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Letter: Tricultural committee issues list of demands on path to save Laurentian

Committee formed in response to the ‘devastating local impact’ of university’s use of the CCAA 
University of Sudbury. (File)

Laurentian University’s board of governors continues to destroy our public university and  irresponsibly waste public money and student tuition. 

We propose a different path.   

Last month, Laurentian president Robert Haché told the Laurentian Senate that he cannot  guarantee that the restructuring process under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act  (CCAA) will be completed by Jan. 31, 2022. There has been no reaction from provincial or  federal political leaders to this revelation. In addition, a few days ago, we discovered that Laurentian’s administration is blocking access to certain documents requested by Ontario’s  Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk as part of her examination of Laurentian’s finances. If Laurentian’s administration has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to let the auditor general do her job? The silence and inaction from provincial and federal political leaders to the destruction of public education in Northern Ontario and the financial waste of the corporate CCAA process is unconscionable and utterly disrespectful of Northern Ontario.  

Already, Laurentian’s board exhibited a flagrant lack of consultation with Indigenous and Franco Ontarian communities, closed over 60 programs, terminated over 200 faculty and staff, and presided over the destruction of at least two of the three federated universities.  

As if that weren’t enough, we are also facing a huge and ongoing waste of public funds and student tuition. Literally millions of dollars are being thrown away on DIP (debtor-in possession) loans and legal fees. Now, more is being squandered on a $52,000-per-month corporate consultant as “chief redevelopment officer” and $273,000 on a real-estate corporation to facilitate selling off conservation and other lands endowed to the university in trust for future generations.

We recently learned that so far the sum might be over $9.8 million for lawyers, consultants and related CCAA expenses – and not necessarily including millions in interest on the DIP loans. Soon, there will be a needless court battle over the Laurentian board’s refusal to provide Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk access to documents requested for her audit. The CCAA monitor expects the extension for the months of September to January will cost Laurentian an extra nearly $10 million and the DIP interest another $1.8 million. 

First-year student enrolment is down by at least 33 per cent and Laurentian is likely to sink even further as the board of governors’ full recklessness and irresponsibility is exposed in Ontario, in  Canada, and internationally. 

It is false to claim the CCAA prevents all public discussion and all action. The provincial government has granted independent status to the Université de Hearst and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. The Parliament of Canada held an open debate triggered by the Laurentian  crisis. Under electoral pressure, a federal minister has been promising support for a new Franco Ontarian university through her responsibility for Canada’s official language minorities. But these actions are insufficient. Our communities have suffered enough. The silence and inaction must end. Political leaders can and should take action now.  

The Tricultural Committee demands that:  

  • The Province of Ontario, in collaboration with the federal government, bring the CCAA process to a close by providing emergency financial commitments to claimants.  
  • The board of governors of Laurentian be removed and their severely weakened institution be placed in the hands of publicly appointed trustees for a limited period until more open and collegial policies are adopted. The board of another of Ontario’s public universities could provide interim administration so as to limit direct government interference in academic matters. 
  • The provincial and federal governments, working with the new board, facilitate the establishment of independent Indigenous and Franco Ontarian universities including the transfer of Indigenous and Francophone programs to the new universities based on equality among the  Indigenous, Franco Ontarian, and Anglophone communities. 
  • The mandate of Laurentian be changed to reflect that the leadership and funding for Indigenous and Franco-Ontarian education and research has passed forward from the old Laurentian to the newly proposed Indigenous and Franco Ontario universities. At the same time, Laurentian needs to be restored with greater democracy, collegiality, and a far deeper respect for the needs of  Northern Ontario. Sudbury and Northern Ontario need a high level of Anglophone education and research in a full range of disciplines, including those engaged with cultural development in our communities. 
  • The failures of Laurentian’s board of governors and senior administration to act on behalf of  Laurentian as a public university are subject to a public enquiry, and those responsible be held accountable. 

The time for provincial and federal action has long passed, and further waste of public funds and student tuitions, as well as the destruction of public education in Northern Ontario must be stopped. 

The Tricultural Committee for University Education at Sudbury/Comité triculturel pour l’éducation universitaire à Sudbury was formed by representatives of Save our Sudbury, the Coalition nord-ontarienne pour une université de langue française à Sudbury and key leaders from local Indigenous communities in response to the devastating local impact of Laurentian  University’s use of the CCAA. The committee aims to build bridges between communities affected by the cuts to programs and positions at Laurentian, and to support them in their efforts to re-establish quality university education that meets the needs of their communities. 

Monique Beaudoin
On behalf of the Tricultural Committee for University Education at Sudbury / Comité triculturel pour l’éducation universitaire à Sudbury