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People quitting at Laurentian as CCAA drags on

That includes both board members and employees; staff union president says his members are ‘drowning’

People quitting their roles at Laurentian University - whether they be employees or members of the board of governors - is becoming an issue as the insolvency restructuring process drags on.

That was a common theme that emerged during the June 24 Laurentian University board of governors meeting.

After declaring insolvency and filing for creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (or CCAA) in the winter of 2021, Laurentian has been undergoing court-supervised restructuring.

The “stay of proceedings” protecting Laurentian against its creditors was recently extended once again to Sept. 30, with Laurentian hoping to come to a plan of arrangement to pay out its creditors late this summer.

Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) president Tom Fenske said he thought it was important to make the board of governors aware there’s a “massive exodus” of staff and faculty from the university.

He said he can think of about 20 people who are thinking of leaving the university right now. On the other side of the coin, Laurentian is having trouble recruiting to replace departing employees, Fenske said.

Due to this issue, in some areas it’s getting “impossible to meet the needs of students,” he said.

“It's very important that we start to pay attention to the people that are leaving, why they are leaving, and the people that are left behind, because they are drowning,” Fenske said.

“We need people to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m telling you, it’s very hard to see right now,” he said. “Because every time we think we’re getting closer (to the end of the CCAA), it’s being extended for whatever reason.”

Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) president Fabrice Colin added that in addition to the jobs cut by Laurentian last year as part of its restructuring, 20 more professors have left the university since that time. They have not been replaced.

This matter was also addressed at the June 21 meeting of Laurentian’s senate.

University president Robert Haché acknowledged during that meeting that tenure and tenure-track profs aren’t being replaced during the CCAA partly at the advice of Ernst & Young, the court-appointed monitor of LU’s insolvency restructuring.

“So many programs now are at risk, and even some faculty units,” Colin said.

He said addressing the situation is one of LUFA’s conditions of the approval of the plan of arrangement, “but it’s something that needs to be fixed.”

Laurentian board chair Jeff Bangs said he recognizes the stresses the union reps are under, and has had many conversations with them over the last several months.

“We can't solve every issue that's out there, but being aware of them allows us to plan and hopefully, as we see the end of the CCAA process and transitioning to the next period that follows, we can stabilize these things,” he said.

During the meeting, Bangs also announced the departure of three more members of the board of governors. 

Long-time board of governors member Peter Xavier, along with Judy Gougeon, who was appointed to the board only months ago, have recently stepped down, he said.

Another long-time Laurentian board of governors member, Martin Bayer, is also stepping down, sitting in on his final meeting June 24. 

Eric Chappell, the representative on the board with the Students’ General Association (or SGA), also attended his final meeting June 24, as his term with the student union is up.

Keeping in mind that Chappell’s seat will be filled by another SGA representative, the number of voting members on Laurentian’s board is now down to just eight, which is half of the full complement of 16 voting members.

Earlier this year, provincial changes to the Laurentian University Act reduced the number of voting members on Laurentian’s board from 25 down to 16. 

There has been considerable shake-up on Laurentian’s board since December, when 11 members stepped down as part of a provincial financial package, and five others were appointed.

Another round of resignations and appointments took place early this spring, and on top of that are the recent departures of more board members.

During the June 24 meeting, Laurentian’s board approved its committee membership for 2022-23, but partly due to the small number of people currently sitting on the board, there are many vacant spaces.

Also during the meeting, Robert Brouillette was nominated as the vice-chair of Laurentian’s board for the 2022-23 year.

Bangs thanked the departing board members for their service.

“Some were here longer than others, and certainly, you know, for personal reasons, sometimes people need to step back, and we'll respect that,” he said.

“I will point out, as you saw from my reading earlier of all of the minutes we've approved from the number of meetings we've had this past number of months, the workload in this job is considerable.”

He said there is “ongoing work by the nominating committee to recruit new members to our board.”