Eduvation Blog

Laurentian in Limbo

What follows is a selection of coverage from the Eduvation Insider this year focused on the Laurentian University insolvency…

 

2021.02.02

Groundhog Day

For most of us, the past year in pandemic limbo has felt a lot like the unending day portrayed in Bill Murray’s 1993 classic film, “Groundhog Day.” (If you’re looking for a 2020 update, you could do worse than Andy Samberg’s “Palm Springs” – and if you’re a fan of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” you should have seen it by now!)

The unending monotony of life under lockdown, with most of life’s milestones reduced to mere shadows of themselves, and our sense of time disrupted almost entirely, certainly leaves us with the sense that life has come to a standstill.

And yet, it could be worse: things could in fact be accelerating relentlessly downhill…

 

A Chill in Sudbury

The financial impacts of the COVID19 pandemic have overwhelmed small US colleges, resulting in the announced closures, acquisitions or mergers of dozens that were close to the brink already. But while many northern, rural or remote CdnPSEs have been struggling with their enrolments and deficit budgets, no public universities in Canada have declared a state of financial exigency, until now…

 

Laurentian in Creditor Protection

On Feb 1, Laurentian U took the “unprecedented” and “drastic” step of launching a formal debt restructuring under the CCAA, filing for creditor protection and court monitoring (via Ernst & Young). After a decade of “recurring deficits, declining demographics in Northern Ontario, the closure of our Barrie campus in 2019 and the domestic tuition reduction and freeze that was implemented in 2019,” the “various costs and revenue impacts due to the global pandemic” were the last straw.  “Despite our best efforts over the last year, Laurentian is insolvent.”

The FAQs emphasize that this is not a bankruptcy, and the word “exigency” does not appear, but Laurentian’s microsite explains that the primary purpose of a CCAA filing is “consensual restructuring” with key stakeholders including “employee unions or federated universities.” The FAQs further explain that issues to be addressed include academic program offerings, the federated universities model, unsustainable salary expenses, new opportunities for revenue, and “all options to address current and long-term indebtedness.” (Those debts, it continues, include employee benefit and pension liabilities.) Laurentian’s prior collective agreement with its faculty association expired, and a new one “has not been negotiated to date.” The union will have until Apr 30 to reach a “compromise” so that Laurentian can emerge as “a fully restructured and financially viable institution.”

The province has appointed Alan Harrison (former provost at Carleton, uCalgary and Queen’s U) as a special advisor to the Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, “on options to support Laurentian’s path to return to financial sustainability.” Romano emphasized that students “continue their studies without interruption” and warned ominously that the government might legislate “greater oversight of university finances” since other institutions might be facing financial challenges in future.

Laurentian  |  Ontario  |  CBC

 

“Despite our best efforts over the last year, Laurentian is insolvent.” – Robert Haché, President, Laurentian U

 

Without a doubt, this will be a tough year at Laurentian, but to all my readers there: rest assured that there will be better days ahead, post-restructuring. Our thoughts are with you all right now.

 

Warning Signs

If you think like me, you’re wondering what early warning signs there were at Laurentian over the course of 2020. Let me save you some trouble, and reproduce 4 stories from the Eduvation Insider over the past year…

 

May 1 2020:

Laurentian U has been on the leading edge of the COVID19 pandemic in Canada, since it reported its first case on campus on March 11. Its deficit has grown significantly, to a projected $6 million in the current fiscal year, and it estimates a shortfall of $15 million in 2020-21. President Robert Haché says, “if we don’t take action, the combination of a potential enrolment drop, our pre-existing financial challenges and new impacts of COVID-19, could be the tipping point that threatens the financial viability of the University.” All new hiring has been suspended, vacant positions eliminated, part-time and contract jobs reduced, and all non-essential operating expenses cut. Laurentian

 

Aug 17 2020:

Laurentian U has suspended admission to 17 programs this fall because of low enrolment, including Archaeology, Anthropology, Geography, Modern Languages, and Music. The “shocked” faculty association says Senate was not consulted. The university argues that the programs have not been suspended, only admissionsto them. LUFA and CAUT are seeking a judicial review. CBC

 

Oct 14 2020:

Laurentian U has hired Ernst & Young to review its financial outcomes and budgets, and propose potential solutions and opportunities.  CBC

 

Jan 25 2021:

Laurentian U reports overall enrolment rose +4% in Sept, mostly thanks to online programs, and grad enrolments rose +12%. However, new first-year undergraduate enrolment dropped -15%, and some are starting to worry about a “lost generation” due to the pandemic. Laurentian is projecting a $10M deficit, due to pandemic costs, lost ancillary revenues, and residences operating at just 30% capacity.  CBC  |  Toronto Star

 

 

2021.02.03

Postscripts

Yesterday I shared the disturbing news that Laurentian U had filed for creditor protection, and explained in detail some of the implications, and early warning signs over the past year. A bit more detail has since become public…

 

LU Couldn’t Make Payroll

According to its CCAA filing, Laurentian U “couldn’t meet payroll obligations for February.” An unnamed source told the Toronto Star that the province offered a $12M lifeline to cover payroll for Feb and Mar, but the University allegedly insisted that “heading to court was the only option.” The Faculty Association claims the administration’s past financial practices have been “poorly considered and reckless,” and lacking in transparency. OCUFA and CFS-O are urging the government to provide more long-term funding. Last week, Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano said he was “working with our colleagues across government, and certainly with our institutions” to determine where best to use “ultimately limited resources to try and remedy [COVID19 losses] the best we can.” He made it clear, however, that he was not talking about financial issues that “quite frankly pre-date COVID.”  Toronto Star

 

UOF President Resigns

I mentioned last week that Université de l’Ontario Français, the new francophone institution slated to open in Toronto in Sept 2021, had received just 39 applications, although it planned to open with 200 students. (By Friday that had risen to 47, with just 2 first-choice applicants. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation objected that UOF would spend $400,000 of taxpayers’ money for each student this year.) Yesterday, the Board of Governors announced the resignation of UOF President André Roy “for personal reasons.” They added, “We recognize Mr. Roy’s significant contributions and efforts and wish him the best of success in the future.” The executive leadership of UOF will be temporarily reorganized, with 2 VPs sharing the responsibilities of interim leadership of the university. The first cohort of students is expected to arrive in “only a few weeks,” and “efforts are intensifying to recruit students from French-language secondary schools in Ontario as well as from francophone communities across Canada, including Quebec, and abroad.”  Education News Canada

 

 

2021.02.12

Fireworks in Court

And more details emerge about Laurentian’s insolvency…

 

Laurentian Must “Right-Size” by Apr 30

Lawyers for Laurentian U argued in court Wednesday that it is essential that the institution have the power to “right-size” programs and faculty, for the university to survive. “Nothing else matters if they can’t do that.” (342 courses have <10 students, of which 162 have <5, and the student:teacher ratio is 20:1.) Lawyers argued that the “hard decisions” must be made by Apr 30, so that students can enroll for September. The lawyer for the faculty association argues that the university is trying “to gut the collective agreement,” getting concessions in court that it couldn’t get at the bargaining table.  CTV

 

Correspondence with MCU Sealed

Charlie Sinclair, counsel for the Laurentian U Faculty Association, is concerned the CCAA allows the university to terminate employees as it restructures, and argues that tenure should protect many of the 335 full-time faculty members. LUFA has asked the court to unseal correspondence between university president Robert Haché and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. They also argue the province has a “moral responsibility” because Laurentian is a public institution, even though it operates independently and is self-governing.  Timmins Press

“What we have here is the parent is gone and a laser focus is on one of our member associations as the villain.”James Harnum, Counsel for OCUFA

 

 

$11M in Research Money Gone

Laurentian U “spent millions of dollars in research grants to keep the lights on” because it deposited almost all funds into a single operating account. As a result, dozens of faculty researchers, grad students and lab staff are in limbo because their dedicated research funds are gone. The tri-councils are listed in the CCAA filing as creditors: NSERC is owed $4.6M, SSHRC $1.6M, and CFREF $5.2M. Researchers now must obtain approval for routine expenditures like couriers or pipettes, which must be “critical to the delivery of Laurentian’s operations.”  Globe & Mail

 

Students are Owed Money

Sessional Laurentian philosophy prof Christopher Duncanson-Hales claims that students should be involved in the CCAA proceedings as creditors, since “the money to pay research assistants is gone” and students on OSAP “are being told they won’t get that money back until the insolvency is figured out.” While contract faculty are accustomed to uncertainty every summer, now full-time faculty are precarious too. “If you are in any of the Francophone programs, you know you are low enrolment and could be on the chopping block.” He predicts Laurentian will be forced to focus on engineering, and will gut humanities and the social sciences.  Sudbury Star

“Humanities and social sciences will get gutted in this process. It’s basically doing what, I think, the government wanted to do in the first place, which is get rid of the soft programs and just focus on the sciences.”Christopher Duncanson-Hales, sessional philosophy prof, Laurentian U

 

 

2021.02.19

Deficits and Data Breaches

Meanwhile, higher ed across North America continues to watch the slow-motion train wreck unfold in Sudbury…

Laurentian U has been startlingly quiet in public since filing for creditor protection 18 days ago. President Robert Haché published a “difficult but optimistic message” on Feb 1, indicating that “our financial health is currently amongst the weakest in the province” but that “we intend to change that.” (There was no acknowledgement of the many vendors, partners and researchers who would suddenly be left high and dry by the CCAA move, but of course they have been speaking out ever since.)

“We are facing unprecedented financial challenges and our financial health is currently amongst the weakest in the province compared to other universities. We intend to change that… if all stakeholders work together to implement a vision for Laurentian that includes more financially sustainable operations.”Robert Haché, President, Laurentian U

 

Then on Tuesday, Haché penned an op-ed in the Sudbury Star emphasizing that “students come first” at Laurentian, and sharing a few details of the first senate, board, and court hearings since the CCAA filing. 6 senators have been elected to represent Senate through the process. Over the next 3 months, Laurentian will restructure its operations and academic programs “with a bottom-line focus on student interest, financial sustainability, and strong outcomes.”

