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Departing Laurentian admins subject of ‘no confidence’ motion

‘Our senior managers have made Laurentian University a byword for mismanagement,’ senate member David Leeson said during a Sept. 20 meeting at which Haché and Berger were censured

Harshly referred to as leaving a “cigarette burn in the carpet of higher education,” two senior Laurentian University’s leaders were subject to a “no confidence” vote this week. 

Senate member David Leeson levied the criticism at university president Robert Haché and vice-president, academic and provost, Marie-Josée Berger at the Sept. 20 Laurentian senate meeting, during which members approved the motion of no confidence.

“Our senior managers have made Laurentian University a byword for mismanagement,” he said. 

The no confidence vote was held despite the senior administrators’ impending retirement from the institution as part of the terms of the university's plan to pay off its debts - known as the plan of arrangement - approved in a vote by creditors last week.

Laurentian has been undergoing court-supervised restructuring since declaring insolvency in February 2021, and filing for creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (or CCAA).

The university now expects to go back to court Oct. 5 to seek a “sanction order motion” to finally exit CCAA creditor protection. 

The no confidence motion targeting Haché and Berger was put forward by Leeson, a professor in the university’s history department. 

Leeson said that over the past two years, Haché and Berger have “presided over a disaster without precedent in the history of higher education in Canada, by what they have done, and what they have failed to do.”

Their actions have drawn well-publicized criticism from Ontario’s French-Language Services Commissioner, the Ontario auditor general and the Ontario legislature, among other bodies, Leeson said, adding it’s the Laurentian’s senate’s duty to add to the chorus of censure.

“Their administration has been a cigarette burn in the carpet of higher education,” he said. “For all these reasons, I ask every senator to join with me in voting for this motion of no confidence today.”

Fellow senate member Christina McMillan-Boyles, a nursing professor, said the no-confidence motion asked the senate to consider whether the Laurentian administrators are fit to hold these positions of responsibility.

“I support this no confidence motion given that these individuals who hold these two positions have fundamentally failed to carry out their duties and obligations as administrators of a post secondary academic institution,” she said.

“They made copious catastrophic decisions that diverted tremendous amounts of money to external advisors and gravely affected students, faculty and staff in the City of Greater Sudbury that will persist well after these two individuals vacate their positions. As a member of the senate, I do not have the confidence or trust in the individuals that hold these positions, and we'd like it documented as such on the historic record of Laurentian University senate.”

Although both Haché and Berger are generally in attendance at Laurentian senate meetings, neither were at the Sept. 20 meeting to respond to the senators’ censure.

Jeff Bangs, chair of Laurentian’s board of governors, provided a written statement to the university’s senate in light of the no-confidence motion.

"With respect to the motion of non-confidence brought forward to the Senate, we remind everyone of the July 21st announcement which stated that the retirement of Dr. Robert Haché as President and Vice-Chancellor and Dr. Marie-Josée Berger as Provost, would be effective prior to emergence from CCAA,” Bangs said in the statement.

“Nothing has changed. Until that point, their work, along with that of other senior leaders, continues to support the important day-to-day operations of the University. 

“Leadership transition is a high priority for the Board of Governors which will soon make further announcements with respect to interim replacements for outgoing team members and the commencement of searches to fill permanent positions."

Tammy Eger, Laurentian’s vice-president, research, said she understands people are still feeling a lot of pain and trauma after the events at the university over the past couple of years.

“But I asked myself today, why now?” she said. “Why inflict more trauma? I'm really truly hoping that we can move forward. There will be new leaders that come on board, as president Haché and provost Berger have indicated that they are retiring and that will be done before emergence (from insolvency restructuring under the CCAA).”

She said she wouldn’t be voting yes on the motion, saying she wants to focus on rebuilding Laurentian.

Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.