Sudbury

Loss of Indigenous studies program would reflect poorly on Laurentian, prof says

One of the oldest Indigenous studies programs in Canada will likely end as Laurentian University looks to terminate ties with the University of Sudbury, a move experts say could put the financially plagued school off the radar of an important population of students.

Critic says many northern Ontario Indigenous students would look elsewhere for post-secondary education

Veldon Coburn, professor of Aboriginal studies at the University of Ottawa, says Laurentian would lose students and credibility by cutting its Indigenous studies program. (CBC)

One of the oldest Indigenous studies programs in Canada will likely end as Laurentian University looks to terminate ties with the University of Sudbury, a move experts say could put the financially plagued school off the radar of an important population of students.

Part of its plans to cut ties with the University of Sudbury and the two other federated universities would mean dropping funding to the Indigenous studies program at the U of S.

"That just reflects poorly on Laurentian itself. They saved some moneymakers and decided to throw Indigenous studies to the wall," said Veldon Coburn, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Ottawa, referring to programs Laurentian has kept intact.

A judge's ruling on Sunday paved the way for insolvent Laurentian to sever ties with the three partners, which also include Thorneloe and Huntington universities, in a move it says would save it millions.

Laurentian became insolvent on Feb. 1, and since then, has been undergoing restructuring under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). Under the process, organizations are allowed to operate while straightening out their finances. 

Coburn said it would reflect poorly on Laurentian to no longer fund the Indigenous studies program at the U of S.

He said it would prompt many Indigenous students in northern Ontario to look elsewhere for post-secondary education. 

"Laurentian will never really register again, because I think other Indigenous people are going to focus their efforts elsewhere, and those places that are willing to embrace Indigenous people and Indigenous studies are the ones that are going to take the credit and Laurentian is going to fade off into the distance," said Coburn. "It will be a distant memory."

In a release on Laurentian's website, president Robert Hache says Laurentian has not taken any steps to extinguish the right of any of the federated universities to continue to exist, and will help them find ways to celebrate their historic legacy in a new way.

The Ontario Superior Court has agreed to allow Laurentian University to cut ties with its three federated universities. Distinct programming offered by the University of Sudbury, Huntington and Thorneloe is likely to be lost, including the Indigenous studies program at the University of Sudbury. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

In the interim, Laurentian and the University of Sudbury have hammered out a one-time commitment to offer six courses from the University of Sudbury's Indigenous studies program for the spring term.

The terms include having sessional instructors teach six Indigenous studies courses during the spring term, as recommended by a resolution of the Laurentian University Native Education Council (LUNEC) that was dated April 12.

These six courses had previously been taught by the University of Sudbury.

Laurentian said it will continue to consult with LUNEC during the spring and summer terms about how best to deliver Indigenous education at Laurentian.

Laurentian said about 140 students registered in Indigenous studies at the University of Sudbury have access to courses rooted in Indigenous perspectives already on offer through Laurentian's faculty of arts, in a variety of disciplines.

It is also exploring the development of an Indigenous perspectives program that would complement the already established bachelor of Indigenous social work and master of Indigenous relations programs. 

With files from Kate Rutherford

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