Laurentian University intentionally subjected its faculty and students to the devastating agenda and job cuts of bankruptcy after its leaders rejected offers of help from the Ontario provincial government, a provincial audit has found.
Auditafter a year of bankruptcy and compiled despite the university’s refusals to cooperate with it, prompted national and provincial faculty associations to call for the immediate resignation of university president Robert Haché and his management team.
The university did not respond directly to the suggestion, although it issued a contrite statement welcoming the audit, promising to take action in response and noting that the situation will ultimately require “essential changes within the university.” institution”.
“Laurentian is absolutely committed to completing this transformation,” the university said. said in the statementattributed to Jeff Bangs, a longtime operative of Ontario’s ruling Progressive Conservative Party and former Laurentian consultant who became interim head of the institution’s board of governors after numerous resignations last year.
Last year, Laurentian became the first publicly funded university in Canada to seek protection from its creditors, stunning the city of Sudbury, in northern Ontario, with its sudden recognition of deep financial difficulties. In the turmoil, the campus lost about half of its 9,000 students and more than a third of its programs, laid off about 200 of its faculty and other staff, and saw its high school applications drop by nearly half. . It also hurt three collocated institutions by giving up the affiliations they needed to operate.
Over the past few months, Laurentian leaders have resisted calls from Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk for documents that would help her figure out what happened, and the provincial legislature has finally intervened to demand their compliance.
Ms. Lysyk calls her report to lawmakers preliminary, saying Laurentian’s “unprecedented legal pushback” to her investigations delayed her work to the point where she could only release an interim assessment before the end of the current legislative session. .
In it, she affirms many widely suspected details, including a sense that Laurentian got into financial trouble not so much because of government divestment, but because of a campus expansion campaign in a decade in which university leaders misjudged potential student demand.
Laurentian leaders then took steps to hide the seriousness of the problem from the public and the board of governors, and deliberately chose the path of bankruptcy early last year rather than accepting offers of help. of the provincial government,” writes Ms. Lysyk.
The Auditor General also notes that Laurentian’s spending on senior administrative staff jumped 75% between 2010 and 2020, even as administrators publicly complained about faculty costs. Administrators have tried to cover the costs of capital projects by quietly reallocating money intended for research and employee health benefits, she says.
The audit confirms that Laurentian executives understood their mistakes and, rather than admitting them, “doubled down on secrecy and spent months planning how they would dismantle the university through” the bankruptcy process, said the Confederation of Ontario University Teachers’ Associations. said in a press release of its president, Sue Wurtele.
The Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, David Robinson, called the discoveries “absolutely outrageous” and “a damning indictment of the administration of Laurentian University”.
Both groups urged resignations in the upper layers of Laurentian’s management.
Ms. Lysyk also criticizes the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities for not closely monitoring Laurentian’s activities. A better example, she says, came in 2014 when Nipissing University “was facing financial challenges that were, in some ways, worse than Laurentian’s.” In this case, she says, the ministry provided key advice to Nipissing and the university was able to recover.
But even if the department had better followed Laurentian, warns the auditor general, the provincial legislature has not given it the power to impose the changes it deems necessary.