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Laurentian leadership blasted at first senate meeting since cuts became public

‘Shame on you,’ says history professor Linda Ambrose, who led consultations for Laurentian’s 2018-23 strategic plan

Following massive cuts to both programs and jobs at Laurentian University last week amid insolvency restructuring, the university’s leadership was blasted by angry employees (and soon-to-be former employees) at LU’s April 20 Senate meeting.

One of the most passionate speakers at the meeting was Linda Ambrose, a full professor in the department of history, who led the consultation process to create Laurentian’s current strategic plan, which was to guide the university over the years 2018-2023.

She said the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) was not the right tool to address Laurentian’s financial crisis, and MPs from five parties said so during the emergency debate on Laurentian in the House of Commons last week.

“By invoking the CCAA process, the president and provost have struck a death blow to the collective hopes and dreams that (strategic) plan articulates,” said Ambrose.

“What they destroyed with the plan, they rebuilt with their own plan two weeks ago, and it does not match our collective strategy, and what we articulated.”

She called upon Laurentian’s leadership to step down, saying she had lost confidence in them. While Laurentian president Robert Haché and provost and vice-president, academic Marie-Josée Berger are newcomers to this community, she said she’s especially disappointed in the long-time Sudburians who played a part in this process.

That includes board of governors chair Claude Lacroix (whom she specifically singled out to say “shame on you!”) and vice-president, administration Lorella Hayes.

“The first question I have is simply this: How could you?” she said, adding that if the university’s leadership cannot move forward with the university’s current strategic plan, “when will these leaders offer their resignations?”

In response to Ambrose’s statements, Haché reiterated what he’d said earlier in the meeting -- that the choice Laurentian faced on Jan. 30 was to file for the CCAA process, or close the university’s doors.

“This is 100 per cent not what I came to Laurentian University to do,” he said. 

“It is the situation we found ourselves in, and I know that myself, the board, my leadership team, are 110 per cent committed to finding a path to the future for this university, a sustainable path, a path that will serve students, a path that will provide the educational experiences that are deserved and needed.”

Several speakers at the meeting focused on the fact that Laurentian employees were told they were losing their jobs via group Zoom meetings last week.

The senators actually passed a motion about the subject brought forward by Stéphane Richard, director of the school of social work, who termed it is a “motion to preserve human dignity.”

The motion was as follows: “That Senate denounces the operating procedures and the termination techniques that were used last week at Laurentian University.”

Ambrose also had something to say about these “termination techniques.”

Not only were employees fired in groups via Zoom, but HR personnel then issued “insulting follow-up advice” including taking a brisk walk, having a cup of coffee or creating a LinkedIn account. 

“That is utterly disrespectful,” she said. “This is surely not best HR practice.”

Nadia Verrelli, an associate professor in Laurentian’s department of political science, was one of those who lost her job last week, as the political science program has been cut.

“First of all, I’d like to thank the Senate for denouncing the admin’s action last Monday, and for acknowledging the hurt and humiliation we felt on April 12,” she said. 

“There was no respect, no dignity in the way we were fired. Respect and dignity that we earned, respect and dignity that we deserved.”

Later in the meeting Haché said the terminations “had to be done concurrently, within the day."

“We did bring in external human resource support to do it, and followed the best advice that was available at the time,” he added.

“Having heard everything that I’ve heard today, it’s clear that many people have been traumatized by the way in which the news was communicated. There was no deliberate attempt to dehumanize people.”

Another motion regarding the restructuring process was also passed at the senate meeting.

Originally two motions stemming from the senate’s academic planning committee were brought forward by Jennifer Johnson, chair of the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program at Thorneloe University.

One of those motions that would have seen Laurentian “reinstate all of last week’s eliminated programs in order to proceed with an orderly review of them as per Laurentian’s new IQAP (Institutional Quality Assurance Process)” was deemed out of order.

Senate chair Christine Lalonde said procedurally, the senate could not reverse the program cuts approved at the in-camera meeting earlier this month, “especially not in public.”

Haché said he agreed with her ruling, adding that Laurentian would also simply have to close its doors April 30 if the cuts were reversed.

But another motion relating to preserving Laurentian’s Francophone programs and the University of Sudbury’s plans to become a Francophone university was passed by the senate members. 

It reads as follows: "That Senate encourage Laurentian University to sit down in good faith with the University of Sudbury and any other federated university that might want to adopt these (axed) programs and suggest an orderly transition of the said programs and faculty members."


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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