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‘We have no hidden agenda’ consultant says in response to accusations from Laurentian’s senate

Responding to outside consultant Nous Group’s report on the insolvent university’s future, members of LU senate drafted their own report, which the consultant called ‘alarmist’ in tone
Laurentian University.

The release of reports by an outside consultant outlining recommendations to guide the transformation of Laurentian University in years to come prompted LU faculty members to write a report of their own.

The 30-page report responding to the Nous Group recommendations affecting Laurentian’s senate was written by Ernst Gerhardt along with David Leeson, faculty members who are also members of the university’s senate.

The authors had support and feedback from fellow senate members including Christina McMillan-Boyles, Stephen Havlovic, Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde and Dan Scott.

They are challenging some of the recommendations of the Nous report by looking critically at the evidence Nous Group uses to support some of its recommendations. 

They also provide a detailed survey of the size and composition of senates at other Ontario universities.

The contents of the faculty members’ report was discussed at a March 30 special meeting of Laurentian’s senate, during which several resolutions and motions brought forward by Gerhardt in response to the Nous report were also approved.

Most universities in Canada operate under what’s called a bicameral governance model, in which the board of governors deals with financial matters and the senate academic matters.

One of the Nous Group recommendations advises that Laurentian adopt an “improved bicameralism.”

This improved model, said Nous Group, would enable “information flows between bodies, reasserts the Board as the prime governance body accountable for financial and business outcomes and clarifies the Senate’s responsibility for academic policies and regulations. This will require changes to the Laurentian Act regarding a central secretariat for both bodies and amendments to the governing body responsibilities.”

But in their report, the faculty members say that the proposed clarification of the LU senate’s responsibility would “significantly reduce the senate’s purview.”

The report said that at present, the senate is “responsible for the educational policy of the university.”

Restricting its responsibilities to the sphere of “academic policies and regulations” would effectively disempower the senate, and would relegate the senate to the status of a quality assurance and curricular committee, the report said.

The faculty members said that as the Nous Report later makes clear “this disempowerment, under the guise of ‘an adjusted bicameralism’,” is intended as the first step toward a unicameral governance structure — unicameral meaning just one governing body.

It would make the Laurentian senate “an outlier among its provincial and national peers,” said the report, and would make it “the weakest in the province, and perhaps the weakest in the country.”

The report asserts that the Nous Report expresses a clear preference for — and indeed, a clear bias in favour of — unicameral governance.

One of the resolutions passed during the March 30 special senate meeting deals specifically with the senators’ concerns on this topic.

It reaffirms the Laurentian senate’s current role “as the owner of this university’s educational policy” and “rejects any part of the Nous Report’s recommendations that would limit senate’s responsibility to ‘academic policies and regulations’.”

Laurentian president Robert Haché said he applauded the senate for having a discussion about the bicameral structure of the university.

“I would, however, submit that this resolution rejecting recommendations and a report that has not even been discussed at senate is premature,” he said.

Kelly Rowe, a representative of Nous Group, was invited by Haché to give her response.

She said Nous Group has “serious concerns about the claims that are being made regarding our intentions” and that the document has “rather an alarmist tone.”

Rowe said there are several assertions in the senate members’ report that are factually untrue, including their assertion of bias in the Nous report toward a unicameral model. 

“I do want to reiterate, we have no hidden agenda,” she said, adding that if Nous Group thought a unicameral model would be best for Laurentian, they would have recommended it.

Also, regarding the language surrounding “academic policy” versus “educational policy,” Rowe said that Nous Group used the two terms interchangeably.

“And so with the motion before you around academic policy versus educational policy, it honestly makes no difference to us,” Rowe said.

Prefacing his remarks with “that was quite the response,” Gerhardt said his motion “basically affirms senate’s current responsibility.”

“It's clear that there is resistance to the current situation, the current state of senate response, senate's responsibility, which I find interesting,” he said. 

Gerhardt said that one of the ways the senate does discuss things is by moving motions. 

Senator Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde thanked Gerhardt and Leeson for writing the report, which he said he “did not find alarmist or biased. In fact I found it very informative … 

“This is a public university. We are the senate and the academic body for the university. And I have to say that I’m very disturbed that the private sector is here, telling us what we should and shouldn’t do. This is a public university, and the senate should be able to make decisions on its own.”

Another resolution and three motions responding to the Nous report recommendations brought forward by Gerhardt were also passed during the March 30 senate meeting.

The second resolution said that the senate recommends to the board of governors that the groups form a joint committee to deal with two of the Nous recommendations that concern both governing bodies. Those recommendations both deal with clarifying the roles of the senate and board of governors.

The three motions address the size and composition of the senate, as per amended recommendations from the Nous report, and create an ad hoc committee to work on these changes, reporting back to senate at their April and May meetings.

In the wake of yesterday’s discussion at the LU senate, Laurentian’s board of governors were also to hold a special meeting dealing with the board’s composition this afternoon (March 31).

During the public portion of that meeting, board members were to discuss changes to the Laurentian University of Sudbury Act which reduce its voting members from 25 to 16.

A document provided by the board of governors said these changes are in response to the Ontario legislature passing Bill 84 (Fewer Fees, Better Services Act) on March 3.

The legislation includes a Schedule 7, with amendments to the Laurentian University of Sudbury Act, which repeals and replaces various sections of the act, impacting the composition of the LU board of governors.

The bylaws of the board are required to be amended within 30 days of the passing of the bill.


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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