“We, Northern Ontario’s oldest university, are insolvent and the decision to commence proceedings under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) was not one that was made easily or lightly.”Robert Haché, President, Laurentian U

 

In blunter terms, CTV reported that the judge’s ruling Feb 11 will allow Laurentian to “permanently or temporarily cease, downsize or shut down any of its business or operations,” and “terminate the employment… or temporarily lay off such of its employees as they deem appropriate.” The mediator, Justice Sean Dunphy, will help guide the process of job cuts, negotiate a new collective agreement, review the federated universities model, and resolve >100 outstanding grievances filed by the faculty association. (That is a ton of work to complete by Apr 30!) The court order allows Laurentian to “ignore all freedom of information requests” and to stop making monthly top-up payments into its pension plan. The only constraint on Laurentian’s restructuring is that it cannot “cause any current students… to be unable to continue and complete courses that they are already enrolled in.” Laurentian’s counsel argued that “fundamentally, there are too many courses and programs taught by too many faculty for too few students.”

But there could be worse to come… cyber liability threatens to make Laurentian’s financial crisis worse.

Laurentian U has a lengthy list of creditors in its CCAA filing, including media outlets, charities, construction companies, and of course banks (RBC for $71.6M and TD for $18.4M). In all, the list totals $181.74M – and many amounts remain “TBD.” The second-largest creditor, however, is a class-action lawsuit for a 2017 data breach of ~3,000 students’ information, worth an estimated $45M. (A computer science student at the time hacked into university servers, although no data was taken or altered. He was sentenced to 25 hours of community service.) The class action certification is on hold because of the insolvency, and Laurentian is seeking to have the hearing stayed.  Timmins Daily Press

 

 

2021.03.01

J’accuse in Sudbury

Laurentian U’s insolvency continues to ripple through local, academic, labour and finance communities…

 

Cutting One-Third of Profs?

Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West warns that Laurentian U’s restructuring will “gut” it, potentially cutting one-third of all faculty and all programs. “Laurentian University is a cornerstone of Northern Ontario,” he said, and the minister “knew 6 months ago” about the looming insolvency. “Why did he do nothing?” West himself wrote to the MCU minister, Ross Romano, in June and July 2020, urging emergency financial support – but received no reply. Laurentian reportedly requested $100M on Dec 10, with half of the funds to go toward “termination and severance payments.” MCU parliamentary assistant David Piccini said that, because the matter is now before the courts, it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.  Timmins Press

 

Laissez-Faire Government?

Faculty and students at Laurentian “feel we have been abandoned by the Ontario government,” and have met with dozens of MPPs to demand the province “take responsibility for the underfunding of Laurentian” and provide the resources to “secure its future.” Not surprisingly, the MCU told OCUFA that it “intends to wait until after the university has been dramatically restructured… to determine its next steps.” OCUFA says “It is astounding that [MCU minister Romano] knew that Laurentian was heading toward the edge of a fiscal cliff and chose to do nothing. It is shocking that even now, when a public university is in free fall, he continues to stand by and watch.”  Sudbury Star

Not surprisingly, the City of Greater Sudbury city council has voted unanimously to write the Premier and MCU to urge funding “to stabilize Laurentian University’s operations.”  CBC

 

French Self-Governance?

130 Francophone (and “Francophile”) profs at Laurentian say French-language programming should be protected, in part because the university receives $12M annually from Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages in Education program. They do suggest, though, that “a more transparent and decentralized governance structure in which French-language university programs can be run by Francophones, for Francophones, will allow us all to avoid a repeat of the deplorable situation in which Laurentian University is presently mired.” Likewise, a former VP of the Assembly of Francophone Ontario has written the university to suggest it drop its Francophone programming altogether, and instead work with a “new, northern, multi-campus Francophone institution.” (158 students and 2 professors in the Italian Studies program are understandably nervous, launching a petition and rallying the Italian community.)

 

Federated Universities

Laurentian recently revised the funding model for its federated universities (Thorneloe, Huntington and uSudbury) in 2020, resulting in funding cuts – but the CCAA filing makes it clear, repeatedly, that renegotiating those agreements will be part of LU’s restructuring. Laurentian’s FAQs say it will “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.” The federated universities own buildings and lease campus land from LU. They do not recruit or register their own students, nor grant their own degrees. All provincial funding has flowed through LU. uSudbury has emphasized that it is “a separate legal entity that manages its own financial and human resources, and we have not filed for creditor protection.”  Sudbury.com

 

 

2021.03.04

Postscript: Laurentian

Yesterday’s announcement from LU sets the record straight on reports I shared previously about payments to students and researchers…

Laurentian U president Robert Haché published a letter to students yesterday to reassure them that refunds and payments to students, student associations, graduate researchers and TAs “in the ordinary course” during CCAA proceedings. The student emergency fund also remains available.  Laurentian

 

 

2021.03.18

Laurentian on the Brink

So far, all the negotiations and mediation in Laurentian U’s restructuring are occurring behind closed doors, and nothing has really happened yet – but there have been some remarkable things said publicly…

 

Secret Correspondence

On Mar 5, the Laurentian U Faculty Association, OCUFA and CUPE jointly appealed the court order sealing correspondence between the university and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) regarding Laurentian’s insolvency. A judge ruled on Feb 11 that disclosure of the documents could be “detrimental to any potential restructuring.” (You really have to wonder what the province and the LU administration discussed, that it could jeopardize negotiations with the unions, the federated universities, and creditors…)  Sudbury.com

 

Silence from MCU

At a virtual town hall Mar 3, organized by OCUFA, Save Our Sudbury, and local MPP Jamie West (NDP), speakers called on the Ontario government to provide secure funding for Laurentian U, and decried the in camera insolvency process. Roughly 400 concerned citizens participated virtually, but MCU minister Ross Romano “declined” his invitation. (Organizers highlighted his absence by featuring a “digital effigy of Ross Romano” during the Zoom call.) Some speakers accused the university of “malfeasance” in misappropriating research funds, and the administration of “collaboration behind the scenes” with the minister.  Sudbury.com

 

Province “Committed” to LU

On Mar 10, Romano told the public that “students at Laurentian should feel comfortable continuing their studies at Laurentian because our government is committed to Laurentian University.” (Although, clearly not committed in a financial sense…) He declined comment on specifics of the CCAA process, because it is “before the courts.”  Sault Star

 

uSudbury to go Unilingual

The federated universities that came together 60 years ago to create Laurentian U are clearly in the cross-hairs of the restructuring process, and uSudbury is proactively responding. The uSudbury board of regents has proposed it drop its english programs and focus on being a francophone institution. One of uSudbury’s biggest programs however, Indigenous Studies, is offered in English, and students in the program are concerned. uSudbury is discussing the potential of an Indigenous charter with its Indigenous communities.  CBC

 

Ultimatums and Brinksmanship

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Laurentian Senate, president Robert Haché insisted that he could not secure more than $25M in financing (on $650M worth of real estate) because the campus is “purpose-built” and therefore not a “saleable” asset. As a result, that $25M will only cover operating expenses until Apr 30. “It is not an if, and, or maybe. That’s when the money runs out.” Therefore, Haché asserted, the CCAA restructuring plans need to be finalized, and approved by Senate, or “the university will cease to function as of April 30.” Assuming the plan is approved, Laurentian will enter phase 2 of the CCAA process, and the lender is expected to provide further interim financing May 1. (Phase 3, to begin in September, could involve sales of assets.)  Sudbury.com

“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

 

Limited Consultation

When senators asked whether a report on the LU restructuring plan could be provided to Senate in time to permit broader consultation, the administration’s response was that “mediation is ongoing, and participants are unable to comment on specific progress being made due to court-imposed confidentiality with respect to the mediation.” Senate’s elected representatives are expected to report back on the restructuring in the month of April, “hopefully” by Apr 15. Haché told Senate that there would be time for a “fulsome presentation, hopefully a fulsome discussion,” but that ultimately, their approval would be absolutely required. Senators are naturally frustrated at being asked to “rubber-stamp” a fait accompli.  Sudbury.com

 

6-Week Hard Deadline

In a message to “current and future students,” Laurentian president Robert Haché explained yesterday that “the next six weeks are critical to Laurentian’s future.” He continued, “provided Laurentian and its stakeholders are able to meet those conditions, we anticipate that by mid-April, current and future students will start to see emerging clarity around important issues such as how Laurentian’s academic offerings will be restructured for the Fall of 2021.” (The specific “conditions” are not described.)   Laurentian

 

Without a doubt, we’ll be anxiously watching events unfold as a public institution undertakes an insolvency process designed for private companies, negotiations continue in secret against a looming ultimatum, and the provincial government simultaneously tells students and creditors to assume business continuity, while refusing to provide support that could enable a more open, collegial approach to restructuring.

As I’ve said before, this is “tough love” from the province, allowing its creature to struggle with its back up against the wall rather than throw “good money after bad.” (Or perhaps, the point is to get the unions’ backs up against the wall…)

 

 

2021.04.07

Schrödinger’s Cat in the Senate

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.) 

 

Laurentian in Limbo

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 fundshad 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.”

 

Secret Correspondence

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.”

 

Tricultural Concerns

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.

 

 

2021.04.08

Laurentian/Huntington Deal

Last night, Laurentian U announced agreement with federated university Huntington U on the terms to be implemented “following the disclaimer of the Federation Agreement” effective May 1. While no courses will be taught at HU for credit towards an LU degree, HU’s Gerontology program has been “acquired” by LU. (A spokesperson told CBC it is “exclusively a transfer of course materials,” suggesting that no faculty will be acquired with the program. The HU Chair finds it hard to think of the online program being delivered by “somebody else.”) Without degree-granting authority, it’s hard to tell what is meant by “Huntington will continue as an independent university and own and operate its buildings on the Laurentian campus, including its residence.”

