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Opinion: Ontario needs Sudbury to have three distinct universities

The province needs universities for English, French and Indigenous learners, and Sudbury is the place to do that
University of Sudbury. (Supplied)

Last week, the Save Our Sudbury group sent a letter to Ontario's new minister of Colleges and Universities, Jill Dunlop, imploring her to intervene in Laurentian University’s restructuring process. 

The problem with the group’s ask is that it is too wide and may I say, too wild. The group lists 12 things the minister should do to fix the Laurentian debacle. They range from restoring all benefits to faculty and compensating students for expenses associated with the restructuring to firing president Robert Haché and removing some board members. No wonder Dunlop won’t touch this with a 10-foot pole. 

The letter to the minister shows the problem faced by Save Our Sudbury as a coalition. It represents many members who have been affected in different ways by Laurentian’s restructuring. The coalition wants Queen’s Park to repair all that damage. But the train has left the station on many of these demands. 

Besides, that’s not how politics work. When you want political action, you make only one or maybe two asks. Then you present irrefutable reasons why they should be implemented and, more importantly, you suggest a path forward. 

In its letter to the minister, the coalition does, however, include a demand that is feasible and requires ministerial action. Demand No. 9 asks Minister Dunlop to “support the Indigenous community and the Francophone community in the creation of degree-granting universities to support programming by and for their communities, while at the same time supporting Laurentian University to restore the remaining programs.”

That is the only path forward and the province needs to legislate it. 

Laurentian cannot do it by itself. The path the university chose to address its financial problems has destroyed whatever faith the Indigenous and Francophone communities ever had in its goodwill. And Laurentian administrators and governors who believe it can still be business as usual are out of touch. It would be better if they started to imagine their future as one of collaboration. 

There is only one hope to maintain strong university programs that can cater to Northern Ontario’s English, French and Indigenous population. The University of Sudbury (UofS) has laid the foundation for that future. It has committed to turning its two university charters into a French institution and an Indigenous one.

Imagine having three universities co-operating on the same campus in Sudbury to service the North’s post-secondary aspirations. The three institutions will, at first, be smaller than Laurentian might have been, but their sum will be much greater. First and foremost, however, that outcome requires governments to get involved. 

Only Queen’s Park has the power to create universities, make them degree-granting and approve their programs. Ontario needs to withdraw its approval for all French and Indigenous programs from Laurentian and transfer them to the two UofS offshoots. It then has to force the three institutions to share the existing spaces and infrastructures on the Sudbury campus. Most importantly for students and to avoid duplication, it has to mandate that the three universities recognize each other’s courses toward their own diplomas. 

We should remember that the Ontario government already used its power in 1960 to entice three religious groups to collaborate to create Laurentian. Maybe Minister Dunlop needs to revive that spirit of co-operation to ensure the future of university education in Sudbury. Working together always yields better results.

Réjean Grenier provided this translation of his editorial, which will be published in Wednesday’s edition of Le Voyageur newspaper.

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