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Letter: Laurentian should take this opportunity to distinguish itself from the pack

A former dean of science and engineering at the university says reorienting LU as a mining university would set it apart in the Ontario university system
Laurentian University campus aerial
Laurentian University. (File)

Laurentian University faces a tenuous future with its reputation in tatters. Last year, its

first-year enrolment fell by 15 per cent and this fall, a further 30-per-cent drop is anticipated.

Following a crisis such as that of LU, studies have shown (see Ken Steele’s blog at Eduvation) first-year enrolment dropped severely over several years.

Laurentian has two choices: Carry on as before as a place attempting to be everything to everybody with a diminished reputation and enrolment, or; take a bold new path. 

Here is a suggestion. LU should divide itself into three distinct universities serving well-defined sectors of Northern Ontario as follows:

1. Transfer all Francophone and Indigenous programs to a secular University of Sudbury along with the Alphonse Raymond Building. Funding for the Francophone University in Toronto with 39 students should be given to this new University of Sudbury. Faculty and staff are already available in the community.

2. Create  a new Northern Ontario University of Health Sciences to include  the Sudbury section of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, School of Nursing, Midwives, Nurse Practitioners, Radiation Therapy and Gerontology. No new buildings will be necessary, and faculty and staff are in place or available in the community (so far). These programs have limited enrolment and thus stable funding long-term.The agreement of NOSM with Lakehead University would not change.

3. Reorient LU as a technical university focussed on the mining sector similar to Waterloo (math/ computer science) and the University of Guelph (agriculture). Set a 10-year enrolment goal of 3,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduates. Universities in Ontario are funded by a basic income unit (BIU) method, the value of which is fixed by the government each year. A first-year arts or science student generates one BIU, while engineers generate two BIUs, masters students three BIUs and PhD student five BIU. As you can see from the breakdown of BIUs, post-secondary institutions need graduate students to secure better funding of the university.

No new buildings or programs are needed since LU already has access to a plethora of excellent research institutes focussed on the mining sector, such as Mirarco’s Geomechanics Research Centre, and CEMI’s (Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation) MICA Network, its own world-class Geology Department and the Goodman School of Mines, as well as science and engineering programs to the PhD level, several research chairs with emphasis on mining-related research, and internationally recognized mining environmental expertise.

The Ontario Geological Survey is located on the campus of LU and there are first-class analytical chemistry facilities in place.

In conclusion,Laurentian University has a unique opportunity to separate itself within the Ontario university system and become a first-class, focussed university. Why not build on 60 years of hard work by faculty, staff and students, and aim to be the best in Ontario for the mining sector?     

D.E. Goldsack 
Dean of Science and Engineering at LU, 1980-1992