Nova Scotia

Layoffs at Coady Institute avoided after buyouts, job changes

The head of the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University is stepping down and involuntary layoffs have been avoided with some staff taking severance packages or other positions at the school.

Staffing changes come as Antigonish, N.S., institute faces deficit, loss of Global Affairs funding

St. Francis Xavier University said it had to make changes at the Coady Institute after losing its funding from Global Affairs Canada. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

The head of the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University is stepping down and involuntary layoffs have been avoided, with some staff taking severance packages or other positions at the school. 

The union that represents some of the Antigonish, N.S., institute's educators was bracing for job cuts after the university's administration announced it would be offering some staff severance packages in January.

Five staff members accepted layoffs and several others took different positions within the school, said Mary Oxner, president of the St. FX Association of University Teachers, which represents some of the affected staff.

Oxner told CBC's Information Morning staff had been under a "cloud of uncertainty" about their future, which she hopes will now subside.

"I have a tremendous amount of optimism that they'll be able to shepherd their way through this period and regroup and determine what it is that the global marketplace for adult education looks like," she said.

Every year, community leaders from around the world travel to Nova Scotia to study at the institute, which focuses on community-based development practices and leadership education. It was founded 60 years ago in the spirit of the Antigonish movement that championed social justice.

Funding lost

The staffing changes come after the university said it had to cut expenses since Global Affairs Canada discontinued its core funding, which amounted to $3.1 million last year. It also said the institute was dealing with an annual operating deficit of up to $700,000.

Kent MacDonald, the university's president, sent a note to Coady staff last week saying that June Webber, who had led the institute since 2015, will finish March 8. He also said that as the result of some staff accepting buyouts there would be no involuntary layoffs.

He said she proposed changing the management structure by replacing her position with an executive director. 

Gord Cunningham, who has worked with the institute for 22 years, will move from his current role as assistant director to that new job. 

Oxner said Cunningham brings two decades of experience and he'll be required to lead staff following a difficult period.

Fraud allegations

Current and former staff have spoken out about the working environment and not being included in decisions about the future of Coady.

"I think there's work to do in terms of engaging employees, allowing their innovation to be part of the process," Oxner said. "Tone at the top is so important and that's going to take some work."

Last September, the university sued the institute's former finance director, Jim Marlow, alleging he created fake invoices and deposited cheques into a personal bank account, misappropriating at least $243,000. 

RCMP subsequently charged Marlow with fraud and theft.

As a result, Global Affairs Canada launched its own investigation and determined nearly $30,000 worth of federal money was misappropriated. In a statement sent to CBC this month, the federal department said the university is on the hook for repaying that money.

With files from CBC's Information Morning