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Haché to Laurentian University board: 'Today ... there is a path forward'

With Phase One of the three-phase CCAA process wrapping up, Laurentian University president tells board of governors the school was in a precarious position three months ago, but now 'there is a light'
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Robert Haché, president and vice-chancellor of Laurentian University. (Keira Ferguson/Sudbury.com)

Laurentian University president Robert Haché told the board of governors today that the worst of the CCAA process is behind the university and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It was an address some might characterize as rosy given the ongoing tension with faculty, staff and students who are fighting to halt the process.

Before the president's report, however, the Laurentian University board passed a pair of resolutions today (April 30) that will impact the school's retirees.

Both the Retiree Health Benefit Plan (RHBP) and the Supplemental Retirement Plan (SURP) were terminated, effective April 7, 2021, that being the execution date of the various term sheets with Laurentian University Staff Association (LUSU) and the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA). All pensioners will still receive a monthly pension, the board was told.

Prior to Haché's report, Tom Fenske, president of the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU), a union that lost 41 of its members as part of the cuts, spoke candidly. Fenske is a non-voting member of the board. He told the governors his union has lost faith in them, going so far as urging them to follow in the footsteps of former university chancellor Steve Paikin, who he commended for resigning from his post.

"This catastrophic event was started by this board," Fenske said.

When it came time for the president's report, Haché recapped the CCAA process, explaining that it happens in three phases and that Laurentian has finished the first and most challenging phase. He steered clear of the ongoing campaigns by faculty, staff and students to halt the process, and the ongoing court challenges from two members of the defunct university federation.

"We've come together on new collective agreements, pension plan, we've resolved issues with our federated universities and we've worked to minimize the effects on our students," said Haché

"Although 35 per cent of our programs have been impacted, the impact has only been to eight per cent of our students. These changes will put our continuing programs in a stronger position."

While Haché described the situation with its federated universities as "resolved," only Huntington University has reached an agreement with Laurentian after the university terminated the federation agreement earlier this month. In fact, both the University of Sudbury and Thorneloe University are in court this week fighting Laurentian's decision to end the decades-old relationship.

Before this afternoon's board of governor's meeting, Laurentian supporters and those impacted by the cuts held yet another demonstration against the CCAA process and the widespread impact it is having on the university. Today's Rally on Wheels, however, was a bit different in that it was held in conjunction with Scholar Strike Canada, a political action group, which coordinated rallies in four other cities (Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo) in support of Laurentian.

Haché told the board of governors that Laurentian remains "100-per-cent committed" to being a leader in both English and French education.

"Phase 1 of the process is complete; it was a critical cost-cutting process," said Haché.

The next phase begins on May 1 and will involve taking a hard look at the school's monetary assets and addressing their debts. Haché characterized the situation as the worst of the process likely being behind the school now, and he doesn't anticipate any further job losses in the coming months.

"Our spring term registration is running ahead of the levels that it did last year," said Haché. "Online course registration has seen a six-per-cent increase over last year's numbers."

With the CCAA process before the court, Laurentian will be seeking to stay the process until the end of August when Haché hopes they will be exiting the CCAA process. 

"Three months ago we were in a very precarious position," said Haché. "Today there is a light, there is a path forward."