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Laurentian cuts “could have been prevented”

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is calling for the resignation of Laurentian University President Robert Haché and senior staff after the Ontario auditor general slammed the school’s administration for pushing it into creditor protection in a report.

Despite Laurentian’s financial troubles in the decade before 2020, the senior administration grew by 75% and cost $4 million per year. Photo: Flickr/ Greying_Geezer

A Laurentian spokeswoman told The PIE News in January that new international student enrolments are down 29% this year

“This report is a damning indictment of Laurentian University’s administration,” CAUT executive director David Robinson said. Laurentian spending cuts resulted in the termination of 195 faculty and staff in the wake of the creditor protection filing last year.

“This report shows that the administration intentionally delayed the disclosure of important financial information to the faculty association and ignored collective agreement provisions that would have avoided the costly legal proceedings of the past year,” Robinson added.

“This report is a damning indictment of Laurentian University’s administration”

In a report last week, the Ontario auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk said, “We believe Laurentian University did not have to file for creditor protection”.

She argued that the school should have been more assertive in asking the provincial government for financial support instead of filing on February 1, 2021. In her report, Lysyk noted that this is a move normally used by corporations, not publicly funded universities.

Lysyk also criticised the Laurentian administration for spending $24 million on legal and consulting fees about the insolvency process during the past two years. She noted that despite Laurentian’s financial troubles between 2010 and 2020, the senior administration grew by 75% and cost $4m per year.

She blamed “poorly considered” capital investments over the past decade for Laurentian’s financial woes. She added that there was “poor management of the university’s financial affairs and operations, exacerbating the situation”.

Lysyk also called out the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities for failing to pro-actively intervene in the financial crisis. Other provinces have legislated limits on budget deficits for universities, but Ontario does not, she said.

While the auditor-general’s report did not mention international students, one of Laurentian’s problems over the past decade has been a failure to attract enough international students to balance the budget. Other Canadian universities enrolled thousands of international students in the same period.

A Laurentian spokeswoman told The PIE News in January that new international student enrolments are down 29% this year. That compares with the average across Ontario of a decline of 0.6%. Covid-related travel restrictions have meant that many students have been unable to come to Canada since March 2020.

“One of Laurentian’s weaknesses in the run-up to 2021 was its chronic inability to attract international students,” said Alex Usher of the consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates. “Bluntly, the Ontario system of funding the higher education system incentivises taking international students and Laurentian was an institution that never seemed to get the message.”

Laurentian’s decision to file for creditor protection damaged its overseas reputation and made both international and domestic students reluctant to apply.

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