The release of the Auditor General of Ontario’s preliminary report on Laurentian University confirms what students, faculty and staff have been speaking out against the devastating crisis at the University. Due to the failure of the Ford government to provide the institution with financial support, careless administrative decisions, secretive governance practices, and a financial emergency led to inappropriate use of the heavy-handed Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). The Auditor Generals’ report makes it clear: the CCAA was specifically chosen to undemocratically refuse the demands of faculty, campus workers, and students. According to the Auditor General, the Laurentian administration affected the academic and career plans of an estimated 932 students, and terminated 195 staff and faculty with no notice and severance. It is clear from the Auditor General that Laurentian University President Robert Haché and the Board of Governors did not need to use the CCAA and could have worked transparently and cooperatively with the provincial government as well as students, faculty and workers to resolve the crisis at Laurentian. The CCAA process has wasted public funds and students’ tuition.
“In midst of an unprecedented pandemic, Laurentian students have had their departments canceled, programs cut, and watched their university collapse. Students deserve a fair future, but the Ford government chose to ignore the warning signs and decided not to act to prevent devastating cuts and ignored their responsibility to students, faculty, and staff,” Kayla Weiler, National Executive Representative for the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario.
The Auditor Generals’ office faced unprecedented threats from the Laurentian administration – including a challenge to the Auditor General Act. The administration also resisted voluntarily complying with Speaker’s Warrants issued by Queen’s Park and refused to release the information requested by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. Students have been dealing with the arrogance and secrecy of the administration throughout the crisis at Laurentian. Among a long list of missteps and poor decisions made by the administration at Laurentian University, the Auditor General found the use of the CCAA was unnecessary and purposefully chosen to avoid transparency. This inappropriate process typically reserved for private businesses has created severe consequences for the University and the whole of Northern Ontario. The report outlines how senior administrators chose to use this process instead of engaging with the faculty and students while spending months secretly planning to dismantle Laurentian University because of their financial mismanagement and unaccountability. At the same time, the Ford government, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) and their board appointees, were aware of the university’s financial issues before the CCAA process was initiated but they failed to intervene.
The report also noted that the primary cause of the university’s financial situation was the pursuit of poorly considered capital investments and that this was exacerbated by poor management of the university’s financial affairs and operations. As well, the report outlines that overall faculty costs did not significantly surpass those of comparable universities, but that it was high senior administrator salaries and expenses that negatively impacted Laurentian’s financial situation. Weak Board oversight and the Board’s extensive use of in-camera meetings limited public transparency and accountability. When the financial crisis became clear, the Laurentian administration chose to spend tens of millions of dollars on private sector lawyers and other consultants to guide the devastating and unnecessary CCAA process behind closed doors.
The Federation calls for an end to the CCAA process which has wasted millions of dollars and deeply impacted students, faculty, and staff. The provincial government must immediately provide Laurentian University with the funding it needs to restore programs and positions that were cut, including those of the federated universities. In addition, where employees are no longer available, Laurentian must ensure full termination and severance rights. The Federation supports the Tricultural Committee’s call to support the development of independent Indigenous and Franco-Ontarian universities and ensure Laurentian Indigenous and francophone programs are transferred to these new universities and to also strengthen Laurentian as an Anglophone university that is a democratic and transparent institution. It is clear from the findings of the Auditor Generals’ report that new leadership is needed at Laurentian to provide accountable and transparent governance. Students are tired of inaction by the Ford government and call for action at Laurentian that puts their education first.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario is the oldest and largest student organization in Ontario, representing over 350,000 college and university students in every region of the province.
SOURCE Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario
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