Last year, Laurentian University became the first publicly funded institution to seek creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). The decision by the university’s central administration to pursue this course of action resulted in a process of financial restructuring leading to some 60 programs, almost half of which were French language offerings, being cut along with the positions of more than 100 faculty and staff members. In the past twelve months, two provincial investigations have shed light on how this situation came to be and its implications for the Ontario post-secondary education sector.
On April 13, 2022, the Office of the Auditor General (AG) of Ontario published a scathing preliminary report that identified several problems leading up to this crisis. These included:
- Poor university governance and financial mismanagement by Laurentian’s senior administration and Board of Governors;
- A lack of transparency and cooperation with faculty and staff associations;
- Chronic underfunding of Ontario universities; and
- Weak oversight from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU).
Particularly noteworthy was the AG’s finding that, despite the senior administration at Laurentian attributing the institution’s financial decline to “excessive faculty costs,” these costs did not actually exceed those of comparable universities. By contrast, “it was high senior administrator salaries and expenses that negatively impacted Laurentian’s financial situation.” (Preliminary Report, p.5)
The second investigation was conducted by the Ontario French Language Services Commissioner, Kelly Burke. It highlights the failures leading to cuts to Laurentian’s French language programs and the resulting violations of the province’s French Languages Services Act. The Commissioner’s report, which was released on March 31, 2022, details how “[…] the university, the MCU [Ministry of Colleges and universities] and the MFA [Ministry of Francophone Affairs] knew about the financial problems long before the university applied for creditor protection. Had the university and the two ministries turned their minds to their respective obligations to protect French language rights when they first became aware of the financial woes, they could have planned for compliance with the [French Language Services] Act.” (Commissioner’s report, p. 35)
Both reports illustrate how the negative repercussions of poor institutional governance, combined with the slow erosion of provincial funding and oversight for Ontario’s post-secondary system, disproportionately impact faculty, staff, and students.
The events at Laurentian University have renewed calls from across the Ontario post-secondary sector for more collegial governance, increased funding from federal and provincial governments, and improved government oversight to prevent similar problems arising at other institutions.
The APUO continues to stand in solidarity with the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) and, in the light of these newly published reports, reiterates the position we set out in April 2021. We join the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), and several individual faculty associations in reiterating the call for:
- the immediate resignation of Laurentian University senior administrators who contributed to this crisis and who are still working for the institution; and
- immediate and long-term funding for Laurentian University to end its current insolvency filing and secure its future.