Efforts are underway to sort out some of the unintended consequences of Laurentian University’s insolvency restructuring to programs that were not discontinued by the university this spring, but nonetheless affected by cost-cutting measures.
A situation has arisen with the merging of the disciplines of nursing, social work and speech-language pathology (orthophonie) in one school under the restructuring imposed through the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).
Together, those disciplines are now under the umbrella of the School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions.
Nursing professor Christina McMillan-Boyles said the situation as it exists after Laurentian’s April restructuring is such that it could put the accreditations of these three programs at risk if no changes are made.
First, they’ve seen cuts to their support staff. Just as one example, the nursing program used to have five full-time equivalent laboratory technologists positions (members of the Laurentian University Staff Union, or LUSU), but that’s now down to a 1.5 FTE.
There is also less employee time now being dedicated to the administration and co-ordination in these disciplines.
For example, Laurentian has mandated that the newly formed School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions will have one director instead of the three allocated previously.
In theory, because less time is being allocated to administration and the time of faculty members would be freed up for teaching, Laurentian would have to dedicate less resources to hiring additional staff such as sessional instructors.
McMillan-Boyles said the situation as it stands could cause problems with the accreditation of the three programs.
If, for example, the director of the newly merged school were a speech-language pathologist by training, that person wouldn’t be able to participate in associations related to nursing at a professional or national level.
“Accreditation speaks to nursing leadership, and that historically is the role of the director,” she said.
“And, say, as I mentioned, if we have a director who is a speech-language pathologist … how are we going to address that requirement relative to nursing leadership.”
In terms of the five-year accreditation Laurentian receives from the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing, the university has always received comments on LU’s need to invest in human resources to support its programming.
“If we were already being commented on with relative to human resources and the need for human resources, and now we’ve been cut even further, this jeopardizes the accreditation in terms of the ability to support quality programming,” McMillan-Boyles.
An interdisciplinary committee was struck to find a new director for the new School of Nursing and Allied Health Professions, but no one wanted to take on the job due to its demands.
So the issue was brought before Laurentian’s Senate for discussion, and a special Senate meeting was dedicated to the matter June 21.
The original request was for the current administrative structure of the departments of the three disciplines to stay the same until Dec. 31, but that was deemed out of order due to limitations under the CCAA.
So members of the Senate agreed that those involved in the situation will come together to try to find an acceptable path forward by July 1 (the newly merged school was supposed to have a new director in place by then).
Among those who will be involved in the meeting are representatives of the three disciplines, Laurentian administration, the university’s faculty union and the court-appointed monitor of the CCAA process (the firm Ernst & Young).
“I’m very hopeful and quite optimistic that we can come together with creative solutions,” McMillan-Boyles said.
The involved profs and support staff are “completely cognizant” of Laurentian’s financial pressures, and want to come together with administration to find a path forward that’s not only economically responsible, “but also meets the needs of our program, our faculty, our staff, and does not jeopardize our accreditation.
“We’re trying to work together,” she added. “Before, we weren’t able to work together because it was simply imposed.”
Unfortunately, the CCAA process doesn’t work well with how Laurentian is administered.
Academic programming at Laurentian is governed by its Senate, but the April changes made at Laurentian were made in such a way that there was very little chance for consultation with those affected.
“Decisions were made without actually thinking about the implications of those decisions,” McMillan-Boyles said.