SUDBURY -- The union representing faculty at Laurentian University is blaming the erosion of public funding for higher education and "reckless" decisions by school administrators for the financial crisis currently gripping the university.

In a news release Tuesday, the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) and Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) said the two factors are behind the school's decision to seek creditor protection.

"Financial challenges it is facing (are) a result of poorly considered and reckless administrative decisions and the erosion of public university funding," the release said.

"While there are some important questions to be asked, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano has a responsibility to step up and provide Laurentian with the funding it needs, not just to survive for a few more months, but to secure the public institution's long-term future."

In its filing announced Monday, Laurentian said several building projects in the last decade contributed to its $322 million in liabilities, but said low enrollment in many of its 132 programs drove up costs. The filing said Laurentian spends $2,000 more to educate each student than the Ontario average.

It is seeking to have an independent mediator appointed that would have the power to lay off staff and cut programs. But the union said Tuesday protecting jobs is important.

"It is concerning to see (Romano) only referencing the well-being of students in his statement," the union said. "The province's obligation extends beyond ensuring the institution's students are able to continue their studies uninterrupted, but to protecting the jobs of those working at the university—jobs that are vital to the Greater Sudbury community."

LUFA also said it has asked the administration for years to be more open about its finances and blasted what it called an increasingly secretive approach.

Lack of transparency

“The challenges facing Laurentian University are not due to a lack of government oversight, but a lack of transparent and accountable institutional governance that allows for oversight and input by the university community,” Fabrice Colin, president of LUFA, said in the release.

“Instead, government representatives, who should have been providing oversight and good governance, joined with other members of the senior administration and Board of Governors to cut the Laurentian University Senate and important stakeholders out of critical discussions around the university's finances.”

For many years, OCUFA has highlighted the ongoing erosion of public funding for Ontario's universities and the fact that the province provides the lowest per-student university funding in Canada, resulting in an over-reliance on tuition fees and private donors, the release said.

"This government has a responsibility to step in immediately and provide long-term funding to secure the future of Laurentian University so that no student's education and no person's job is needlessly lost," the union said.

"Laurentian University's senior administration and its Board of Governors, including its four government representatives, should stop hiding behind closed doors, respect the university’s constitution and bylaws and start working with the university community so that important decisions are made in a transparent, accountable, and responsible manner."

Founded in 1979, LUFA represents more than 400 full-time and more than 300 part-time professors at Laurentian University, the University of Sudbury, Huntington University, and Thorneloe University. For more information, visit the LUFA website.