 

 

2021.04.12

Layoffs at Laurentian

Anxiety is running high in Sudbury, as Laurentian prepares to send out mass termination notices today, and a whole range of voices object to the handling of the university’s insolvency…

Reassuring Students

On Friday, Laurentian president Robert Haché wrote to reassure students enrolled in the federated universities that they are “Laurentian students,” and will be provided “with an academic path forward to completion of their degree, notwithstanding this change in the contractual federation relationship.”  LU

Terminations Today

Laurentian’s employee unions, LUFA and LUSU, say they were notified last week that termination notices to faculty and staff will be sent out by LU administration today. (Even tenured faculty may be terminated under these extraordinary circumstances.) “There will be individuals affected within all employee groups. Some of these terminations may also result in job changes, which may affect other employees.” Faculty must also vote tomorrow on a new collective agreement – which has been pending since Jul 1 2020 when the last agreement ended.  Sudbury.com

Of course, it doesn’t reduce the anger and anguish of front-line staff and faculty, to realize that hundreds of others are quite comfortable…

399 LU employees earned more than $100,000 in 2020, and the timing of releasing the annual “Sunshine List” could not have been worse. President Robert Haché was paid $281,000 last year, while 3 VPs earned $214,000 to $218,000. In all the payroll for these 399 employees was $60M.  Sudbury.com

 

Thorneloe U is fighting Laurentian in court over its unilateral termination of the federation agreement, and one faculty senator is warning that LU’s use of CCAA for restructuring “opens up the floodgates for other universities and colleges to be treated similarly.” It could provide universities of any size a new method “to abruptly reduce their academic offerings without regard for collectively negotiated agreements,” says gender and sexuality studies prof Jen Johnson. Her perspective has reached international audiences through Times Higher Ed.

“We’ve opened up the floodgates for other universities and colleges to be treated similarly, as though we were a private-sector corporation.”Jen Johnson, gender and sexuality studies prof, Thorneloe U

 

“We will oppose this attempt by Laurentian to shut down Thorneloe as a scapegoat for Laurentian’s self-inflicted financial problems.” John Gibaut, president, Thorneloe U

 

uSudbury announced Friday that it was cancelling all Spring term courses, after LU announced it was terminating the federation agreement. Réal Fillion, a philosophy prof at uSudbury, told the Globe & Mail that “our union suggests [uSudbury] will wind down.”

uSudbury’s Indigenous Studies department is one of 3 founding departments in North America, with long-standing relationships with Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Holders. 1,500 Indigenous educators from across Canada have signed an open letter to Laurentian’s administration and the CCAA courts to protect the program. “It has made significant and seminal contributions to the resurgence of Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and decolonization at the local and national levels through its research and expansive curriculum,” and has contributed to the Indigenization of Laurentian and its federation. “The termination of the Indigenous Studies program in Sudbury at Laurentian would represent a significant turning away from Laurentian University’s Tri Cultural Mandate and its commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action on Indigenous Education. It would have an immense impact on Indigenous communities and Canada and would represent the first Indigenous Studies program to be shuttered since the discipline began in 1969.”  Sudbury Star

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine, founded 16 years ago, is an award-winning distributed school jointly hosted by Laurentian in Sudbury and Lakehead in Thunder Bay. Former mayors of both cities are “gravely concerned” about the sustainability of NOSM in light of Laurentian’s insolvency, and are asking the province to consider giving NOSM autonomy in fundraising, degree-granting authority, and independent university status.  Sudbury.com

 

 

2021.04.13

Black Monday, Betrayal, Bloodbath

Yesterday 100+ Laurentian faculty and staff were called into group Zoom meetings and fired, and we got more details about the 69 programs cut at Senate last week.  I honestly can’t turn away from Laurentian to other news right now, but I will try to put it into a larger context, to explain why I think this has implications for the future of higher education broadly, and not merely one union local. And why I think Laurentian will be PAYING for this short-term “win” for years and years to come.

 

Black Monday at Laurentian

Yesterday was, as I said, the day that pink slips hit inboxes at Laurentian, and the scope of the insolvency damage started to become public. (To add insult to injury, of course, yesterday we heard that Ottawa plans to offer a “multi-billion-dollar relief package” to corporate airline, Air Canada. Don’t get me started on THEM…) 

Here’s what detail I’ve been able to uncover about Laurentian so far…

 

69 Programs Closed

Laurentian is closing 35% of its undergrad programs (58 = 34 English and 24 French) and 25% of its grad programs (or 11), which it reports have had “historically low enrolment” and will affect only 10% of undergrad students and a total of 44 grad students. “Laurentian 2.0” will go from 209 programs to just 140. As feared, many of the discontinued programs are Arts & Humanities (Anthropology, Music, Philosophy, Political Science), Modern Languages (Italian, Spanish), geosciences (Ecology, Environmental Science, Geography), but also some STEM disciplines (Mathematics, Biomedical Physics, Physics) and professional programs (concurrent Education, Midwifery). Master’s programs in History, Sociology, Humanities and Physics were also cut, as were joint degrees in Nursing (with Collège Boréal) and Radiation Therapy (with Michener Institute). And finally, perhaps it’s not surprising that Labour Studies also got the axe.  Laurentian

 

100+ Job Cuts

CBC reports a total of 100 professors were dismissed in group Zoom calls yesterday. (Laurentian has 375 full-time and 250-300 part-time faculty, so that represents a cut of at least 15%.) President Robert Haché wrote staff and faculty yesterday that “today we provided end of employment notice to our faculty and staff of upcoming reductions. Some of our colleagues will be leaving us at the end of April 2021, and some in May 2021.” The FAQs indicate that “we anticipate that all affected faculty and staff will be notified on Monday, April 12” – so perhaps no further cuts are anticipated.  Laurentian

“Today was a difficult day and we recognize that. All of our faculty and staff are part of the fabric of Laurentian, and these changes will require a period of profound adjustment.”Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U

 

“This isn’t a restructuring. This is a bloodbath.”Christian Pelletier, Art Director, Studio123

 

Faculty Union Outrage

Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT, wrote yesterday in the Sudbury Star that Laurentian’s CCAA move was “a breath-taking betrayal of students, faculty, and staff,” and “a shocking display of contempt for collective agreements bargained in good faith.” She adds that the administration’s attempt to shift blame onto largely contract faculty is “dishonest”: “part-time teachers are not breaking the bank. Nowhere close.”  Sudbury Star

“Let’s make no mistake. Management by the board and senior administration at Laurentian was outrageously bad.”Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT

 

“Faculty knew that the board of governors was notoriously resistant to reporting financial details. But without giving any notice to anyone, and in a shocking display of contempt for collective agreements bargained in good faith to protect the workplace rights of staff, the Laurentian board decided to downplay its status as a public institution.”Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT

 

“Administrations have never been the heart of a university or college. They are not the people engaged in the core mission of post-secondary education. Nor are administrations usually directly harmed by the reckless decisions they make. It is academic staff, support staff, and students who feel the first shock, who could lose their jobs, benefits, and degrees.”Brenda Austin-Smith, president of CAUT

 

Collective Agreements

Today, faculty are being asked to vote on a new collective agreement. And like the Senate vote on program cuts last week, they are being told that they need to approve it by Apr 30, or the university will cease to operate and they will all be out of a job. (I’m no lawyer, but it’s hard to imagine how this can be in keeping with the spirit of labour laws.)  FAQs

Indigenous Studies Gone

Unfortunately, the national outcry to preserve uSudbury’s Indigenous Studies program clearly wasn’t misguided. Unlike Huntington’s Gerontology program, which “will be taught through Laurentian and housed within the Faculty of Arts,” clearly uSudbury’s program is not going to be preserved. The FAQs say LU is developing a new “Indigenous Perspectives” program, and that “all 150 students who were enrolled in the Indigenous Studies program through the University of Sudbury will have access to courses rooted in Indigenous perspectives already offered through Laurentian’s Faculty of Arts, in disciplines ranging from History, English, Psychology, and Sociology.”  FAQs

uSudbury Disputes the Math

LU claims that the 3 federated universities cost it $5M annually, but uSudbury president John Meehan wrote The Catholic Register to dispute Haché’s math. “The assumption is that feds don’t have the right to teach or to have residences… Students will wind up with less choice under a new monopoly situation controlled by Laurentian.” uSudbury has indicated it may become a unilingual independent francophone institution.  Sudbury Star

NOSM is Safe

Many of Laurentian’s CCAA FAQs were updated yesterday, and now indicate that the Northern Ontario School of Medicine “is a separate entity from Laurentian and is not party to the CCAA proceedings.” (Let’s hope that’s true.)  FAQs

What’s Left to Come?

Laurentian’s FAQs summarize 5 priorities in the CCAA process, including the program review (done) and “re-evaluating the Federated Universities model” (which appears done like dinner). #3 is “reducing… unsustainable expenses, primarily in salaries,” which has certainly started to be addressed through the retirement “incentives” and the elimination of programs, but more could be yet to come. (Salary rollbacks? Staff downsizing? Cutting some of that “Sunshine list”?) Priority #4 is “creating new opportunities for revenue generation,” which could involve asset sales (perhaps selling off some campus lands, or selling the land beneath the federated universities?) or research income (more intense commercialization, or renegotiating IP with faculty researchers?) Maybe they’ll just hike ancillary fees (parking, housing, dining, etc). Finally, priority #5 is “considering all options to address current and long-term indebtedness,” which could just be an allusion to land sales, a government bailout, or perhaps unconventional financial arrangements (a bond issue? campus sale and leaseback? naming rights? lotto tickets?)  FAQs

 

We may get a bit more information about what the new collective agreement contains, or what the banks negotiate in the CCAA process, over the next couple of weeks. I’ll keep my eyes open and keep you informed!

 

The Big Picture

As a general rule, you may notice I completely ignore labour negotiations in the Insider – and I even wrote it into the editorial policies at the Academica Top Ten, almost 20 years ago. There’s plenty of incendiary rhetoric, minor nickel and diming, and as a rule nothing that transforms higher education as a sector, beyond the campus in question. But the Laurentian situation is different…

Financial Exigency

Laurentian’s financial situation was challenging, but not necessarily more than many other institutions. All institutions carry substantial capital debt on campus construction projects, and amortized over decades it seldom prompts then to declare insolvency. I have yet to meet with an institution that doesn’t wrestle with the budget implications of program renewal and sunsetting, with undersubscribed programs or aging tenured faculty. Normally, senior administration works with senate and deans to suspend or phase out programs, redirect faculty to new interdisciplinary focus, or incentivize retirements strategically. If they need more financial “runway,” institutions sell or lease real estate holdings, renegotiate mortgages, launch fundraising campaigns, or tap into their endowments. I still find it very difficult to believe that Laurentian had no other alternative than filing for creditor protection. Declaring insolvency was a choice, and one that appears to set a precedent for public CdnPSE.

