Laurentian University students and graduates, politicians condemn ‘devastating’ cuts

Treating a public institution like ‘some mine that went bankrupt’ not acceptable: MP

Via CBC News

Students at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., continue to react to news the school is cutting dozens of programs and laying off about 100 professors.

Laurentian made the announcement Monday after declaring itself financially insolvent earlier this year. The school filed for creditor protection on Feb. 1, a first for a university in the province. In total, 69 programs were cut, including 28 in French.

Second-year student and university newspaper editor Lexey Burns says students have told her they are ashamed to be associated with the school.

“I had one girl text me yesterday wondering if a Laurentian degree would be respectable anymore,” she said.

Others, she said, are wondering whether wearing clothes with Laurentian logos would be an embarrassment.

Laurentian University’s financial challenges have existed for years. A court-appointed monitor’s report says ongoing deficits were made worse by Ontario’s tuition reduction and freeze, declining domestic enrolment, capital expenditures, the closure of its Barrie campus, and expenses related to the pandemic.

Burns says she’s heard the argument that the cutbacks will enable the university to become leaner, but she doesn’t agree.

“They say it’s going to be a Laurentian 2.0 and I think they got the numbers mixed up. It’s definitely more of a 0.2,” Burns said.

“They’ve gotten rid of almost every single humanities program at Laurentian.”

Midwifery program gone

Like Burns, the future for midwifery student Annette Cloutier is also up in the air.

Cloutier says cutting the midwifery program will impact students, as well as people in the region. 

“A woman who wants midwifery care, woman-centered care, that is culturally appropriate, this is important to northern Ontario,” she said.

“This should be available and accessible to northern Ontario women.”

Recent Laurentian graduate Monseguela Thes says what’s happening at the school will affect students and professors for years to come.

Thes graduated from the school last year with a business administration degree. He’s originally from the Ivory Coast and says the cuts could affect where international students choose to go.

“I don’t think people would feel free to come to Laurentian. It would be very difficult,” he said. “I’m sure that it will be very tough for people to come back.”

Politicians point fingers

Politicians are worried, too.

Nickel Belt NDP MPP France Gélinas and Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West said in question period Tuesday that Premier Doug Ford needs to fund Laurentian and stop the layoffs.

“Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano believe students, staff and the community around Laurentian aren’t worth investment,” said West.

Gélinas said Laurentian’s more than 8,000 full- and part-time students are worried and deserve answers.

“Instead of being focused on their final projects and studying for their year-end exams, Laurentian students have been worried about their futures,” said Gélinas.

She notes that Laurentian University is designated under Ontario’s French Language Services Act, which means its French programs are protected.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents Timmins-James Bay, says the cutbacks are an act of national vandalism.

“You cannot treat a public institution, like a university or a hospital or any other public institution, as though it were just some mine that went bankrupt and you’re going to sell off the assets,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also weighed in on Laurentian’s crisis, saying the federal government is waiting to see what steps the provincial government takes before offering support.

In a statement to CBC News, the office of Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities says for most students, particularly if they are close to graduating, they will be able to complete their degree using all or part of the modules of terminated programs, “either through course substitutions at Laurentian or through letters of permission.

“For a small number of students, Laurentian will assist them in transition to a related program or another institution.”

The ministry says it has provided Laurentian with “consistent operating grants … over the last five years, of close to $80 million a year,” and that it provided the school with “far more funding than other institutions.”

Those grants accounted for more than 40 per cent of Laurentian’s total revenue in 2019-20, the ministry says, compared to a 23 per cent average for the universities’ sector overall.

‘Worst time possible’

For students like Kristiina Raisanen, the instability caused by Monday’s announcement is fuelling a sense of anxiety.

The second-year student is pursuing a double major in political science and philosophy. Her program is also being terminated.

“I spent most of my day [Monday] crying and trying to work through the rest of my semester’s work at the same time. This announcement is coming at the literal worst time possible. We’re in one of our last weeks of school right now, and I have two papers and two exams to do by the end of this week,” she said.

“It feels like the rug has been pulled from underneath my feet and I’m just perpetually falling.”