Laurentian University cuts 100 professors, dozens of programs

Laurentian University cuts 100 professors, dozens of programs-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Laurentian University officials say the target date for completion of the key components of its financial restructuring plan is April 30. More information is available at (Radio-Canada)

The pace of change at Laurentian University, which is in the midst of insolvency negotiations, is speeding up as termination notices for faculty and staff at the Sudbury, Ont., school started to roll out Monday morning.

Laurentian University, key school for northern Ontario, files for creditor protection

A total of 100 Laurentian University professors were dismissed during meetings organized by the human resources department.

The latest news from Laurentian administration said 58 undergraduate programs will be closed (107 will remain open) and 11 graduate programs will be shut (33 to remain open).

The layoffs among teaching staff will officially take effect on May 15.

‘I held out hope’

One of those is Nadia Verelli, a political science professor.

“We were all told that we would be laid off and that they would follow up with a letter [and] I did receive a termination letter,” she told CBC News. A total of seven people work in the department.

“We had a suspicion when we received notice Laurentian was going through this CCAA process, but I held out hope that my position was safe. While I expected it, it was still devastating for the news to come in this morning for me.”

The Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act allows for creditor protection, so financially troubled organizations can remain in operation while restructuring. Laurentian says it plans to reduce costs by paring down the number of programs it offers and trimming faculty positions.

Verelli has worked at the university for roughly seven years.

“The students here are great,” she said. “I loved every day that I’ve been here. It makes it so much more difficult because I truly enjoyed being at Laurentian.

“Students have been reaching out to me. So it makes it harder for sure.”

Laurentian officials say they anticipate roughly 10 per cent of undergraduate students (excluding those studying at the federated universities) will be affected in some way by these program adjustments.

“We further anticipate that 44 graduate students will be impacted by program closures,” they said in a release.

“For most students, particularly if they are close to completion, this will mean they will be able to complete their degree making use of all or parts of the modules in terminated programs, either through course substitutions at Laurentian or through letters of permission.  No new students will be admitted to these programs. For a small number of students, Laurentian will assist them in transitioning to a related program or another institution.”

Verelli said she’s unsure about what the future holds beyond “surviving today.”

“It’s something that my partner and I will have to sit down and figure out,” she said.

“I imagine I’m not the only one in this position, but if I decide to stay in academia, it would require me leaving Sudbury because there are no other universities in Sudbury.”

Past president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations-Milenio Stadium-Ontario
Gyllian Phillips, past president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, says asking Laurentian faculty and staff to vote on tentative agreements a day after learning whether they’ll have jobs under the restructuring plan creates a highly charged environment. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

‘Voting under duress’

The unions for faculty and staff are expected to ask members to vote on their respective tentative agreements on Tuesday.

Details of the job losses, and program cuts and reorganizations as well as contract negotiations have been kept strictly confidential under the court-mediated restructuring process.

Gyllian Phillips, past president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), said the university’s administration made a “tragic choice” by going through the CCAA process after declaring insolvency Feb. 1.

“It’s a failure of government in the long term to provide stable public funding for post-secondary institutions, especially those in the North, who face some extra challenges. But also it’s a failure in the short term.”

Phillips said the CCAA process was never intended to be used by a public-sector institution, so it’s hard to say whether it is unfolding as it should.

But she said the high degree of secrecy precludes the general public from weighing in what they would like to see happen to an institution grounded in the community.

She said asking faculty and staff members to vote on tentative agreements a day after learning whether they’ll have jobs under the restructuring plan creates a highly charged environment. Add to that a deadline of April 30, as cited by Laurentian’ president Robert Hache in letter on the university’s website, to have the labour agreements in place so restructuring can continue seems unreasonable, said Phillips

“The people are being asked to vote on something without actually knowing what the consequences would be if they voted against it, and to me, when so much is on the line, it sounds a lot like voting under duress.”

Deteriorating mental health

Tom Fenske, president of Laurentian University’s Staff Union, said his members have been fearful since negotiations began.

“I know that many members are worried. Their mental health has already deteriorated because of COVID-19, and our latest announcement of the stay-at-home order [that began Thursday] combined with not knowing what’s coming is really taking a hard toll on our members.”

Fenske said it’s been a challenge not being able to communicate with the 268 members of his union, which represents non-faculty positions, including lab technicians, managers and workers in the physical plant.

“You see people, you try to go for a walk in your neighbourhood, you see them and you don’t know what to say to them because you have been told that you’ll get in significant trouble if you do,” he said.

Fenske said the confidentiality order comes from the Chief Justice of Ontario, with warnings of fines or jail time for breaching that directive.

There’s also the issue of dealing with “aggressive conversations” daily as part of the CCAA process, he said.

“The insolvency lawyers, these are people that don’t respect that we are people. They look at us as dollars and cents. You know, I’m not Tom Fenske. I’m an FTE–  full-time employee.

“That’s what we’ve been reduced to.”

List of discontinued English language programmes    

  • Actuarial Science
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • BA 4 years Concurrent education (Primary-Junior)
  • BSc 4 years Concurrent education (Primary-Junior)
  • BFA – Music
  • BFA – Music Performance
  • Biomedical Physics
  • Civil Engineering (first 2 years)
  • Concurrent Education – Pro year (Primary-Junior)
  • Ecology
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Environmental Geoscience
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Studies
  • Geography
  • International Management
  • Italian
  • Labour Studies
  • Major Restoration Ecology
  • Mathematics
  • Midwifery
  • Modern Languages
  • Music
  • Music Studies
  • Operations
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science
  • Radiation Therapy – Michener
  • Restoration Biology
  • Spanish
  • Web Data Management
  • Workplace and Labour Studies

List of discontinued French language programmes

  • Droit et politique
  • Éducation – intermédiaire/supérieur
  • Études de l’environnement
  • Études françaises
  • Génie chimique
  • Génie mécanique
  • Génie minier
  • Géographie
  • Histoire
  • Littérature et culture francophone
  • Marketing (FR)
  • Mathématiques
  • Nursing – Boreal
  • Outdoor Adventure Leadership (FR)
  • Philosophie
  • Planification financière
  • Promotion de la santé
  • Resources humaines
  • Sage femme
  • Science du language
  • Science économique
  • Science politique
  • Théâtre
  • Zoologie


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