2 former Laurentian University professors want investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing

Two former Laurentian University professors want Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey to investigate the university’s past executives and board members for financial mismanagement.

Laurentian announced it was insolvent in February 2021, and cut 76 programs that April

Laurentian University cut 76 programs in April 2021. Nearly 200 staff and faculty lost their jobs due to those cuts. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Two former Laurentian University professors want Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey to investigate the university's past executives and board members for financial mismanagement.

In Feb. 2021 the Sudbury, Ont. university announced it was insolvent, and in April that year it cut 76 programs. Nearly 200 staff and faculty members lost their jobs.

A special report from Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said poor management and lack of transparency drove the school into its financial crisis.

Now that Laurentian has exited its insolvency proceedings, Eduardo Galiano-Riveros and Reuben Roth say it's time for an investigation to follow up on the auditor general's findings.

They made the request in a letter addressed to the attorney general on March 5.

"Was there, or was there not criminal wrongdoing involved?" asked Galiano-Riveros, a former physics professor at Laurentian who joined McMaster University in Hamilton after Laurentian shuttered his program.

Galiano-Riveros said the auditor general is not mandated to investigate potential criminal wrongdoing, but the attorney general's office does have that power.

He said the auditor general's report cited several instances where senior executives at the university mismanaged funds and gave themselves bonuses they were not legally entitled to.

According to the report, despite a salary freeze Laurentian increased the base salary for two executives by a total of $36,602 in 2020 and 2021. The report said the increases exceeded limits set for broader public sector employees.

Galiano-Riveros also referred to what he called a $2.4-million "slush fund", referenced in the auditor general's report. Senior administrators and faculty deans used $1.4 million of those discretionary funds for things like high-end tablets, laptops and smartwatches for personal use, Spanish lessons and home internet services.

In her special report on Laurentian University, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said poor management and lack of transparency drove the school toward insolvency. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Galiano-Riveros said it would bring some closure for himself and other colleagues who lost their jobs at Laurentian for the people responsible for its financial problems to be held accountable.

"It would make a lot of sense and would help us bring this whole very painful episode to some degree of closure if a modicum of justice were to be brought against those responsible for this whole fiasco," he said.

Fabrice Colin, president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association, said he supports calls for Ontario's attorney general to investigate Laurentian's senior leadership.

"It would be another means, again, to understand, you know, how these damaging decisions that resulted in the cuts of so many programs and so many positions could have happened," he said.

For three months the faculty association has also advocated for a public inquiry into Laurentian's financial mismanagement. But so far those calls have not been answered.

Looking to the future

In a statement, Laurentian's new interim president Sheila Embleton said she is focused on the school's future, now that it has exited insolvency proceedings.

"We've begun the process of establishing a new strategic plan and operational transformation," Embleton said.

"These are key steps in allowing Laurentian to fulfill its potential as a bilingual and tricultural institution. There is a lot of collaborative work ahead and we're focused on this transformation."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said in an email to CBC News the ministry had to decline a request for comment.

"In general, the investigation and laying of charges is a function of police services and is independent of the attorney," they added.


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