Leveraging Court Protection

More than protecting it from creditors, CCAA proceedings seem to have protected Laurentian from transparency. LU seems to be threatening insiders with prosecution, fines, and even jail time if they reveal any of the restructuring plans before the proposal is put before its creditors in court. (Does RBC really care if people know what programs are cut before it does?) LU seems to have set an arbitrary Apr 30 deadline for the proceedings, too, to force senate to sign off on restructuring, and the faculty association to sign a new collective agreement, without time for debate or negotiation. (You can’t tell me that the creditors wouldn’t give a public university an extra month or two grace. Or that the letters sealed by the court don’t include some discussion of MCU providing immediate cash flow.) CCAA proceedings seem to have given the court and the creditors unlimited power to rewrite collective agreements, override academic self-governance, and of course tear uplongstanding legal contracts…

Irreconcilable Differences

I’m not privy to the nature of all the discussions that LU and its federated colleges have had over recent years, but the parties must have been very far apart indeed to be completely unable to negotiate something short of a “shotgun divorce,” in which one party unilaterally pulls the trigger and burns the house down on the other. From the outside, it looks downright evil for Laurentian to summarily withdraw credit recognition and government funding from its 3 founding institutions, after 60 years, with only one month’s notice. (Those affiliation agreements at Western include provision for 3 academic years’ notice, which at least gives time for a graceful teach-out of students, wind-down of operations, or negotiation with government for an independent path forward.) I’m certainly not surprised that Thorneloe is taking LU to court, and they might even have a good case. (Again, I’m no lawyer.)

Railroading Senate

I reported yesterday on the unilateral decision of Sheridan College’s board of governors to disband their senate, and while you could make the case that a community college shouldn’t have such a governing body, the same cannot be said of a public university. But Laurentian’s board has found a way around their senate, almost as effectively as Sheridan did, by thrusting the institution into a legal and financial emergency in which bicameral governance ceases to exist. Although, normally, senate has final authority over academic decisions, LU administration claims that once CCAA proceedings began, only the board and the courts matter. I have no doubt that many administrators wish they could implement radical change in just 3 months, the way that Laurentian has done – but that short-term “win” comes at a massive long-term cost…

Laurentian is Branded

There can be little doubt that Laurentian’s insolvency will have massive, lasting negative repercussions on the institution’s reputation and credibility. Citizens of Sudbury will be saddened, hurt and wary about the economic impact of hundreds of job cuts. Remaining staff and faculty will be anxious, traumatized, and perhaps even resentful. Vendors will be unwilling to work with a client who left them high and dry. Donorswill be outraged at losing their donations. (The FAQ page includes some telling language about the difference between donations made before or after Dec 2020.) Research councils and granting agencies are likely debating the wisdom of funding projects at an institution under court protection. The Francophone and Indigenous communities have made it clear that they are outraged at the closure of the federated colleges and their historic programs. I’d be very surprised if CAUT doesn’t censure Laurentian, discouraging reputable faculty from accepting research, teaching, or even speaking opportunities there. What will national and international research partners make of LU going forward? And of course, students will be reluctant to enroll when their programs could evaporate. When York U experienced a lengthy faculty strike, student applications and enrolments sagged for 5 years thereafter; the very public implosion of Laurentian will likely have a much longer-lasting effect on applicants than a mere strike.

Long-Term Costs

In the end, Laurentian may have found a “quick and easy” way out of onerous obligations to its founding federated universities, senate-approved programs, tenured faculty and collective agreements. But they will be paying the price, reputationally, for at least a decade. For 10 years, I was involved in fielding provincewide surveys of university applicants and their perceptions of institutional reputation, and those metrics budged ever so slightly year over year. I’d wager that this year, though, perceptions of Laurentian’s reputation for academic quality, for student experience, for quality faculty, for financial supports, for student services – allwill drop abruptly and decisively. To survive the fallout of insolvency, LU is going to need substantial government support to weather some rough seas ahead.

 

 

2021.04.14

Quick Takes: Laurentian

ICYMI, yesterday’s issue (“Black Monday, Betrayal, Bloodbath”) provided a pretty thorough look at the facts coming out of Sudbury, and a dose of speculation from me about what remains unsaid, and what might be coming next. Since then, here are a few more key details…

110 Faculty, 41 Staff and 36 Administrators lost their jobs on Monday. The LUFA membership was voting on a new collective agreement yesterday, reached through a process “construed as a mediation, but it’s not really.”  Sudbury.com

 

Laurentian’s School of the Environment has been eliminated, along with the Ecology and Restoration Biology programs. “The entire legacy of the re-greening of Sudbury has been wiped out.” (Symbolically, Sudbury has been decimated by another man-made disaster this year.)  CBC

“I’ve got friends and colleagues whose lives are destroyed. It’s brutal… I have to go back to work, and how am I going to handle working for an administration that implemented this grossly inhumane and cruel plan?”Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde, Biology prof, CRC Chair, Laurentian U

 

Other budget cuts apparently slipped beneath the radar yesterday, such as…

Voyageur Athletics teams have been cut, including the swim team, and women’s varsity hockey. Other teams “wait with bated breath.”  CTV

As you might expect, there is outrage and eloquence pouring in from across the province…

Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, called the cancellation of programs like midwifery “an attack on the North. To take an institution like Laurentian and sell it off like you’re at a yard sale, or treat it like a bankrupt company, has national importance, because if they do this at Laurentian, what’s going to happen when a health sciences department or a hospital runs into deficit?”  Toronto Sun

“To take an institution like Laurentian and sell it off like you’re at a yard sale, or treat it like a bankrupt company, has national importance.”Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay

 

“In one e-mail sent at 10:01 pm, the university had undone decades of education for the humanities including fields of communications, Indigenous studies, gerontology, and gender and sexuality.”Jackson Pind, Laurentian alumnus

 

The University of Ottawa has declared that it “stands in solidarity with Laurentian” and confirmed its commitment to the Franco-Ontarian community. “Today we call on the provincial and federal governments to review and increase the funding allocated to Francophone or bilingual universities in minority settings in order to prevent such a situation from once again threatening post-secondary education in French across Canada.”  uOttawa

OCUFA is calling for the resignation of minister of colleges and universities Ross Romano, and for the province to provide immediate financial support to LU.   CBC

 

As I suspected yesterday, federal money is available to help…

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured reporters that Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly has offered support to her counterparts in Ontario, “because we know how important it is to protect official language minorities across the country.”  CBC

Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre said yesterday that the federal government offered financial support to the province a month ago, to support French-language university education in Sudbury, but is still waiting for a plan from Queen’s Park. An independent uSudbury might be one approach.  Sudbury Star

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Deputy Leader Alexandre Boulerice have written Trudeau and Joly, calling on the federal government to support uSudbury’s transformation into an autonomous francophone institution.  Sudbury Star

 

2021.04.15

Cruelty and Pay Cuts

Yes, more details have been trickling out since yesterday…

Of the 110 professors cut on Monday, 83 were terminated while 27 were cut through attrition and retirements.  CBC

“Without the provincial government at the table, we were in an impossible position. It now appears clear that this was the outcome that both Laurentian’s senior administration and Minister Romano were working toward.”Fabrice Colin, Laurentian U Faculty Association president

 

Varsity Swimming and Hockey programs for men and women have been discontinued as of Apr 30. LU Voyageurs will continue to compete in OUA and USports for 9 other sports.  LU

Despite recruiting new hockey players for the 2021-22 season, just weeks ago. The women’s hockey team announced 7 new recruits, but suggested they not do media interviews.  Lambda

5% pay cuts were included in that new 5-year collective agreement Laurentian faculty ratified yesterday, the day after layoffs terminated almost one-third of tenured profs without any provision for severance pay. (Fired profs can get in line in CCAA court.) The new collective agreement also included a salary freeze for 2 years, and 5 furlough days a year for 3 years. Faculty in Science, Engineering and Architecture agreed to increased teaching hours. All employees have had their pay cut, including administrators.  Globe & Mail

“I had one girl text me yesterday wondering if a Laurentian degree would be respectable anymore.”Lexey Burns, Editor, Laurentian Lambda

 

 

RE-Colonization

The outrage continues, from Sudbury and across Canada, starting (naturally) with the employee unions…

Laurentian issued a media statement yesterday celebrating the ratified agreements between LU’s board and “its two largest labour partners,” which “reflect the tremendous commitment and sacrifice of all faculty and staff to the University and its future.” The new 5-year faculty collective agreement (retroactive to June 2020) and the amendments to the existing staff collective agreement (with 3 years remaining).  LU

OCUFA and LUFA held a press conference yesterday to once again call for the resignation of Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano, as well as LU president Robert Haché, board chair Claude Lacroix, provost Marie-Josée Berger, VP Administration Lorella Hayes, and registrar Serge Demers. “Minister Romano has demonstrated the same resistance to consultation, transparency and accountability as the Laurentian administration.”  Sudbury.com

“The administration that so poorly navigated this crisis must not be the same administration tasked with plotting a course forward.”Fabrice Colin, Laurentian U Faculty Association president

 

OPSEU is calling on the province to step in and block employee layoffs by providing Laurentian more funding. “There is an alternative and that is to do the right thing. The government must step up and make sure Laurentian has the resources to provide the same quality education that learning centres in southern Ontario offer.” Moreover, says OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, “treating terminated employees like any other creditor in terms of severance obligations is plain wrong.”  Education News Canada

“Gutting the university’s programs is not going to save Laurentian, and the government shouldn’t go along with this.”Eduardo Almeida, First VP, OPSEU

 

Yesterday uOttawa take a public stand in solidarity with Laurentian. Now, the Quebec government and the federal House of Commons are chiming in…

Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously denounced the cuts to French-language programs at LU yesterday, adopting a PQ motion without debate. On Tuesday, the House of Commons adopted a BQ motion unanimously, expressing “concern.” Yesterday the NDP called on the Trudeau government to come to Laurentian’s rescue.  Montreal Gazette

In Ottawa, Parliament agreed to hold an emergency debate last night about the LU situation at the request of NDP MP Charlie Angus.  Globe & Mail

