Devastating Laurentian University cuts met with disbelief, outrage and anger
Organizations are demanding that the federal and provincial governments intervene as well as for the resignations of Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano and others. It is hard not to see this absolute devastation of a post-secondary institution -- using an insolvency process that was never intended to be used by public-sector institutions -- as an austerity canary in the coal mine test case, making resistance to the cuts all the more important.
Disbelief, outrage and anger are greeting the devastating cuts announced at Sudbury's Laurentian University.
On Monday, April 12, 69 programs were cut and 110 faculty members lost their jobs as part of an insolvency process after years of mismanagement and government underfunding. Though they are not responsible it is students, faculty, Indigenous people, the Francophone community, Sudbury and Northern Ontario that are paying the price.
In an April 13 press release Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario President Fred Hahn said “Today’s announcement represents a bleak day for Northern Ontario. It’s important to note that today’s announcement isn’t the final word. It’s just the first, and more completely avoidable layoffs and program cuts, could very well follow it.”
The press release also outlined how:
In February, Laurentian announced it was seeking insolvency protection under the Company Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) the first time public institution had ever sought protection under the act, which was created for private, for-profit corporations.
David Simao, Chair of the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee, which represents CUPE University workers in Ontario, said today that, “the announcement we all heard today will reverberate across the North for more than a generation. The tremendous loss of knowledge and talent at Laurentian can never be replaced, and it will take years, if not decades, to repair the damage that the Ford Conservatives have inflicted on Northern Ontario,”
Earlier this year, as Laurentian announced it was struggling financially, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano and the rest of the Ford Government’s caucus made a choice to not intervene to provide the necessary financial assistance to help the University. This seemingly left this public institution with no other recourse but to resort to a legal process designed to deal with corporate bankruptcy; a process that looks only at the raw numbers and not questions of what’s necessary for the good of the public.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario noted that the cuts are particularly impacting Northern Ontario's Indigenous and Francophone communities:
French courses represent the major proportion of program cuts and French language students are being targeted. Nearly 40 French-language programs will no longer exist at Laurentian University. Once again, the provincial government is showing their open disdain for francophones, as seen in previous budget cuts to French language services and education. Many unique French language programs that have been cut, like the midwifery program which is the only bilingual program of its kind and the only one in the North, are essential. Sébastien Lalonde, Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, highlights:
“Laurentian University is one of the most significant Francophone institutions in the province. Francophone students are being told that their education, language, and culture aren’t worth saving. This government has time and time again shown that Francophone students and the services they rely on are the first to be cut.”
While Laurentian is a bilingual institution, its mandate is tricultural and, in particular, offering a hub for Indigenous learning and research. The program cuts will also have severe and negative impacts on Indigenous learning and Indigenous language degrees. These groundbreaking programs have made significant contributions to Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and decolonization through research and expansive curriculum. These cuts counter the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Call to Action 16: “We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.”
Their statement goes on to note that:
The undemocratic Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) process was never intended to be used by public-sector institutions. This is the first time a publicly funded university in Canada has used a court process normally reserved for private corporations. The administration and provincial government are using this mechanism to avoid oversight and consultation with students, faculty and the general public, while forcing a heavy-handed restructuring process with the affected parties under duress with inappropriate timelines.
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) President Rahul Sapra and Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) President Fabrice Colin are calling "for the resignations of Laurentian University President Robert Haché, Vice-President Academic and Provost Marie-Josée Berger, Vice-President Administration Lorella Hayes, Board Chair Claude Lacroix, Registrar Serge Demers, and Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano for their roles in creating the financial crisis that has devastated the public university."
“The fact of the matter is that, if Ross Romano and the provincial government had done their jobs, none of these cuts would have been necessary,” said Sapra. “We are extremely disappointed in Minister Romano and the provincial government for abandoning Laurentian. They knew about the depths of the university’s financial difficulties for months, if not years, and had numerous opportunities to take action to avert this crisis. While we were fighting for Laurentian’s faculty, staff, and students, Minister Romano stood by and did nothing.”
The devastating cuts at Laurentian are the direct result of negligence on the part of Minister Romano, who was well aware of the financial challenges Laurentian was facing at least six months before they became public. Faculty no longer believe that Romano is listening to their concerns, or those of staff or students. As a result of the Minister’s inaction, Ontario’s university faculty and academic librarians have lost confidence and trust in Romano’s commitment to the university sector.
The Education for All campaign which is a joint initiative of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Federation of Students, CUPE, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the National Union of Public General and Public Employees continues to call on the federal government to:
- take action to ensure Laurentian University remains a beacon of excellence in research, reconciliation, and the vitality of official-language minority community institutions; and,
- show federal leadership to develop a national plan for post-secondary education working with provinces and territories to improve Canada’s knowledge infrastructure.
They have put together a letter that you can sign at: Take actions! - Education for All.
It is hard not to see this absolute devastation of a post-secondary institution as an austerity canary in the coal mine test case, making resistance to the cuts all the more important.
The full list of programs cut can be found here.