Skip to content

Education coalition fires back at Laurentian president over comments on French programming

A spokesperson with the Coalition nord-ont. pour une université de langue française says Dr. Robert Haché’s latest statement is ‘neither serious nor professional’

In a response to a recent statement by Laurentian President Robert Haché regarding Francophone programming at Laurentian, Coalition nord-ont. pour une université de langue française (Coalition) spokesperson Denis Constantineau issued a response, calling Haché’s argument “neither serious nor professional,’ one that was inspired “more by despair than optimism,” and to put it bluntly, “rather embarrassing.”

Entitled ‘Laurentian is at a crossroads,’ in the statement president and vice-chancellor Haché speaks to the future of Laurentian University. Central to this future, the statement reads: “one thing is clear: Laurentian University must not lose its Francophone programing.”

The coalition strenuously disagrees with this statement.

Laurentian University announced Feb. 1 it is insolvent, and had filed for creditor protection under the Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (CCAA), a move that’s unprecedented in the post-secondary sector. The University of Sudbury then announced in March, in the lead up to the Laurentian cuts on April 12 and LU’s decision to cut ties with the federated universities on its campus, that it plans to become a standalone Francophone university. 

The University of Sudbury recently became a secular institution in order to receive public funding, and is focused on creating a university “par, pour et avec les Francophonies” (‘by, for and with Francophones’).

The statement from Haché begins by noting the “passionate opinions,” that have been ignited in the wake of the university's declaration of insolvency and the dissolution of the university federation between Laurentian, Huntington University, the University of Sudbury and Thorneloe University, and states the challenge now is to find potential solutions for “Our University,” as it has always been “central to the togetherness of the North’s Franco-Ontarian Community.”

Haché states that it is important to ensure the students themselves are able to choose their future, and quotes a few statistics to support his argument that the students would prefer to study in French at Laurentian. 

The president argues that one in five Laurentian students is registered in a French-language program. He also argues “a transfer of programs would cause an outflow of 20 per cent of our student body, and the reality of this upheaval is that students would no longer be able to pursue a bilingual education, causing many young people to migrate away from the North.”

Haché states that because of this it is not a matter of “imposing our administrations vision,” or calling upon the Franco-Ontarian community to “determine the fate of Laurentian,” but rather to serve the interests of students, “who have largely expressed a desire to study in a bilingual and tricultural setting.” 

Haché also quotes a phrase used frequently by both the University of Sudbury and the Coalition themselves: “pour et par les étudiants” (For and by the students.) The phrase is more often written as ‘par, pour et avec’ and means a belief in something created ‘by, for and with’ those who will be served by it. 

It is this phrase in particular, as well as what Coalition spokesperson Denis Constatinueau said are selective statistics, that elicited a response, released to the media on Nov. 1. 

Constantineau begins by confronting what he believes are the central themes of Haché’s argument: That students wish to study in French at Laurentian, and that if Laurentian was to lose its French-language programs, students would leave Northern Ontario.

Constantineau said that a mass-exodus has already occurred due to “Haché’s administration's decision to eliminate 28 French-language programs.” As well, he is surprised that not only did Haché’s one-in-five-student statement seem to come from a survey Constantineau feels was well-intentioned but of no scientific value, but also it was created by the Association des étudiantes et des étudiants francophones which, according to Constantineau, has only a 10-per-cent participation rate. 

Constantineau also points to another question in that same survey that he said Haché chose to ignore.

“Mr. Haché fails to mention that the same survey also revealed that 82 per cent of respondents support the idea of creating a Francophone university in Sudbury that would work in partnership with other universities, including Laurentian U., compared to 69 per cent who would prefer a bilingual university.” 

The statement goes on to add that Haché's argument “is neither serious nor professional. It is even rather embarrassing,” and also takes umbrage with Haché and Laurentian’s “cynical appropriation of the central tenet of ‘by and for’ held by Francophones when they speak of their desire to manage their own institutions.”

The Coalition believes that a bilingual university, one that services both English and French, means that English will always be the dominant language. They back up that claim with a quote from University of Ottawa professor François Charbonneau that states “…institutional bilingualism is only possible where everyone is bilingual, otherwise things are done in the language of the unilingual population.” 

As well, the Coalition points to the real-world experience of many Northern Ontario families, where so many households are a mix of French- and English-speakers,  but the dominant or default language is often English. 

Such a situation isn’t optimal for those looking to devote themselves to learning in French. Constantineau points to a local college for what he considers evidence of that concept. 

“The past speaks very clearly to the fact that when Francophones control and manage their own institutions, said institutions are more reflective of who they are and of their needs,” he said. “This is what happened with the advent of French-language high schools. It also explains the success of Collège Boréal, which was born of the failure of Cambrian College which pursued a model similar to the one Mr. Haché is advocating.”

Constantineau closes the letter by again referencing the crossroads of which Haché speaks to in his letter. 

“So let’s turn to the future as Mr. Haché urges. For us, it is a future in which three universities (English, French and Indigenous) exist side by side and share resources under clearly defined partnerships based on equality and mutual respect,” states the Coalition’s letter. “This is what the Université de Sudbury proposed to Mr. Haché. He turned down its offer. Yes, we are at a crossroads, but the way forward is clear.”