The “colonial version of indigenization” is what Tasha Beeds, assistant prof at uSudbury, sees in LU’s treatment of the federated universities. “Laurentian will take the entire Indigenous Studies departments, program, classes, history… all of the Indigenous minds, intellectual legacies, heart and thought, and they will take that and profit from it.”  Laurentian Lambda

 

 

Laurentian 2.0

Although I’m not among them (you may have noticed that), there are some people out there finding upsides and silver linings to the decimation going on at Laurentian. Here are some I’ve noticed, beyond president Haché, whom I’ve already cited this week, speaking optimistically of the “Laurentian 2.0” that will emerge from the ashes…

Vive l’Université Libre

For many Francophones in Northern Ontario, the fight for cultural identity is intertwined with Laurentian’s French-language programs – more than half of which were razed to the ground on Monday. Many fear an exodus of youth, who will go south to study as a result, and accelerate the north’s demographic decline. If there is an upside, it is that the trauma of this week “is fomenting a movement that has been in place for some time,” agitating for university education in the north under “governance by, for, and with Francophones.” An autonomous francophone institution could “rebuild French-language university education based on the needs of the Francophone community and thus protect the distinctiveness of the French fact on campus.” In other words, “Que vive le projet de l’Université de Sudbury. Que vive l’Université Libre du Nouvel-Ontario!”  Sudbury.com

Turnaround through Innovation

COVID19 is exposing long-standing fault lines in higher education, explains Kevin Kee, Dean of Arts at uOttawa, and it is crucial that we “build back better before the foundation has crumbled.” Rather like LU, his Faculty had been operating at a deficit for a decade, with enrolment in freefall and debt approaching half of annual income. Back in 2015, they undertook research, developed a strategy, and focused on program renewal and innovation, launching new interdisciplinary offerings, pioneering new delivery models and formats. “We knew in our hearts and minds what biologists have shown in their labs: ecosystems — whether biological or intellectual — thrive on diversity.” While humanities enrolments declined across Canada, they saw +54% growth in applicants and +20% in enrolments in just the first year. After 5 years, international enrolments have quadrupled. “Having campuses with appropriate financial support and updated innovative academic programming is one way forward to a better future.”  Ottawa Citizen

Survival Depends on Transformation

“Universities are at a crossroads,” write former uCalgary president Elizabeth Cannon and Sr Assoc Dean of Business Loren Falkenberg – and not just in Sudbury. Demographics are shifting, government funding is dropping, and online delivery gives a strong advantage to top-ranked global brands, be they universities or corporations like Google. Enrolments are shifting to professional programs. Performance-based funding and donor restrictions mean that “government and philanthropic funding are increasingly influencing how programs develop.” But universities are “constrained by their extensive physical and technical infrastructures,” and tenured faculty “remain convinced the traditional university structure provides the greatest value to society.” To survive, universities must make “tough decisions.” Australia’s uSydney eliminated 10 faculties and 100 programs last fall. (uAlberta’s restructuring also comes to mind, although they don’t mention it.) To “future proof” a university, faculty and staff from across the institution, and community members outside, must share their knowledge and data, reach a common understanding of the challenges and disruptions ahead, and be deeply engaged in developing a strategy to reach a shared vision of the future. “Universities without a visible strategy will not flourish and may not even survive.”  The Conversation

 

 

2021.04.16

Consternation & Conspiracies

There is much mystery in what remains UNSAID about Laurentian’s insolvency, and the decisions that appear, on the face of things, to make no rational sense…

“Major Milestones” Completed

LU president Robert Haché issued a statement yesterday, also published as an op-ed in the Sudbury Star, announcing the completion of “a number of major milestones” in the CCAA process. (The statement was criticized by many as a “tone-deaf” way to celebrate hundreds of student, staff and faculty lives upended by cuts announced on Monday.) Paperwork is being prepared to move into phase 2 as planned on Apr 30, with additional funding to keep LU afloat financially until Aug 31 as it negotiates with creditors (including major banks, the tri-councils, and retired employees) and potentially explores liquidation of assets. Next week, Haché promised, new documents will be released to allow us “to better understand the circumstances and decision making that took place” during the CCAA proceedings. (I hope so!)

Midwifery Cost LU Nothing

Among the 69 programs cut on Monday for “low enrolment” was Canada’s only bilingual Midwifery program – and unlike the others, it was extremely popular with students and cost LU nothing. The program attracted 300 applications last year, for just 30 available seats – a cap imposed by the province. Since the program is grant funded by MCU and the Ministry of Health, “Laurentian does not pay for this program at all.” (Supporters of the program are circulating a petition in English and en français, with a deadline of today.)  The Lambda

 

The Ontario government has given its first indication of how it intends to support northern education, after allowing Laurentian to implode…

Independence for NOSM, Hearst

MCU Ross Romano announced yesterday that the province has introduced legislation to make the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (currently a joint venture between Lakehead and Laurentian) and Université de Hearst (currently an affiliate of Laurentian) independent, degree-granting institutions in their own right. Unlike other affiliates in Ontario, NOSM and Hearst already receive provincial funding directly. The change would permit them to expand to new campuses and “make choices about future partnerships.” NOSM enrolled ~460 full-time students this year, and Hearst ~160. (It’s unclear whether this is good or bad news for uSudbury’s prospects of pursuing independence.)  Ontario

 

While Ottawa can’t directly intervene until the province asks, it CAN make sure that CCAA isn’t an option for any other universities…

Bill to Block CCAA for PSE

At Wednesday night’s emergency House of Commons debate about the LU insolvency, Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre (a Liberal) announced that he will be tabling a private member’s bill on Monday to amend the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act “to prevent other universities from going down the same path as Laurentian.” Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus (NDP) expressed similar concern that other public institutions could be dismantled or privatized. “The carnage and the anxiety that I’ve seen in my community should not be repeated anywhere else in the country.”  CBC

 

I’ve been emphasizing the mystery in the correspondence between MCU and LU administration in late January, just days before the insolvency announcement, which the CCAA court has ordered sealed because its contents could be “detrimental to any potential restructuring.” (I have been speculating that perhaps MCU offered emergency funding, which LU turned down. Or perhaps MCU promised more money after the CCAA proceedings eliminated much of the debt.) If you love such conspiracy theories, though, Alex Usher points out another…

About Desjardins’ Credit Line…

Sometime last summer, one of LU’s major bank lenders, Desjardins, somehow got paid out in full, while RBC and TD were left holding $90M in debt as the university slipped into creditor protection. Alex Usher asks if the bank called its line of credit, what tipped them off? Or worse, did LU “actually choose to renounce the line of credit in order to provoke a crisis? (The careful wording of Haché’s affidavit is ambiguous on this point.)” As I’ve suggested before, Alex also points out that “Laurentian’s problems could have been solved with much less fuss” if MCU had simply loaned them ~$35M for repayment over 5-7 years. (I think one or both parties – MCU and LU’s administration or board – must not have wanted to avoid the university’s implosion. If so, I think they seriously underestimate the long-term damage this will do to the university.)  HESA

 

And while the only source so far is in French, there’s one more conspiracy theory out there about francophone PSE in Ontario…

Plotting the Death of UOF

Back in 2018, just 3 weeks before the Ford government cancelled the Wynne government’s planned Université de l’Ontario Français, it held what Radio Canada calls a “secret meeting” with uOttawa president Jacques Frémont, Collège Boréal president Daniel Giroux, acting LU president Pierre Zundel, and his predecessor Dominic Giroux. Out of concern about competition diluting Francophone PSE in Ontario, one proposal in the meeting was to shelve the UOF project, and instead fund a Toronto campus to be managed by LU and UO. Dominic Giroux in particular warned that UOF was “doomed to failure” like the Collège des Grands Lacs in 2002. (Certainly UOF faces steep odds: by Jan 24 they had received just 39 applications for Fall 2021.)  Radio-Canada

 

 

2021.04.20

Postscript: Laurentian

Since my last summary on Friday, a few key things have happened in Sudbury…

Lakehead U is objecting to the province’s move to grant the Northern Ontario School of Medicine institutional autonomy. “We are concerned by today’s news, particularly in light of the absence of any consultation with the university.”  Sudbury Star

uSudbury signed an interim agreement, announced Friday, that will allow LU to teach 6 distance-learning Indigenous Studies courses “previously taught” by uSudbury, using “sessional instructors for the Spring term only.” This summer, LU will consult about “how best to ensure the ongoing delivery of Indigenous education.”  Laurentian

Thorneloe U filed its court challenge against LU’s unilateral termination of the federation agreement, in the Ontario Superior Court last Thursday. The court filing says that LU cutting off provincial funding will precipitate Thorneloe’s own insolvency, while making no material improvement to LU’s finances.  Sudbury Star

Lakehead economist Livio Di Matteo calculates that the LU cuts to staff and programs will mean at least a $100M impact on the Greater Sudbury economy, or 2% of the city’s GDP. (That’s just taking $30-$40M in direct wages, and a multiplier for indirect impact – but not counting the impact of out-of-town students, who may be dissuaded from attending LU.)  Sudbury.com

“Universities are much more complicated than pulp mills in terms of their programs and what they do in communities.”Livio Di Matteo, economist, Lakehead U

 

~100 Protestors picketed near the home of LU president Robert Haché on Friday, wearing masks and attempting to maintain social distance. The group included students, employees, alumni, and midwifery students, outraged at being told to switch to nursing. They were even joined by Thorneloe U president John Gibaut.  Sudbury.com

The Nipissing U Faculty Association is calling for the resignations of MCU Ross Romano, LU president Robert Haché, and his senior leadership team, citing “the loss of confidence in the minister’s commitment to the university sector” and “the catastrophic mishandling of the situation at LU.”  Sudbury Star

Jean-Marc Dalpé renounced his honorary doctorate from Laurentian. The francophone author, poet and playwright has written to president Haché to demand an investigation into the real causes of LU’s financial chaos. “The resistance is only just beginning.”  CBC

Chancellor Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda, has resigned. He has served as Chancellor at Laurentian since 2013, and his second term was to continue until July.  Sudbury.com

“Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has failed the people of Northern Ontario, especially Francophone, women, Indigenous and working-class community members, by allowing this crisis to happen.”Jagmeet Singh, federal NDP leader

 

While Quebec politicians publicly protest the injustice to minority francophone education rights in Sudbury, they are simultaneously undermining minority anglophone PSE in their own province…

Blocking English CEGEPs

The Parti Québécois voted 94% Sunday in favour of adopting their youth wing’s proposal to impose Bill 101 on the province’s CEGEPs. If the CAQ government were to apply the measure, the language bill would prevent francophones and allophones from attending English CEGEPs.  Montreal Gazette

 

#ICYMI

Since we’re talking about the impact of the Laurentian restructuring…

Save Our Laurentian

13-year-old Ada King Gold had hoped to study music and education at Laurentian, but last week’s cuts eliminated the option of music in Sudbury. With her mother, an LU alum, Ada co-wrote and recorded a song expressing their frustration at “corrupted” management and “disrupted” lives, but sounding a defiant note: “We won’t stay silent, we will not back down… There is still time to turn this around.” The song calls on government to “help fix the deficits,” and on accountability for “those responsible,” because “Who’s gonna come now, Who’s gonna stay now, With this crisis in our town?”  YouTube  |  Sudbury.com

 

 

 

2021.04.21

Sudbury Steamrolled, or Getting Steamed?

