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Cutting ties with federated universities will result in $15M economic impact says Save Our Sudbury

Laurentian announced on April 1 that it will be cutting ties with Thornloe, Huntington and University of Sudbury

The end of the Laurentian Federation will cost Sudbury $15M in annual economic impact and will affect hundreds of students, says a group working to save Laurentian University programming.

On Thursday, April 1 it was announced that Laurentian University was cutting ties with the University of Sudbury, Thorneloe University, and Huntington University.

Save Our Sudbury, a community organization dedicated to saving Laurentian programming through public funding, reacted to the announcement at a Good Friday afternoon media conference. 

“The programs offered by Thorneloe, Huntington and University of Sudbury are no more, “ said Darius Garneau, a spokesperson with the group.

“Without the ability to grant degrees, these independent institutions with their own faculty and support staff will not be able to operate. Apart from the loss of jobs, this means hundreds of students in the process of completing degrees are being abandoned by Laurentian University.”

Programs offered through the federated universities include Indigenous Studies, Gerontology, and Communications.

Much of the Francophone programming is also based there. Hundreds of students are enrolled directly in these programs, or are integrating these subjects into their studies.

Student Elora Conrad joined dozens of others in reacting online. 

“I am currently a Laurentian Student with a dilemma,” she writes “I have a minor in Ancient Studies through Thorneloe University with one class missing to have a completed minor.”

Despite assurances from Laurentian University that students will not be impacted, there is no indication how students like Conrad will be accommodated.

Thorneloe University has announced that it will apply to Court to block an attempt by Laurentian University to unilaterally terminate the 60-year old federation agreement between Thorneloe and Laurentian that was jointly entered into when the institutions were established.

On April 1, Laurentian sent Thorneloe a "Notice of its intention to disclaim or resiliate" its federation agreement with Thorneloe, effective May 1, 2021, even though there is no termination provision in the federation agreement to allow Laurentian to do so.

The next day, Throneloe's lawyers sent a letter that Thorneloe would oppose Laurentian's attempt in Court. A copy of the letter is here.

Laurentian says that the programs at its federated universities, which include Thorneloe, are a cash drain on Laurentian's profits.

Thorneloe disagrees. Thorneloe's enrollment has been steady over the years at approximately 2,500 students and its student residence is popular. Laurentian retains approximately 39 per cent of tuition and grant dollars received in respect of students who take Thorneloe courses at Laurentian, while Thorneloe bears all of the costs of offering programs and facilities to students.

Thorneloe's own financial advisors have reported that terminating the federation agreement between Laurentian and Thorneloe would not have any material improvement on Laurentian's financial situation.

However, a termination would pose a significant financial hardship on Thorneloe that would force the cancellation of the unique and popular programs offered by Thorneloe that are well-received by current students and help attract future students to Laurentian's Faculty of Arts.

"Thorneloe is not the cause of Laurentian's financial problems which have been well known for many months to the Laurentian's administration, as well as to the Ontario Government,"  said John Gibaut, President of Thorneloe.

"Thorneloe and the programs it offers play an important role with Laurentian and the Northern Ontario communities we serve. We will oppose this attempt by Laurentian to shut down Thorneloe as a scapegoat for Laurentian's self-inflicted financial problems."

Christopher Duncanson-Hales, a professor at University of Sudbury, believes this spells the end not only of the historic origin of Laurentian, but also of its tri-cultural nature, despite the commitment made by President Robert Hache

“The programs offered at these institutions, and the federated universities themselves, 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.”

Will Morin, also of the University of Sudbury, agrees with Duncanson-Hales’ assessment.

“It is the end for me of over 20 years teaching Indigenous Studies on campus. It will also signal the end of the second oldest Indigenous Studies program in North America. This will forever be a stain on Laurentian University, like the Residential School is to Canada’s history.”

Across the three federated universities almost 100 faculty and staff positions are at risk from this decision, which Save our Sudbury believes is the “tip of the iceberg.”

According to financial statements, the three institutions are contributing almost $9 million in annual salaries – with an economic multiplier the impact of these jobs is well over $15 million per year.

Short of immediate action from the provincial government, Save our Sudbury believes worse is to come.

“What we’ve seen already is devastating, but really is just a preview of things to come unless the government acts now,” said Garneau.

“In the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic can our community sustain this loss? Can we afford to lose hundreds of students living and working here? Can we afford another one or two hundred lost jobs?”

Laurentian University has until April 30 to present its full restructuring plan to the CCAA insolvency court. 

Save Our Sudbury is calling on the Provincial government to immediately intervene in this process.

Planning is underway for further action in advance of an emergency University Senate meeting on the morning of Tuesday April 6. Supporters and the media are encouraged to visit the Save Our Sudbury - Sauvons Sudbury Facebook page.