OCUFA: Erosion of governance and public funding cause of Laurentian University financial crisis

Sudbury, ON, Feb. 02, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) and Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) are concerned to hear that Laurentian University is filing for court protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement due to financial challenges it is facing as a result of poorly considered and reckless administrative decisions and the erosion of public university funding. While there are some important questions to be asked, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano has a responsibility to step up and provide Laurentian with the funding it needs, not just to survive for a few more months, but to secure the public institution's long-term future.

It is concerning to see the Minister only referencing the wellbeing of students in his statement. The province's obligation extends beyond ensuring the institution's students are able to continue their studies uninterrupted, but to protecting the jobs of those working at the university—jobs that are vital to the Greater Sudbury community.

As to how Laurentian got itself into this mess, LUFA has repeatedly raised concerns about the increasingly secretive and non-consultative approach the university administration has taken to making important financial decisions.

“At Laurentian, and at other universities across Ontario, more and more decisions are being made behind closed doors, in clear violation of university acts and their own constitutions, circumventing existing democratic governing bodies that include faculty, staff, and students,” said Rahul Sapra, OCUFA President. “Crises such as the one that Laurentian University finds itself in are bound to happen again and again across the sector so long as the community-based and collegial model of university governance is eroded in favour of a corporate and secretive managerial model.”

Ross Romano says that perhaps the government should consider more oversight over university finances to ensure this does not happen again. OCUFA and LUFA would like to remind the Minister that he has four representatives on the Laurentian University Board of Governors—Laurentian's highest decision-making body. Where were these representatives when faculty, staff, and students were trying to hold the university administration accountable?

“The challenges facing Laurentian University are not due to a lack of government oversight, but a lack of transparent and accountable institutional governance that allows for oversight and input by the university community,” said Fabrice Colin, President of LUFA. “Instead, government representatives, who should have been providing oversight and good governance, joined with other members of the senior administration and Board of Governors to cut the Laurentian University Senate and important stakeholders out of critical discussions around the university's finances.”

For many years, OCUFA has highlighted the ongoing erosion of public funding for Ontario's universities and the fact that the province provides the lowest per-student university funding in Canada, resulting in an over-reliance on tuition fees and private donors. The impact of this deteriorating fiscal foundation is especially acute at northern universities like Laurentian.

Therefore, perhaps Laurentian University's move to claim creditors protection isn't as surprising as it first seems. This is what happens when public institutions are not properly funded and when collegial governance gets eroded, with important decision-making processes moved behind closed doors.

This government has a responsibility to step in immediately and provide long-term funding to secure the future of Laurentian University so that no student's education and no person's job is needlessly lost. Laurentian University's senior administration and its Board of Governors, including its four government representatives, should stop hiding behind closed doors, respect the university’s constitution and bylaws and start working with the university community so that important decisions are made in a transparent, accountable, and responsible manner.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. It is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education in Ontario and recognizing the outstanding contributions of its members towards creating a world-class university system. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.

Founded in 1979, LUFA represents over 400 full-time and over 300 part-time professors at Laurentian University, the University of Sudbury, Huntington University, and Thorneloe University. For more information, visit the LUFA website at www.lufappul.ca.



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