Laurentian University facing COVID-19 fiscal challenges
SUDBURY -- Laurentian University administration says they are taking immediate action to address a $15-million dollar shortfall for the fiscal year.
"If we don't take action, the combination of a potential enrolment drop, our pre-existing financial challenges and new impacts of COVID-19, could be the tipping point that threatens the financial viability of the university," said the school's president Robert Haché.
Haché spoke to CTV News after holding a town hall meeting for members of the Laurentian community.
"I think like most institutions going through this COVID crisis, it's putting financial pressures on institutions, certainly doing that for businesses, we've seen that all through the news, the same is similar for universities and colleges in the province," he explained.
Laurentian lost a lot of revenue with having to close residences earlier this year due to physical distancing and recreational facilities having been closed. All this while the school has had to pay for things like security and preparing the school for the transition to physical distancing.
"The transition to remote delivery has come with costs associated with it, so all of that, and going from March to the end of our fiscal year which is Thursday, has placed that additional strain on the university."
The school as a result has had to move up its sustainability program. It included a number of immediate actions such as suspending all new hires, the elimination of some vacant positions, the reduction in casual, part-time and limited term contracts and suspending all non-essential purchases.
University officials say the school had already been facing a $9-million dollar shortfall from the permanent reduction and frozen domestic tuition fees.
"This pandemic has created an additional and urgent financial crisis for Laurentian," said Lorella Hayes, Laurentian's Vice-President of Administration.
The university is also undertaking a number of additional measures and looking at some sustainability initiatives.
"I was surprised on how big an impact it was," said Laurentian University Students' General Association President Eric Chappell. "So Laurentian for a long time has been working on being financial responsible but nobody predicted how negative an impact COVID-19 would have on the university."
Chappell doesn't foresee any kind of short-term impact to the student body, but for the long-term, he's concerned.
"There's services when you get to a small northern school that you have challenges offering because you don't have enough students to make them viable and with COVID-19 there's a real risk of how many students will be on campus and what does our future look like and these services will be harder and harder to offer," he said. "There's also a risk that a lot of programs have tenured faculty so you can't cut them, student services become a really easy target for administrations across the province."
Laurentian University Staff Union President Tom Fenske admits some of his members have concerns about the news.
"When you hear things are not laid out as they should be, it really does strike a chord about how bad it is right now," said Fenske. "It's not something we've ever dealt with here, so there is no easy way to deal with it."
"We had the town hall meeting today, it was a variety of mixed feelings, there was fear and anger and people wanting their questions answered. They want to know exactly how we got here and the administration is starting to present that," he said.
"I think the only way through this is building a trust level that the institution has never seen before, a trust level between the unions and administration, between employees and with students. I think we need to have a trust level that's unprecedented." he added.
Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano was unavailable for comment.
His ministry sent the following statement:
"To support the pressing needs of institutions in the wake of COVID-19, the government provided institutions with $25-million in additional funding to publicly-assisted colleges, universities and indigenous institutes to help address each institute's most pressing needs in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak."