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Opinion: Laurentian board chair urges ‘yes’ vote from creditors

Jeff Bangs says the ‘vote no to get better deal’ message from some terminated faculty members provides a false sense of hope

It all comes down to this.

More than a year and half has passed since Laurentian University entered CCAA proceedings, which started a long, difficult, and often divisive process that forced our institution – and the community at large – to look inward at our past shortcomings and better understand how we must protect the future of the university.

I wondered at times if we had reached a point of no return. We have not.

When I joined the Board of Governors and subsequently accepted the chairperson’s role earlier this year, I was adamant about not letting this university fade into obscurity. 

It’s simply too important to Sudbury and to Ontario. It’s too important to Indigenous and francophone communities who count on a strong Laurentian to provide educational opportunities close to home in a culturally relevant manner. It’s too important to faculty who have dedicated their careers to building programs sought after by students from nearby and around the world for the jobs of today and tomorrow. And it’s too important to students who have continued to choose Laurentian as their post-secondary destination of choice, for a high-quality education in a Northern setting.

We know the future of Laurentian must be based on restoring relationships which are grounded in trust, transparency, and mutual respect. 

We are poised – following an endorsement of the Plan of Arrangement in the upcoming vote by creditors – to turn the page on the darkest chapter in Laurentian’s history and move swiftly into the rebuilding phase.

To be successful, we must institute transparent governance practices and an inclusive role for all our partners. 

There is as much room to consult and work with our labour representatives as there is to work with our retirees and community leaders whose wisdom, lived experience and dedication to Laurentian should be embraced. 

A yes vote on the Plan of Arrangement is the surest way to bring an end to the CCAA process and enable the university to emerge with a commitment to open communication with all stakeholders.

While we’ve recently invested in the hiring of 12 limited-term faculty members, we want to do much more to grow our faculty complement. 

After a yes vote, we will find ways to work together to increase student enrolment which will allow us to hire additional faculty and staff.

We will also expedite the process to recruit a new President and Provost and involve all stakeholders in the development of a new, realistic and achievable Strategic Plan.

Together, we will work through the operational and governance reform that is necessary to allow Laurentian to rebuild and ensure that working groups, committees, Senate and the Board of Governors operate collegially and are given the opportunity to provide meaningful input into these processes which will help shape the future of Laurentian.

It is a stressful time for those who must cast a ballot and tensions are, understandably, running high. However, the current prevalence of misinformation in the community is preying on peoples’ hopes and fears. 

The “Vote no to get better deal” message provides a false sense of hope that voting against the Plan of Arrangement is a risk-free bet. It is not. If the vote is not successful, the most likely outcome will be a shift from a considerable amount of effort to save Laurentian, to a liquidation of the institution. 

This means a wind-up, and in that scenario, nobody wins. Jobs will be eliminated, pension plans terminated and students dispersed to other post-secondary institutions.

For those who believe they can hold out for a better deal, there is none that Laurentian can offer. Life will move on, and history will forget this great institution. Let that sink in for a moment. Are we prepared to let Laurentian disappear before our eyes when we are so close to saving it?

The renewed Board of Governors was recruited to be objective in its analysis of what it will take to save this university. We have worked tirelessly as volunteers with various perspectives and life experiences to put forward the best plan possible. We’ve done that because this is not a game, it is a fight for the survival of Laurentian.

For those with a vote, I recognize that you did not ask to be put in this position. However small you may think your stake in this important decision is, though, let me assure you, your vote does matter. 

Be wary of those who would have you believe otherwise. We urge you to think long and hard about the implications of a no vote because it could set off a chain of events that Laurentian will not recover from.

Voting yes, even reluctantly, allows all of us to take back control. The chance to make Laurentian’s future stronger, more inclusive, and financially stable is upon us.

Jeff Bangs is the chair of Laurentian University’s board of directors.