The Jesuits have been affiliated with the University of Sudbury since 1913. Photo courtesy University of Sudbury

Laurentian punts its founding federation partners

By 
  • April 8, 2021

As it fights off bankruptcy, Laurentian University has terminated its relationship with its federated universities, including the Jesuit-run Catholic college that helped found the Northern Ontario university.

“Termination of the federation agreements was necessary in order to ensure that millions of dollars paid by Laurentian to the federated universities each year relating to the delivery of programs and courses will remain within Laurentian, as part of its path to future financial sustainability,” Laurentian University president Robert Haché said in a statement released April 1.

On Feb. 1 Laurentian entered into a court-supervised restructuring process under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. It is the first time the CCAA, designed to rescue private companies from bankruptcy, has been used for a public university in Canada.

“Terminating the federation hurts not only the federated universities but also Laurentian itself,” University of Sudbury president Fr. John Meehan told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “By severing the feds (federated universities), Laurentian is cutting itself off from its own history — University of Sudbury is a founding member of the Laurentian federation — and from its supporting communities. Francophone courses, Indigenous Studies, communications, women’s studies and many other programs are based at the feds. Students will wind up with less choice under a new monopoly situation controlled by Laurentian.”

The sudden termination, effective May 1, shocked the Catholic higher education community in Canada. University of St. Michael’s College president David Sylvester used the hashtag #Shameful in a tweet reacting to the move.

“These federated universities are not a nice to have or drain, as depicted, but the foundational institutions in the north and directly to the communities they serve,” Sylvester wrote on Twitter.

In a Jan. 30 factum filed with the court appointed monitor, Laurentian committed to negotiating with its federated universities and “a re-evaluation of the Federated Universities model.”

Laurentian maintains that the three federated universities — Thornloe (Anglican), Huntington and the University of Sudbury (Jesuit-Catholic) — cost it $5 million a year. But Meehan maintains that Haché’s math is misleading, because it’s based on the idea that the revenue federated universities generate from courses they teach and residences they run are somehow a loss to Laurentian.

“The assumption is that feds don’t have the right to teach or to have residences. It would be like the University of Toronto saying to St. Michael’s College or Trinity College that they are ‘costing’ U of T millions simply because they teach courses and have residences,” Meehan said. 

Students have flooded the Save Our Sudbury Facebook group with questions about their future courses of study, now that courses taught at federated colleges will no longer be recognized as counting toward a Laurentian degree.

“I transferred for the Indigenous Studies undergraduate degree program (offered at the University of Sudbury) and have four courses left to graduate,” wrote Samantha Mukwa.

Mukwa worries that alternatives being offered by Laurentian in place of courses she was planning on taking at the University of Sudbury will have different prerequisite requirements, meaning that she may have an extra year of courses before she can complete her degree.

“Students will end up with less choice under a new monopoly situation controlled by Laurentian. Students and communities have felt shut out of the CCAA process,” said Meehan.

The University of Sudbury announced March 11 it would become a unilingual francophone institution in partnership with the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO). At the same time it said it would make its degree-granting powers available to the Indigenous communities of Northern Ontario, though a specific partner has yet to be announced.

Terminating the federation comes three weeks ahead of an April 30 deadline for Laurentian to present a plan to its creditors. If that plan is not accepted, Laurentian will be legally bankrupt.

“There is still more to come as the plan for Laurentian 2.0 is to be presented to Laurentian’s senate this week,” said Meehan. “Significant program cuts and layoffs are expected.”

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