In his report to the Laurentian Senate on May 18, Laurentian University president Robert Haché spoke to the second phase of the CCAA process, the formal reviews that must take place, and said there is a vision for Laurentian’s future, one that contains “no more faculty cuts.”
It is also a future that holds the auditor general value-for-money audit, one that Haché said in his report to the senate that the university is “committed to cooperating fully with” and that he will “look forward to her report on how Laurentian can further improve its processes as it proceeds to make as strong a university as possible, going forward.”
In his opening statements, Haché acknowledged that he wished there had been alternatives to the CCAA path, and that Laurentian is committed to going forward with a “strong suite of program offerings, providing students with opportunities to study in English or French and a strong path to the future.”
Haché added, “We are Francophone, we are Anglophone, and we are committed to Indigenous education as a bilingual and multicultural institution dedicated to learning.”
He then spoke to the further movements within the CCAA process, now in Phase 2.
Laurentian will be initiating a formal review of its real estate holdings to determine which facilities and infrastructure are required to support the future programming of the university, Haché noted, “and what, if anything, can be sold or otherwise monetized to contribute to the creditors pool.”
Haché stated that an RFP (Request for Proposal) for a Phase 1 real estate review is currently being finalized.
Additionally, Haché spoke of the no-longer-federated universities (Huntington University, University of Sudbury and Thorneloe University) and the need to approach the provincial government.
“With respect to our former federated partners, Laurentian is also working to complete agreements to provide for smooth transition,” he said. “As the four institutions share a campus and infrastructure, Laurentian is working to reach service level agreements with Thorneloe University and the University of Sudbury to provide for the ongoing provision of needed and desired shared services. An agreement is already in place with Huntington University.”
There must also be changes to the Laurentian Act, Haché said in his report to the senate May 18.
“As of May 1, the federation no longer exists. Laurentian must approach the province to discuss the need for statutory amendments to the Laurentian Act as part of the Laurentian restructuring.”
Haché also said he was pleased to announce that full-time enrollment numbers are strong, both compared to last year, and the previous year. Total registrations for 2021 are only two per cent behind where they were in 2020, and in 2020, registrations were up 20 per cent over the enrollments in 2019.
“Evolution is a constant, not only for species but also for organizations,” said Haché. “When faced with crisis, evolution is the path to a strong and sustainable future.”
When offered the opportunity to comment on the report, there were several. Senator Dan Scott spoke to his confusion surrounding the”‘vision” that Haché spoke of.
“I think many of us are confused about what vision we're supposed to be pursuing,” said Scott, noting that those who are unable to attend in-camera sessions are still seeking information as to why certain programs were cut, “and the rationale for the programs that were cut is very far from evident.”
Scott continued, “What's left seems like a patchwork of programs, not a cohesive whole. And if colleagues have questions about very basic things, such as how students are to fulfill required courses for which the programs and the faculty have been terminated. I think for faculty, staff and students to believe in this great feature that the president speaks of, we need to be motivated by something other than the possibility of potentially losing our programs and our jobs as well. We need a clear vision and a roadmap for the future, not just promises.”
Haché assured Scott there would be more information forthcoming, especially as Haché said he plans to engage in town hall meetings over the next few months with staff, faculty and both current and new students.
Tom Fenske, president of the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU), spoke of the real estate holdings, wondering who the “final decision-maker” would be for what becomes of those assets. Haché responded, “It does remain within the university's decision-making abilities, but it is subject to negotiation with the creditors.”
Fenske also spoke to the future of the university as a workplace.
“I personally do not enjoy working in a situation where fear is governing. I feel like there needs to be a clear message to the university community, as the restructuring reductions are over and done,” he said.
“I'm looking for a public statement that would back that up, either here or in the media or anywhere, so that the staff on this campus don't have to come every day worried about whether or not there are future cuts, because some administrators are saying there are future costs potentially, or future restructuring.”
Haché’s response was firm.
“There are no future cuts. That's the clear answer that you wanted,” he said. “The university has been downsized to the extent that everyone agreed, through a negotiated process, was necessary, but also needed to provide for a sustainable path forward.”
Haché also noted that, as an organization, “[Laurentian needs] to continuously look at our processes, our structures, to better enable and to better facilitate the work that we need to do.
Haché said the university is committed to examining the academic and business governance, but also to understand the “how do we work,” aspects of the school.
“How we are organized administratively and functionally,” he said. “Not to further downsize staff, but to position staff to best succeed in their work, and to engage stakeholders as we do that.”
He also stated he believes as the university comes out of the CCAA process, it will do so on “solid financial footing,” and with a path forward and opportunities for growth. “I expect there will be, I truly believe there is, but it will still be some time.
“I truly believe that, and all the folks that have been involved in this process do believe that, we've reached the best outcome, an outcome that does provide a real opportunity for university to be successful going forward.”