Since yesterday, there has been at least one more development in Sudbury worth mentioning…

 

uSudbury Seemed Quiet

Since LU announced its intention to unilaterally terminate the federation on Apr 1, Thorneloe U has objected loudly and begun pursuing a court order to prevent it. Within a week, though, Huntington signed a deal to allow LU to “acquire” its Gerontology program, and agreed it would teach no courses for LU credit. And while uSudbury was publicly exploring ways to become an independent, unilingual francophone institution back in March, before LU’s announcement, that didn’t seem to be gaining much momentum. (Although MP Paul Lefebvre suggested an independent uS might be one way to protect francophone PSE in Sudbury, while Jagmeet Singh and Alexandre Boulerice have been calling on the federal government to support it.) When the province announced its intention to grant autonomy to Hearst U and NOSM last week, there was no mention of uS.

 

Pillaging Indigenous Studies

Indigenous groups have been vocal in their concerns about the disappearance of uSudbury’s English Indigenous Studies program for months. Tasha Beeds, assistant prof at uS, sharply criticized LU’s recolonization of Indigenous Studies: “Laurentian will take the entire Indigenous Studies departments, program, classes, history… all of the Indigenous minds, intellectual legacies, heart and thought, and they will take that and profit from it.” Sadly, though, last week it appeared uS might be conceding defeat along with Huntington: uS announced it was cancelling all Spring term courses, and one philosophy prof told the Globe & Mail that “our union suggests [uSudbury] will wind down.” Friday, uS signed an interim agreement to allow LU to teach 6 distance-learning Indigenous Studies courses “previously taught” by uSudbury, using “sessional instructors for the Spring term only.”

 

uSudbury takes Legal Action

But yesterday we learned that uSudbury’s board of regents filed a notice of motion with the courts last Wednesday, arguing (much like Thorneloe) that the federation agreement is permanent and cannot be unilaterally terminated by LU. “Laurentian is not acting in good faith,” and the arbitrary termination would allow it to appropriate 100% of uS student tuition and grants, while burdening uS with ~$4M in costs to terminate its employees. Moreover, if uS were unable to maintain its payments on the land it leases “perpetually” from LU, LU could conceivably take possession of uS’s entire campus. The motion explains that “Laurentian owes its existence to USudbury,” founded 46 years earlier. The suit also explains that the one-month notice is inadequate for uS to manage the process of resuming its autonomy and independence.  CBC

 

Declaration of Independence

The uSudbury board of regents unanimously voted to undertake the transition process to independence on Mar 11, has assembled an ad hoc committee and a community working group, and retained a consulting firm to develop a business plan to submit to MCU. The Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario enthusiastically supports uS as a third francophone university in Ontario, after UOF and Hearst.  Sudbury Star

 

Repatriate all French Programs

A group of Francophone and Francophile LU faculty are promoting a petition to the Ontario government to establish uSudbury as “a university by and for the Francophone community” of “Middle-North” Ontario. They demand a moratorium on French-language programs at Laurentian and the other federated universities, and urge the repatriation of all French programs and courses from LU to uSudbury, and “all material, physical, human and financial resources (including but not limited to archives, scholarships, donations, and copyright).”  Sudbury.com

 

“The cuts announced by Laurentian University last Monday are devastating. Laurentian University can no longer claim to be the ‘torch’ of Ontario’s Francophonie, having cut half of its French-language programs (20 out of 40) and fired 40 of its Francophone professors.” Denis Hurtubise, Regroupement des professeurs(es) francophones de l’Université Laurentienne

 

“Apology” to the Community

You have probably noticed that I can’t resist a powerful metaphor… I’m drawing my title today from a letter to the editor by a “proud alumna,” who describes Laurentian U as “the very fabric of Northern Ontario… part of our poetry.” With the tragic cancellation of the midwifery program, she also describes LU as an Olympic pool in which “the students now have anvils attached to them.” Sudbury is now “a mining capital with no French mining program,” where an Italian Studies student “might never meet a Romano” (ie Ross Romano, Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities). The letter ends with an apology for running over LU “with a steamroller, frankly.”  Sudbury.com

 

 

2021.04.27

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.  Sudbury.com

 

“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.”  Sudbury.com

 

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

 

2021.04.29

Impacts at Laurentian?

So far, the repercussions of Laurentian’s Feb 1 insolvency announcement appear to have had only subtle impacts on application numbers. Non-HS applications are pretty much level with last year (-0.1% as of Apr 8) – although provincewide those applications are up +10%, so perhaps that isn’t very healthy. HS-direct applications tend to reflect reputation and competitive positioning better, because those applicants are more willing to consider relocating. HS-direct applications to LU were down -2.7% over the previous YTD on Jan 17, and that was only slightly worse by Apr 8 (-3.3%). LU attracted just 11 more HS-direct applications in the 2 months from Feb 4 to Apr 8, compared to 91 last year – so perhaps they have lost 80 applications that they might otherwise have gained, due to the CCAA proceedings. HS-direct applicants have largely applied by January, and after that point tend to adjust the order of their “choices” rather than withdrawing applications entirely. So perhaps it’s telling that the 11 new LU applications in April were unanimously 4th choice or worse, and that 29 others – half of them formerly 1st choice LU – dropped LU to their 4th choice or worse. And none of these stats yet reflect the scores of programs cancelled on “Black Monday,” Apr 13 – so the next OUAC update will almost certainly look worse for LU. The real proof will be in the pudding – confirmation stats this fall.

 

2021.05.03

Laurentian’s “Manufactured Crisis”

Voices of Protest

Last Thursday and Friday, Laurentian U was in court arguing for an extension of its creditor protection. Meanwhile, thousands of others across Ontario were arguing against its use of CCAA to eviscerate the institution…

 

Light Against the Darkness

On Friday morning, a “funeral procession” of dozens of vehicles drove through Sudbury to the LU campus, to acknowledge the terminated programs and employees by laying memorial wreaths at the campus sign. Scholars Strike Canada also organized “Rally on Wheels” protests in Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Kingston and Ottawa, to protest “the failure of the Ford government to provide emergency funding… or to stop the use of the CCAA at Laurentian.” Friday night, a socially-distanced “candlelight vigil” was held on the Bridge of Nations, near the home of LU president Robert Haché, “to bear witness to what has happened.” Timmins Daily Press

 

“The CCAA process was never designed for public institutions. It’s being used to dismantle and destroy the university; to rip up federated agreements; to ignore labour rights; and to dismantle programs that are important to us here in the north. If it can happen at Laurentian, it can happen anywhere else.” Scott Florence, executive director, Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre

 

 

Faculty Associations Unite

Faculty associations across Ontario are protesting the application of the CCAA to a public institution, and the way in which LU used it to steamroll over bicameral governance and collective agreements. OCUFA reports almost 10,000 letters of support have been sent to the government of Ontario. Faculty associations at Trent, NOSM, Lakehead, Western, Carleton and Nipissing have taken public positions. Faculty associations at Laurier, OCAD, York and Ryerson have passed motions calling for the resignation of minister Ross Romano and senior LU administrators. Senates at Nipissing, uOttawa and U Saint Paul have passed motions calling for adequate funding of francophone PSE from the province and the federal government.  OCUFA

 

CAUT Censure?

Last Wednesday, CAUT called for the resignations of minister Ross Romano, president Robert Haché, board chair Claude Lacroix, and 3 LU administrators over the “calamity” in Sudbury. After CAUT invoked censure against uToronto over a single questionable hiring decision, it’s impossible to imagine that it will not do likewise against LU before long.

 

Negotiate “in Good Faith”

On Apr 20, the LU Senate passed an almost-unanimous motion urging the administration to “sit down in good faith” with uSudbury and any other federated university to “suggest an orderly transition” of axed programs and faculty members should they wish to adopt them. (5 opposing votes included those cast by president Robert Haché and VP Marie-Josée Berger.)  Toronto Star

 

Quasi-Machiavellian Cuts

Jean Watters, former LU president and founding president of Collège Boréal, writes that LU’s program cuts were “non-strategic” and staff dismissals “quasi-Machiavellian.” Black Monday has created bitterness and discouragement in the francophone community, and revived its long-standing dream of creating a truly francophone university, even if “rebuilt on the still-smoking ruins of this university that has never been its own.”  La Voix du Nord

 

 

Killing Programs

The cynic in me has to wonder whether Laurentian’s administration deliberately axed the programs guaranteed to generate the most outrage, and rapidly attract government aid. (I mean, come on! Cutting midwives, francophone and Indigenous programs, legendary environmental departments, and euthanizing hundreds of lab animals…)

 

Literally Euthanizing Hundreds

In a tragically symbolic move, LU is compounding the termination of hundreds of jobs and scores of academic programs by literally euthanizing 200 lab mice and rats with the closure of its Animal Care Facility. Animal lovers are outraged that no attempt was made to find them “placements” in new homes, and are calling for LU “to immediately stay the wrongful execution of these innocent animals.” Conservation biology grad student Meghan Ward reports that 250 tadpoles in her research lab were killed early, so “there was no research gained from the death.” LU’s statement says simply, “these research activities will be wound down under the oversight of a veterinarian following animal welfare guidelines.”

