City awaits details of Laurentian University restructuring plan released during closed-door meeting

Laurentian University Sign

Details of Laurentian University's restructuring plan were unveiled during a closed-door Senate meeting Tuesday, but it could be some time before details are made public.

Facing massive long-term debts and lower revenue as a result of COVID-19, Laurentian filed for court protection from creditors Feb. 1.

"LU takes the position that it is insolvent and absent the relief sought in the initial order, will run out of cash to meet payroll in February," said one of several court documents filed in support of the university' Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) application.

The school ran a deficit of $20 million in 2019-2020 and was on track to run a $5.6 million shortfall this year before it declared insolvency. It has accumulated more than $300 million in long-term debt, much of it in the last 10 years.

A court-appointed mediator was tasked with negotiating a restructuring plan, and was authorized to cut staff and programs. Laurentian has since terminated its agreement with its federated universities, the only restructuring decision that has been made public.

LU President Robert Haché said in a statement last month that students should find out what programs will survive the cuts by the middle of this month.

"We anticipate that by mid-April, current and future students will start to see emerging clarity around important issues such as how Laurentian’s academic offerings will be restructured for the Fall of 2021," Haché wrote.

In a news release, the Ontario University Faculty Associations (OUFA) criticized the secrecy surrounding the process.

"The meeting was held entirely in-camera, and the Senate secretary maintained that the package was covered by the mediation confidentiality protocol," the release said. "This precludes the academic community from participating in the meeting or knowing what their representatives voted on."

OUFA president Rahul Sapra said the entire insolvency process should be halted. The CCAA is a process for private businesses, he said, not public institutions.

“The financial crisis at Laurentian is in large part a direct result of failed public policy and eroding levels of public funding for the post-secondary education sector,” Sapra said in the release. “Yet, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities has decided to not step in but allow a public university to go through a restructuring process designed for the private sector, cutting jobs, programs and services that are essential to the university community in Sudbury and the broader northern Ontario region.”