Shock and disappointment as more than 100 Laurentian faculty positions terminated
Published Tuesday, April 13, 2021 10:53AM EDT
SUDBURY -- It was a devastating day for members of the Laurentian University community, particularly those in the Faculty of Arts, as dozens of programs were eliminated.
The decision undertaken by the Laurentian University administration and senate meant dozens of jobs were now gone.
In total, 110 positions were cut, 27 of them through non-replacement and vacancies. Those close to the situation say 83 of those jobs were terminations of employment.
After years of working at Laurentian University, this was not the way economist Jean-Charles Cachon saw his tenure at the school ending.
"It's been a hard day but mainly I think the way they, what I would call those firing squads happened was extremely painful for people," said Cachon. "I've seen people in my group, who have been with Laurentian for 35 years and more, who have been treated very callously."
According to many of the affected staff, those who were eliminated were told in one of a few group Zoom meetings on Monday. The vice-president of academics reportedly made a brief appearance, read from a statement and then left the meeting. From there, everything was left to human resources and an external third party company. Cachon said none of their questions was answered.
"This is a very bad way, bad management and it's proof of the incompetence of this administration. They could not manage funds properly, they cannot even manage people properly when they fire them," he said.
Cachon's program, economics, was one of the major casualties on Monday. Other programs affected include modern languages, italian, midwifery, political science and the entire School of Environment.
"I've never seen anything l like this, I've never even heard of anything like this, it's astonishing," said Charles Ramcharan, school of environment professor. "It's a massacre of faculty and programs and student/faculty dreams and aspirations and hopes for the future."
Seeing the writing on the wall, Ramcharan decided to take early retirement at the end of March but was only given three days to decide.
While it was not his plan, he had hoped it would save another professor's position.
"The number one priority of students coming in, that they list, is environment. So this is huge and, of course, environment is everything. You can't find a school that has a program of environment or school of environment and so we do seem to be sliding backwards. I do hope Laurentian finds some way to preserve this aspect," Ramcharan said.
On the political science side, there was some hope among the faculty that they might be spared. It began to fade, after seeing they had all been called into the same Zoom meeting with other professors.
"I'm devastated and heartbroken, scared of what the future holds for us because academic positions are few and far between. Most of us, if we want to carry on in academia, will have to leave," said political science professor Nadia Verelli.
Verelli, who has been in faculty advisory for the school's model parliament, worries about what will happen to some of the accomplishments they achieved.
Laurentian was one of few schools that were permitted to conduct its model parliament from the floor of the House of Commons.
"My reaction to the events of today is that the provincial government could have stepped in a lot earlier both to prevent and moderate what was happening at Laurentian University," said women and gender studies professor and chair Jen Johnson.
"The way in which my students have been treated in the past weeks and indeed the past months have been ... it's unacceptable to me and it's unacceptable to many," she said.
Johnson, whose program is located at Thorneloe University, said her program and students have been left in limbo with recent actions.
She said both the provincial and federal governments side-stepped the issue, which will have repercussions for decades to come.
"The levels of government need to step in because we are unfortunately laying the groundwork for this to happen at other institutions. The legal groundwork is being laid, the precedent is being set. Community members, not just people affiliated with the university, but to see jobs remain in northern Ontario, to see training opportunities remain in northern Ontario, we need to step in now and raise our voices very loud," Johnson said.
The Laurentian University Faculty Association and Laurentian University Staff Association were unavailable to comment on Monday with their reaction, given a confidentiality clause and a day full of meetings with members.
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculties Association (OCUFA) placed the blame squarely at the feet of Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano, the province's minister of colleges and universities.
"The government could have easily avoided this crisis, but even now, the government is not doing anything. Where is Ross Romano? I really want to know that. Ross Romano is in hiding. He's not talking to us," said OCUFA President Rahul Sapra, from Toronto.
"This is devastating news that will be hurting faculty, students all across the sector and the Sudbury community, the northern community so this is very disturbing."
Sapra said they are continuing to hold the government's "feet to the fire." Even now, OCUFA's members are on calling on government representatives from across the province to act on Laurentian's behalf.
"The government knew about this crisis for six months and Romano did nothing and was just sitting and waiting, watching all this devastation take place," he said.
CTV Northern Ontario reached out to the Sault Ste. Marie MPP and was issued the following statement from his office and spokesperson Scott Clark:
"Our government has program options in place to help those affected. It is deeply concerning and regrettable that Laurentian University has had to take such drastic measure to get their (sic) fiscal house in order. We are monitoring the situation closely. Our priority is the continuity of learning for Laurentian's students. As the ministry is not a participant in the CCAA process, it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Sudbury MPP Jamie West said the province could have stepped in to help.
"I'm embarrassed by the response," West said. "They could have stopped the CCAA process. They could have put up short-term funding to lessen the impact. They could have done what they did in the 70s for Algoma University where they had a commission to restructure and fix what was there. They chose not to."
He said he's been hearing from a large number of students and faculty, now unsure of what their future holds, and adds many of those students are busy just trying to think about exams.
"It's embarrassing that the government pretends that this is not a big deal and sits on the sidelines and pretends they don't have the power to do more with the majority government that they have," West said.
And this is just the first phase of restructuring. The faculty, who have been without a contract since July 2020, will still have to vote on a collective agreement to allow the restructuring to continue.
The ratification vote is expected to be held on Tuesday.