 

Midwifery Reborn

Just 2 days after a federal NDP critic called for a study into the impacts of cutting LU’s midwifery program last week, the province responded. MCU Ross Romano said Friday that the Ontario government will make it a priority to maintain a northern, bilingual midwifery program, even though LU announced its closure on Apr 13. As a short-term solution, the $1M in funding previously allocated to LU’s program will be redistributed to Ryerson and McMaster, so they can offer “pathways” to LU midwifery students to complete their training without leaving northern Ontario. There has been some speculation that the program could be relocated to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, which the government plans to make an independent university.  Toronto Star

 

Superficially Indigenous

Indigenous advocates are questioning LU’s decision to hire “unqualified” sessionals to teach 6 uSudbury Indigenous Studies courses this spring, rather than hiring the uS experts who developed the courses. LU says it is looking “in house” first for instructors, starting with existing full-time faculty, then LU sessionals with seniority, and then recently-terminated LU faculty. “If no qualified faculty are found,” only then would LU seek applications “externally” from uS faculty.  Toronto Star

 

Environmental Destruction

LU’s legendary departments of environmental science, environmental studies, ecology and restoration biology played a key role in the regreening of Sudbury, and are even singled out in the current research and strategic plans: “Decades of world‐class scholarship on industrial contamination and the recovery of lands, lakes and communities have given the ‘Sudbury story’ global resonance.” So why, asks biology prof Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde, were the programs axed last month, even while LU preserved other money-losing ones because of their “direct link to LU’s mission”?  Sudbury Star

 

Anxious WGSX

Although Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies have so far been spared in the LU restructuring, the department worked in tandem with midwifery, social work and Indigenous Studies (which have been cut) and are housed at Thorneloe U, which is in jeopardy (see below). Women’s Studies currently has 53 program students enrolled, and 500+ taking courses towards minors, certificates or electives. “I think right now the administration at Laurentian is having a hard time making the connection between programs that are explicitly about gender equity and what they are actually doing to our community.”  Sudbury Star

 

 

“Manufactured” Crisis?

The abrupt declaration of insolvency, the rush to CCAA creditor protection, and the arbitrary deadline of Apr 30 imposed by a private lender (ostensibly LU’s only option), all created a crisis in which secrecy prevailed, numbers and plans were guarded secrets, and devastating plans had to be approved in mere hours under duress. Staff and faculty unions, and the academic senate, were told they either approve the plan put in front of them, or the university would collapse. This is collective bargaining and collegial self-governance alright – with a loaded gun pointed to the head!

 

While the unions and Senate acquiesced to this legal bullying, and even Huntington U appears to have “sold” its gerontology program to LU and signed off on the termination of the federation, 2 other founding colleges at Laurentian brought the fight to court last week…

 

LU: Dissolution or Demise

LU’s lawyer, D.J. Miller, argued in court Thursday that the university would not survive without the planned $10M cash infusion from Firm Capital Mortgage Fund Inc. And for some reason, that loan agreement was amended on Apr 19 to make it almost entirely contingent upon the dissolution of the Laurentian Federation. Miller argued that LU “cannot put forward a viable plan” if it cannot retain the $7.7M in grants and funding that should flow to the partner universities. She warned that if the federated universities win their court challenges, it would lead to LU’s demise – and classes scheduled to begin this morning could not proceed. (Again, a loaded gun to the head.) Judge Geoffrey Morawetz quite rightly asked “Could this timing crisis not have been averted with actions entirely within the power of the applicant?”  CBC

 

“Could this timing crisis not have been averted with actions entirely within the power of the applicant?”Judge Geoffrey Morawetz, hearing the Thorneloe/LU case

 

 

Thorneloe: “Manufactured Crisis”

Andrew Hatnay, legal counsel for Thorneloe U, countered that LU suffered from “plain university mismanagement,” and is exploiting the CCAA process to eliminate a competitor for student enrolment and government grants. “The federation is not a commercial contract.” Furthermore there is no cost to LU of maintaining the federation agreement, and far less gain to terminating it, since the $7.7M is offset by the costs of delivering programs. (In 2020, Thorneloe received just $568K in provincial grants and $1.5M in tuition from LU.) The $30M in savings LU has already achieved through program and payroll cuts should be sufficient to set it on a path to sustainability, he argued. In fact, LU has enough cash on hand to see it through Jun 20. The Apr 30 deadline is a “manufactured crisis,” and court approval of the dissolution of the federation will force Thorneloe into bankruptcy through no fault of its own. Moreover, “if Laurentian does not succeed… neither does Thorneloe.”  CBC  |  Sudbury Star  |  Radio-Canada

 

uSudbury: “Tail Wagging the Dog”

On Friday, uSudbury legal counsel Ronald Caza argued that it would be better to let LU “go bankrupt” than allow it to unilaterally and unlawfully “disclaim” the 61-year-old federation agreement. The loan provisions, he said, are a case of “the tail wagging the dog,” and LU’s renunciation of the federation is a mere “cash grab.” (uSudbury is seeking time to restructure, gain degree-granting authority, and reposition itself as an independent francophone university, and seeking to acquire LU’s existing French programs.)  Sudbury.com

 

“We have a university that has asked to put an end to a relationship they have with the federated universities, for the only reason as to choke them out.”Ronald Caza, legal counsel, uSudbury

 

 

 

Eleventh Hour Verdict

Both judges in last week’s court proceedings promised to release their rulings together, literally at the eleventh hour, 11pm last night – barely in time for the start of spring term courses today at LU. (Also not great for my own editorial deadline.) They were faced with an ultimatum from LU: dissolve the federation so that we can access our next $10M loan instalment, or (implicitly) we bankrupt the university and throw students out of classes without warning.

 

Federation Obliterated

Late last night, the judges released their rulings, dismissing the motions of the federated universities and finding in favour of LU’s administration and their insolvency advisors, Ernst & Young. Justice Gilmoreconcluded that uS “brought up many important issues in its request… all of which this court intends to address,” but “in the interim… I have determined to dismiss SU’s motion. Detailed reasons will follow.” Chief Justice Morawetz concluded “for reasons to follow, Thorneloe’s motion is dismissed.” In his ruling on LU’s CCAA extension, he concluded “for reasons to follow, this motion is granted.”

 

After a weekend of deliberations, the judges invalidated 61 years of history, 3 affiliated colleges, and vital connections to the Indigenous and Francophone communities of northern Ontario. All for the lack of $10M, if the administration is to be believed, that it supposedly needed by this morning in order to avoid declaring bankruptcy. (Personally, I think LU should face bankruptcy over this, not push its federated colleges there to save itself.) Of course, things should never have come to this…

 

 

Really, No Option?

Critics have already observed that the LU administration has been “insulting our intelligence” by suggesting that it had no other options for emergency financing than “debtor-in-possession” financing from Firm Capital Mortgage Fund, and clearly there were other options…

 

City Council calls on MCU

Last week, Sudbury City Council unanimously called on the province “to intervene in this ongoing process as soon as possible and commit to providing the much-needed funding to secure the future viability and sustainability” of LU. Beyond hundreds of jobs and thousands of current and future students, many contractors may be pushed out of business if LU cannot pay its debts. “We are devastated by what is happening at our institution.”  Sudbury Star

 

RSC Urges Federal Aid

In its March policy paper, the Royal Society of Canada observes that provincial governments appear to be detaching from the purpose of PSE, and urges the federal government to take on a greater role to advance research, integration, equity and inclusion, by increasing core funding to PSE institutions. The “nightmare scenario” at LU is a “canary in the coal mine.”  University Affairs

 

Ottawa Offers Help

Last Thursday, federal official languages minister Mélanie Joly said Ottawa is willing to provide funds to assist LU, and is in discussions with the Ontario government about how best to support francophone PSE. “We are at the table and we are willing to help.” (The latest federal budget committed $120M over 3 years to minority-language PSE across Canada.) She envisions 3 possible futures for francophone PSE in Sudbury: either in a bilingual LU, a monolingual uS, or through a satellite of Université de l’Ontario Français. Joly also said the CCAA process was never intended for public institutions. In fact, Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre recently introduced a private member’s bill to forbid it.   Globe & Mail

 

Airline Analogy

On Apr 12, the federal government announced a $5.4B loan to Air Canada, to preserve the 14,859 employees it had left (out of 38,000 pre-pandemic). That is a loan of $363,416 per job. Last week, Ottawa also offered Air Transat a $700M loan to preserve 772 jobs (out of 5,000 pre-pandemic). That works out to $906,736 per job. Sure, there were creditors to be repaid and customers to reimburse, and airlines serve an important role in the sustainability of smaller communities across Canada – but so, quite obviously, do the universities in the Laurentian Federation! And there is little doubt that the travel sector will have a very long road ahead to recovery from the pandemic recession. (Full disclosure: I’m a frequent flyer who genuinely resents Air Canada’s monopolistic pricing and ill treatment of employees and customers alike.) Based on the going Air Transat rate, you would think that Ottawa would gladly front a loan of $181M to save 200 jobs at LU, or even $29M merely to save the 32 jobs at Thorneloe – without Firm Capital’s draconian terms, and likely at a near-zero interest rate.

 

Based on the going Air Transat rate, Ottawa should gladly loan Laurentian $181M to save 200 jobs, or $29M merely to save 32 jobs at Thorneloe.

 

 

Did Ontario Offer Too?

Perhaps I’m too big a fan of police procedurals and courtroom drama, but the other “smoking gun” in Laurentian’s insolvency might well be the secret correspondence between the LU administration and MCU in late January, just 5 days before the CCAA action was announced. The CCAA judge ordered the correspondence sealed because its contents could be “detrimental to any potential restructuring.” I can only imagine why that might be, but it certainly would make sense if in fact MCU offered emergency financing to LU, and the administration refused to take it. Presumably the correspondence somehow entangled the provincial government in the matter, or relieved LU of its “manufactured crisis.”

 

 

Challenges Ahead

Next we turn our attention to what lies ahead…

 

A Path Forward?

