” in claims for severance pay from former staff and faculty. The court has instead proposed a “bespoke” arrangement, with 4 inspectors chosen by the court monitor, LU, and creditors owed $5M+. CTV | CBC | Sudbury.com | CBC | Sudbury.com
Expensive Hired Guns
LU is hiring a “Chief Redevelopment Officer,” Louis Pagnutti, who spent most of his career with E&Y before retiring. Pagnutti’s responsibilities will include a comprehensive review of LU governance and policies, and “beginning the process of rebuilding LU’s relationships with stakeholders.” (The hire has generated controversy due to Pagnutti’s $650 hourly rate – which could be up to $52,000 a month – but was approved by the court May 31.) LU has also issued an RFQ for a consultant to study how its real estate holdings can be “monetized,” including potentially selling excess land and buildings, selling residences to a private operator, and raising leases to market rates. The LU Board has also asked to raise the cap on its own independent legal counsel during the CCAA proceedings to $500,000 (which suggests some D&O claims are expected). Sudbury.com
Laurentian’s spring convocation program epitomized the sombre reality this year. During its ceremonies Jun 1-3, no honourary doctorates were awarded – perhaps because its restructuring would taint such an honour, just as it prompted chancellor Steve Paikin to resign on Apr 12. The convocation program also includes a 2-page list of newly-named emeritus professors, most forced to retire due to program cuts. Sudbury.com
You may not have noticed due to my irregular publication schedule, but 3 recent Insiders have focused on higher ed challenges to diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation (“Reconciliation, and Returning to Normal,” “Pride vs Shame; EDI and IDIC” and “Confronting Our Phobias”). In the past week, there have been innumerable CdnPSE statements of solidarity with Muslim communities against Islamophobia and hate crimes, reassertions of commitments to Indigenous reconciliation, and of course an ongoing stream of reminders to staff, faculty and students of the mental health resources available to those struggling in a difficult week. As well:
UNDRIP in Parliament
Bill C-15, federal legislation that aims to align Canadian law with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, finally passed 3rd reading in the Senate Wednesday. (Canada took 3 years to endorse UNDRIP, which was adopted by the UN in 2007. Similar legislation has died in Parliament twice before since 2014.) “This legislation will require the Government of Canada to examine federal laws, policies, and practices and to take all measures, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples, to ensure consistency with the Declaration.” Conservative MPs opposed the bill because it could give any one First Nation a “veto” over natural resource projects or pipelines. The premiers of ON, AB, SK, MB, and NB have expressed concerns that C-15 could challenge provincial jurisdiction. Passing the legislation was an election promise of prime minister Justin Trudeau, and another federal election is thought to be imminent. Globe & Mail | CTV
De-Commemorations Coast to Coast
The discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has sparked discussion and protest over the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and heightened tensions over statues, landmarks and institutions commemorating Egerton Ryerson, John A MacDonald and other “architects” of the residential school system. The statue at Ryerson U was defaced, pulled down and beheaded. K-12 schools named after Ryerson, Bishop Grandin and Hector-Louis Langevin are being hurriedly renamed. (“The situation in Kamloops was, in a way, the straw that broke the camel’s back.”) Charlottetown PEI removed its statue of John A MacDonald. Victoria BC cancelled its Canada Day celebrations for Jul 1, and will instead “produce a broadcast to air later this summer guided by the Lekwungen people and featuring local artists, that explores what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events.” National Post
Disputed Identity at Queen’s
Last Monday, an anonymous 53-page report surfaced on social media alleging that 6 Queen’s U instructors, professors and associates had falsely claimed Indigenous identity. CBC reports that it includes an appendix of marriage certificates and census data going back hundreds of years. 3 of the individuals identify as members of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, which is not considered a status First Nation under federal law. Last Friday, the university issued a statement rejecting the “misleading” and “malicious allegations” of the report, and criticizing its “factual inaccuracies.” Queen’s “respects and trusts the Indigenous protocols used to identify those it considers Indigenous.” When dozens of academics signed an open letter Monday, urging Queen’s to retract that statement, the university issued another statement defending its actions and its employees. Critics are concerned that CdnPSE depends too much on the “honour system” when hiring Indigenous academics, allowing “European settler self-Indigenization” to “inflate” Indigenous hiring statistics. CBC | Global | National Post
“It wasn’t until Queens’ response, which vigorously defended the people in the report and committed to seeking out the writer of the report that I thought, ‘Whoa, there is a real problem here!’” – Pamela Palmater, Chairwoman in Indigenous Governance, Ryerson U
In keeping with the theme of reconciliation, here’s a brand new video from BC’s NVIT…
Discover Your Song
Nicola Valley Institute of Technology uses a powerful metaphor, the song, to describe its mission in this 3-min video. “We teach our students to navigate the academic world by having a textbook in one hand, and a hand drum in the other.” Students have the opportunity to “find their gift,” to “find their voice,” and “when they are able to sing their song, they’re very powerful songs.” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading!
For those of you celebrating, Happy Father’s Day this Sunday – and a special shout-out to my own Dad, who often reads this far in the newsletter.
Stay safe and be well everybody!
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