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Laurentian faculty ink deal under ‘duress,’ call for Romano, university leadership to resign

Local MPPs, provincial professors’ group also calling for resignations
20200124-Sault MPP Ross Romano-DT
Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano. Laurentian faculty are calling on him to resign. (Darren Taylor/SooToday photo)

Laurentian University professors ratified a new collective agreement Tuesday reached as part of the university's court-supervised restructuring process, but they’re also asking for the resignation of the university’s leadership and a provincial cabinet minister.

On Monday, there were mass layoffs at the university, with 110 professors among the Laurentian employees who lost their jobs as 69 programs were cut (17 of those faculty members were older professors who retired to spare their colleagues).

Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) members are calling for the resignations of Laurentian president Robert Haché; provost and vice-president, academic Marie-Josée Berger; vice-president, administration Lorella Hayes; registrar Serge Demers and board of governors chair Claude Lacroix.

They’re also calling for the resignation of Ontario Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano.

“Students, faculty and staff should not be paying the price for the poor governance practices of an underfunded public university,” said LUFA president Fabrice Colin in a virtual press conference held Wednesday morning.

“The administration that so poorly navigated this crisis must not be the same administration tasked with plotting a course forward. Further, minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano failed to do his job, and abandoned Laurentian students, staff and faculty in their greatest moment of need.

“He is ultimately responsible for this crisis and the damage it will cause to our community for years to come.”

The university, which declared this past winter it is insolvent, has until April 30 to come up with a restructuring plan under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

One of the stipulations under the CCAA process was reaching a new collective agreement with LUFA

The union’s president, Fabrice Colin, said 81 per cent of members voted in favour of the five-year contract, which is retroactive to July 1, 2020, and will be in place until July 1, 2025.

He said members agreed to concessions, including a five-per-cent salary cut effective May 1, followed by a salary freeze for two years, five furlough days per year for three years and an increase of the teaching load for science, engineering and architecture faculty.

Due to the CCAA process, information about these changes was available to members for less than 12 hours before they were required to vote to either accept concessions or risk having the university collapse completely, said LUFA.

“That was a vote under duress, because the alternative was the failure of the ratification vote and therefore the failure of the CCAA process,” said Colin. “It was quite hard and sad, a sad meeting. But the alternative was worse.”

LUFA is being joined by the Ontario Confederation of Ontario Faculty Associations (OCUFA) in asking for Romano and Laurentian’s leadership to resign.

“Laurentian administration should have worked in consultation with the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) to come up with a meaningful solution, but they continued with their non-consultative, secretive and ill-informed practices that have led to the devastation of the university,” said OCUFA president Rahul Sapra, before he, too, took a swipe at Romano.

“For years, there has been an erosion of government funding, and Ross Romano knew about Laurentian’s financial crisis for more than six months. It gave him enough time to avoid this crisis. He knew what was coming and chose to do nothing, and did not bother to answer calls for consultation with the faculty association or OCUFA.

“Minister Romano has demonstrated the same resistance to consultation, transparency and accountability as the Laurentian administration. The CCAA is meant for private sector companies, and not for a public sector university like Laurentian. By providing funding to Laurentian, Romano could have stopped the violent restructuring of Laurentian and the CCAA process, which has devastated the university.”

The area’s two New Democrat provincial representatives, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas and Sudbury MPP Jamie West, are also holding a press conference Wednesday afternoon during which they will call for Romano’s resignation from his cabinet post.