Disappointed but not surprised with weekend Laurentian ruling: students and faculty

Faculty and students didn't appear to be too surprised with Sunday night's decision by a judge to allow Laurentian's creditor protection to continue but some were disappointed with the outcome.

Sherene Lozon lives in southern Ontario and said there has been a real breakdown in communication with students.

She was enrolled and scheduled to take courses that were supposed to start on Monday, but now, Lozon will have to take those courses elsewhere.

A mother of two young children, she chose Laurentian to complete a double-major in Indigenous social work and women and gender studies because they offered it completely online.

"I feel like there was a lack of transparency from semesters ago when these concerns were well known but not to the students. The first inkling that I had other than hearing there were some insolvency issues, other than hearing from our actual program base, was April 14," Lozon said.

She said it's been very frustrating. She had been talking with the director about maintaining her status with the program in hopes that something would come through and be saved but to no avail.

Lozon has now received a letter of permission from Laurentian to finish her courses at another school.

"Which I had to kind of fight Laurentian on getting permission for in the first place. And then when they did give me that, they're still maintaining that I have to pursue a full course load with them while obtaining my second major elsewhere," she said.

"It puts me in a place now where I have to take a semester and a half worth of courses to get what I need at two universities at a financial cost to myself and the time implications on my own."

It's a similar story for Connor Lafortune who believes he'll also have to complete his courses somewhere other than Laurentian University.

"I was not surprised," he said. "I think it kind of felt like it was coming or the whole thing was going to fold, and so for me, as a francophone and an Indigenous person, there's a lot of things that are getting lost."

Lafortune is in the Indigenous studies program and had a double minor in women and gender studies and law and justice.

"I just try and look at it like okay, I'm content, this is what's happening, I'll just move forward kind of thing. I know a lot of students -- it's really, it's not like it's troubling me, I'm just, I just can't look at it that way because it's not helpful for me," he said.

Jennifer Johnson is the chair of the women and gender studies department at Thorneloe University.

She said it's hard right now to focus on her wants or personal needs. Her attention remains 100 per cent focused on her students who are now displaced.

"You know the number of people who are interested in talking about consent culture, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, in ways that are important to their own local communities, some of those voices are being abandoned by Laurentian," Johnson said.

"This morning, I'm facing questions about that from students, assisting them with making other plans and it's a very hard place for students to be."

She calls the decision to uphold Laurentian's termination of its agreement with the three federated universities disappointing and reflective of a larger problem the school is now developing over subjects like equity.

Laurentian University has had a women and gender studies program on campus since 1979.

"These courses (spring courses) have had to be cancelled. This is really unfortunate because Laurentian could have found another path forward for these students," Johnson said.

"The government needs to step in -- before we even got to Phase 1. It needs to step in right now and just stop this, it is destroying what it is to be a university," said sessional professor Christopher Dunancson-Hales, a University of Sudbury professor.

Duncanson-Hales said he had a bit of optimism heading into the weekend and after hearing the arguments during the legal hearing, he thought they were strong.

"My sort of nagging in the back of my head before it came out was if the lies that were told were to be believed, then we would lose the case and it would be dismissed," he said. "The idea that cancelling these agreements, $7 million is going to come back to LU, it's just fiction."

Laurentian University President Robert Haché released a statement to mark the win in court writing in part:

"Laurentian respects the historic legacy of each of the federated universities and will continue to do so in future, but it was necessary to terminate the contractual relationship and the funding arrangements for the sake of Laurentian’s survival."

The presidents of the three federated universities said they don't buy it.

"I'm terribly sorry for Thorneloe. We've been here for 60 years, we are not insolvent, we are a creditor and yet we're bearing the brunt of Laurentian's financial distress," said Thorneloe University President John Gibaut.

He said Thorneloe isn't giving up and plans to further challenge the termination in court.

"We are definitely going to appeal this decision. Long-term, it's hard to know. We've arranged our lives and our teaching commitments all around Laurentian University - we only make sense with Laurentian University," Gibaut said.

He adds Thorneloe could stand on its own if they're able to make it through the pandemic and the residence continues to thrive.

The University of Sudbury, which has already announced its desire to become a francophone institution, said it's still trying to decide what its next steps in the legal process might be.

"I hope there's accountability. I hope amidst all this devastation that that's been wrought on our city and our region - that those responsible will be held accountable," said Father John Meehan, president and vice-chancellor of University of Sudbury.

"I fully support the calls that I'm hearing for some sort of inquiry into what's happened. Because until people take responsibility and accountability, we won't have any trust."

Meehan may get this wish.

While it looks like the legal challenges are far from over for Laurentian, NDP MPP France Gelinas had a motion pass that would see the auditor general do a complete value for money audit of Laurentian University's books.