By: Muna Mohamed
In early 2021, Laurentian University filed for creditor protection under Companies Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), this was a direct result of the various debts and liabilities that the university accumulated over the years. In an affidavit declaring the institution as insolvent showed that the school has been experiencing deficits over the last seven to eight years, with the full amount owing totalling more than 300 million dollars. Unsurprisingly, this caused public outrage and criticism towards both the university administration and the Ford government. To respond to public pressure both sides shifted the blame to the other party. According to the government, Laurentian was irresponsible with their finances and their inability to repay their debts was not caused or made worse by the pandemic. While the university holds the position that its deficits increased due to a lack of enrollment and government funding. According to administrators, the tuition decrease and freeze and the pandemic made the university unable to avoid a financial crisis. Regardless of which party deserves more blame, the changes made to Laurentian University lead to the burnt of the consequences to fall on Northern Ontarians.
As a part of its restructuring process, the university altered its focus on programs and faculties that both attracts and maintain the most amount of students. Essentially increasing revenue became the main goal for the institution, which lead to 69 programs being cut. A decision which forced many students to have their academic careers significantly altered, as many had to either leave their institution or change programs in order to receive a degree. Given the sheer size of the financial hole that the institution placed itself in, it is understandable for them to prioritize programs that brought in the most amount of revenue. However, in only persevering those programs within the restructuring process both the university and the Ford government failed to protect Northern Ontarians from their consequences.
Ontario holds a small francophone population, many of which live up North. As such, Laurtureian is one of a small group of universities that used to provide a range of french-speaking programs that this community relied heavily on for its continued sustainability. University administrates justified cutting these programs due to low enrolment, and while that may be true, much of Northern Ontario believed them to be institutional pillars of their community. Losing those French-speaking programs will inevitably have a long-term negative effect on the francophone community. However, one program that will have a far more significant and quicker impact on Northern Ontario is the loss of the Midwifery program. Currently, the entire province is suffering from a midwife shortage and this is especially true in Northern and rural areas of Ontario. Over the last few years, there have been regional cuts to the healthcare system in and around Sudbury, this program was a steady stream of healthcare professionals that help elevate the burden on the system. Without it, many expect this will worsen the level of care offered to pregnant women. Laurentian filled gaps within local hospitals and doctor offices to ensure a decent level of care, cutting programs such as this one hurts more than just students. It risks the lives of Canadians and creates issues that will require long-term and costly solutions.
The financial crisis of Laurentian University illustrated how important post-secondary institutions are to the development and sustainability of communities across the country. If one thing can be learned from this event, it is that university and provincial governments must work together to ensure the students and the local community are protected.