1 year after Laurentian University slashed jobs and programs, these students have a lot to say

On April 12, 2021, Laurentian University cut 69 academic programs and more than 100 faculty and staff members lost their jobs. 

Denise Zhuang says she will view her degree from the Sudbury, Ont., school 'as an embarrassment'

Denise Zhuang is completing a degree in the equity, diversity and human rights program at Laurentian University, which cut 69 academic programs and over 100 faculty and staff to deal with its financial issues. Zhuang says her course choices were limited after the school declared insolvency. (Supplied by Denise Zhuang)

One year ago, many of the programs tied to Denise Zhuang's program at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., were cut.

Zhuang is completing a degree in Laurentian's equity, diversity and human rights program. But her course choices were limited after the school declared insolvency in February 2021.

"So my degree was made up of Indigenous studies, women and gender studies, religious studies, labour studies, poli sci, philosophy and gerontology," she said. 

"Almost all of those programs are gone now. So my degree is left with basically sociology or psychology."

On April 12, 2021, Laurentian cut 69 academic programs, and more than 100 faculty and staff members lost their jobs. 

The university moved to save costs as it began to restructure through the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).

Zhuang said she decided to stay at Laurentian because she would have lost a lot of money transferring to a different university.

But she said the school's legacy has been tarnished after those cuts.

"In my heart, I will always look at that piece of paper (her degree) as an embarrassment," Zhuang said.

"Now, when I go in job interviews and say, 'Where did you get your degree? Oh, Laurentian.' Then I have to cut into my interview time and explain all my feelings about the Laurentian debacle. So that is going to be my legacy forever."

Adam Kirkwood, a PhD student in the boreal ecology program at Laurentian University, said it took him a long time to secure $10,000 in research funding held by the university. (Adam Kirkwood/Supplied)

Adam Kirkwood, a Laurentian PhD candidate, researches what happens when permafrost starts to thaw in the Far North.

He said he was fortunate the biology department survived the cuts in 2021, but he still lost professors who taught him when he was an undergraduate student.

"During my undergrad at Laurentian, I took environmental science and geography, and both of those programs have been cut," Kirkwood said. "So a lot of my mentors and professors that taught me during my undergrad are no longer here, and they were a bit of a support network for me."

When Laurentian announced it was insolvent, Kirwood was unable to access $10,000 the university held for his research.

He said it took a long time, and letters to the university to justify his research, for the funds to be released.

Kirkwood said he considered transferring to Laval University in Quebec City, where one of his supervisors transferred before the cuts, but that would have meant working at a French-language institution as an anglophone.

"It's definitely been a very tumultuous path and difficult last year and a half," he said.

"But my hopes are, and obviously, the university will get through the insolvency. A hope that I've always had is that administration is straightforward, and clear and transparent about what the intentions are and what the path forward is."

Questions in Queen's Park

On April 11, Sudbury MPP Jamie West brought up the cuts to Laurentian's programs during question period in the Legislative Assembly.

"One year ago the premier failed to provide the funding needed to avoid the process that led to these devastating cuts at Laurentian University," West said.

Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop responded that on Dec. 16, 2021, the province took over a $35-million debtor-in-possession (DIP) loan Laurentian held.

"We also took additional measures to provide cost saving measures by providing a $6 million COVID grant for Laurentian University," Dunlop said.

With files from Jan Lakes and Jonathan Pinto


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