At a Friday afternoon meeting, the LU board of governors terminated the Retiree Health Benefit Plan and Supplemental Retirement Plan, effective Apr 7. LUSU president Tom Fenske urged the board to follow in the footsteps of chancellor Steve Paikin and resign: “This catastrophic event was started by this board,” he said. President Robert Haché offered a more “rosy” perspective, telling the board that the “worst of the CCAA process” is behind them: “3 months ago we were in a very precarious position. Today there is a light, there is a path forward.”  Sudbury.com

 

 

2021.05.04

Scorched Earth in Sudbury

Although the ramifications of the Laurentian U insolvency will play out for months to come, the board won major legal battles Sunday night and moved LU into phase 2 of its CCAA strategy…

 

Upbeat President

Yesterday morning, within hours of the eleventh-hour court decisions that eviscerated the federated universities and left much of the community in shock, LU president Robert Haché released an upbeat message to the community. “I am pleased to say that the next phase of the CCAA process will allow for an increase in engagement with a wider variety of stakeholders as well as increased opportunities for communication at every stage.” He clarified that the termination of the federation agreement “is only with respect to the contracts for the delivery of courses and programs,” and that “Laurentian has not taken any steps that would extinguish the right of any of the Federated Universities to continue to exist, or to have a continued presence and create a historic legacy on campus.” Phase 2 will involve consultations, assessment of creditor claims (including employees hoping for pensions), and more “operational and financial restructuring initiatives.”  Laurentian

 

“Laurentian has not taken any steps that would extinguish the right of any of the Federated Universities to continue to exist, or to have a continued presence and create a historic legacy on campus.”Robert Haché, president, Laurentian U

 

While LU is not preventing the right of the federated universities to “exist,” it has eliminated their right to deliver courses for university credit, cut off crucial government funding, and thereby triggered inevitable terminations of most faculty and staff.

 

Courses Cancelled

With Sunday’s decision, the federated universities cannot offer courses for credit this spring or summer. Huntington and uSudbury had previously announced the cancellations, except for the Gerontology program (reported “sold” to LU) and 6 courses in Indigenous Studies (to be taught by LU sessions, still to be hired). Except for Theology, all spring Thorneloe courses were cancelled yesterday without notice, including Ancient Studies, Religious Studies, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Sudbury.com

 

Thornloe to Appeal

Thorneloe U announced immediately its intention to appeal the Ontario Superior Court ruling issued Sunday. “Unless corrected by the Court of Appeal, this decision is devastating to our students, faculty and staff as it enables Laurentian to move forward with its ill-conceived plan to close down the federated universities.” Sudbury Star

 

uSudbury Determined

uSudbury is “extremely disappointed” by the court decisions, but will wait for the release of the courts’ reasons before determining its next steps. Moreover, uS “will diligently pursue its commitment to become an independent Francophone university, so that it will be able to not only deliver the courses it currently offers in French, but to offer the French-language programs and courses that Laurentian University has ceased to offer or that it is inadequately offering to meet the needs of the Francophone community.”  Sudbury.com

 

Thanks for the Push!

The Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario immediately announced its “disappointment” with the court decisions ending the Laurentian federation, but “nevertheless thanks” LU “for pushing the University of Sudbury towards institutional autonomy,” and urges MCU to announce financial support.  AFO

 

“Malgré tout, l’AFO remercie la Laurentian University de pousser l’Université de Sudbury vers la voie de l’autonomie institutionnelle.”Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario

 

Francophone Threat

Various legal experts suggest that MCU has the authority to declare LU an Anglophone university, and transfer the remaining 20 or so French-language programs – and provincial grants that accompany them – from LU to uS. The process would be complicated and could take time, but “if you can fly a helicopter on Mars, you can move LU programs!” The switch, some argue, would be a legislative gesture like granting Hearst autonomy, and would win the government points with the Francophone community, saving it “picking up a large bill.” Gilles Levasseur, a uOttawa prof of law and management, emphasizes that such a move would best take place before the CCAA cuts to infrastructure, programs and people are complete.  ONFR+

 

LU on the Defensive

For its part, LU promptly announced a “consent order” agreed to by AFO as “a platform for consultations and information-sharing” for proposals, restructuring and financial sustainability initiatives “that may impact the status or use of the French language” at LU. As always throughout this insolvency debacle, “these consultations will be subject to an appropriate confidentiality agreement,” are subject to the CCAA proceedings, and may include a court-appointed mediator. President Haché asserts that “La Laurentienne fully intends to continue to serve the Francophone population for many years to come.”  Laurentian

 

 

Worse to Come

Although LU and its insolvency advisors E&Y have offered only hints at what is to come in phase 2 of the CCAA proceedings, it is likely that the demands of creditors will force it to consider asset liquidations and even more cuts…

 

Provincial Audit

Ontario’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts passed a motion last week to have Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk conduct a “value-for-money audit” of LU’s finances from 2010-20, to look at the impact of PSE funding changes and “look for any wrongdoing.” The process is important to ensure public trust, while so much is occurring behind closed doors in the “opaque” CCAA process.  Sudbury.com

 

More Cuts Necessary

Ernst & Young, the “court-appointed” monitor for LU’s CCAA restructuring (who was actually hired by LU last October as financial advisor) praised the university in its report last week for finding $30M in annual savings through eliminating 116 full-time faculty positions and 79 staff, and negotiating salary rollbacks. Even assuming that the federation is resolved, “saving” LU another $7M annually, the monitor warns that “LU still requires additional savings” for a successful restructuring, and will need to negotiate with creditors and address repayment of its emergency loans. Next steps include “further implementation of workforce changes” and “exploring potential opportunities to realize on assets.”  Sudbury Star

 

“While the net estimated savings achieved to date is significant, LU still requires additional savings in order to potentially achieve a successful restructuring.”Ernst & Young, court-appointed insolvency monitor

 

 

LU’s Fire Sale

So, what could LU sell? It plans to review its real estate holdings in phase 2 of the CCAA process, looking for opportunities to sell or lease properties to generate cash flow in a “fierce sellers’ market.” The most likely candidates include 2 million-dollar properties, the “President’s House” and the “Bell Mansion,” which houses the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Each could likely sell for more than $1M. LU also owns 283 hectares of largely “undeveloped bushland” surrounding its campus, “including some prime waterfront property.” LU might also look for buyers for its campus swimming pool, which has been closed for 2 years and ostensibly requires $10M in repairs. And then there is the land beneath the 3 federated colleges, who own their own buildings.  CBC

 

As I pointed out yesterday, it seems clear that LU could have turned to government loans to allow it to manage the process of restructuring and retrenchment without turning to a “lender of last resort” and the courts. LU could also have sold or leased some of its real estate assets in the first place, to fund its operations and permit an orderly transition, without the massive hit to its reputation…

 

 

Long-Term Fallout

By pushing Canada’s first public university into creditor protection, the board and administration at LU have thrown the university into disarray, displaced hundreds of students and faculty, disrupted research and misappropriated research funds. It has shredded its own foundational federation agreement, demonstrated a disregard for academic governance and even the pensions of its employees. And it has repeatedly insisted upon the need for secrecy and haste due to some unreasonable demands by its lender. The result will be permanent, lasting damage to the reputation and credibility of the university, but also of higher education in Ontario and Canada…

 

“University in Tatters”

American headlines report that LU’s insolvency left “a university in tatters” and put “program quality in jeopardy.” An early promise that students wouldn’t be significantly affected “hasn’t really panned out” as hundreds seek to transfer elsewhere. And LU’s commitment to Indigenous reconciliation is in question: replacing uSudbury’s Indigenous Studies program with general courses “including Indigenous perspectives” is “monumentally offensive” and “highly regressive.” Faculty questions have been met with “obfuscation” and excuses about legal confidentiality. Financial instability and risk is extended to CdnPSE in general: LU might just be the “canary in the coal mine.”  Inside Higher Ed

 

Institutional Reputation

Based on 3 decades’ experience measuring and monitoring institutional reputations in CdnPSE, I can assure you that the fallout of a 3-month faculty strike is typically YEARS of depressed applications and enrolments, and a measurable hit to the university brand. LU’s insolvency is a far bigger crisis, which will be replayed in the media for a year as we likely see ongoing lawsuits, creditor settlements, CAUT censure and the departures of faculty, researchers, and students for greener pastures. Ironically, for a university that was pivotal in the regreening of Sudbury’s infamous “moonscape,” the board’s decision to declare insolvency was a “scorched earth” policy that has undermined important relationships with Indigenous and Francophone communities. Academic talent and philanthrophy will think twice about Sudbury, and the campus will likely be permeated by distrust and anxiety for some time to come.

 

Somewhat atypically, I’ve taken a pretty strong editorial position on the LU implosion, particularly this week. (I expected to hear some complaints about that yesterday, but so far the only comments have been about the colour of the typeface I’m using…) I know the vast majority of people at Laurentian are innocent victims of circumstances. Obviously the current administration isn’t solely responsible for the bad financial decisions of a decade or more. It’s unclear whether MCU, the board or the administration ultimately pushed for the CCAA approach, and entirely possible that one or more have been backed into a corner by the others. As the full story gradually comes out, we will doubtless gain more sympathy and understanding for what look like astonishing neglect and poor decision-making.

For now, we can only look on in disbelief and astonishment…

 

 

2021.05.11

Fake U and Fake News in Sudbury

The Court Decisions

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

“Unpleasant Consequences”

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.

 

 

Forced Optimism

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.”

 

 

Communal Outrage

Of course, the rosy picture presented by LU announcements is drowned out by thousands of outraged voices from across the province…

Indigenous Façade?

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

 

Auditor-General Audit

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.

 

 

Glimmers of the Future

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… 

Thorneloe Appeals

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

Huntington’s Agreement

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

French Resistance

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

Indigenous Independence

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

 

 

2021.05.26

A Fresh Crater in Sudbury

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…

 

The Financial Storm

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

 

 

 

Campus Fire Sale

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…

 

 

 

Francophone Diaspora

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…

 

Renegotiating Federation

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

 

Laurentian Diaspora

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

 

 

This page will continue to be updated from time to time. To ensure you get updates in real time, please subscribe to the Eduvation Insider!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please answer the question below to confirm that you are not a spambot * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

All contents copyright © 2014 Eduvation Inc. All rights reserved.