Sudbury

Laurentian University students, alumni coming forward with more questions

It's been about a month since Laurentian University declared insolvency and entered creditor protection — and questions from community members continue to mount, even as support swells for an institution that has shaped the lives of Sudburians past and present.

People connected to the school are wondering where money for bursaries and scholarships has gone

Laurentian University's student centre in Sudbury. The school, despite its state of financial insolvency, says students and their post-secondary experience is the number one priority. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

It's been a month since Laurentian University declared insolvency and entered creditor protection.

Questions from community members continue to mount, even as support swells for an institution that has shaped the lives of Sudburians past and present.

One of those people asking questions is Katlyn Kotila, a fourth-year political science student. She learned last week from a faculty advisor that money students raised to go to Ottawa for a model parliament may no longer be accessible.

Kotila says it was a blow, but the university still means too much to her to leave.

"I'm scared and I'm stressed. But I'm also hopeful and I see a sense of community at Laurentian that I feel as though if I left, I would be abandoning," she said.

Laurentian University student Katlyn Kotila, seen here in the House of Commons taking part in Model Parliament in Ottawa, says she and other students have raised thousands to attend the program as part of their education. She says a faculty advisor told her last week that the money may no longer be accessible to them. (Submitted by Katlyn Kotila)

Laurentian's storied athletic department, including the pool where Olympian Alex Baumann trained, was shut down in the fall for lack of funding for necessary repairs, before the insolvency was announced.

Former basketball coach, back-to-back national champion, and Laurentian University Hall of Famer Shirlene McLean says alumni have been calling with questions about where the athletic bursaries and scholarship money has ended up.

Shirlene McLean is a former basketball coach, back-to-back national champion and Laurentian University Hall of Famer. (CBC)

McLean says she has to trust the university will provide clarity on that issue.

"We're at rock bottom, but I feel we need the opportunity to get ourselves out of this and there are some tough questions that need to be answered," she said.

The university is referring all questions to a website, where it has posted court documents related to the restructuring process.

Under Monitor's Reports, the accounting firm, Ernst and Young gives some background on how donations, endowments and research grants have been handled up until mid-December of 2020..

The firm says that donations, both unrestricted and restricted were "initially received into a separate bank account (the "Donation Account") but were then transferred to the Operating Accounts and co-mingled. All disbursements whether on account of operations or in connection with activities funded by restricted funds were paid from the Operating Accounts. There were no separate bank accounts set up to receive and hold restricted funds. All funds available in the Operating Accounts were utilized prior to drawing on lines of credit."

Ernst and Young commented that it does not appear uncommon for universities to deposit research grants and other restricted funds into their main operating account and that most institutions have the money to cover their obligations.

"However, in LU's case, as a result of its historical deficits and other issues described above, the funds held by LU at the current time are insufficient to cover obligations in connection with these restricted funds," says Ernst and Young in its report.

For those with questions about their donations, Laurentian has set up an FAQ section at laurentianu.info

Under the question "What happened to my donation?", Laurentian has provided this response:

"Laurentian is currently reviewing and reconciling all donations it has received, whether they were donated for a specific purpose (restricted) or for general use (unrestricted). The Pre-Filing Report of the Monitor provides further information regarding the status of endowments and donations."

The university says any new donations for a specific purpose, made as of mid-December, will be placed in a separate, segregated bank account for that purpose. 

There is a court order to make sure that current students who are recipients of bursaries, scholarships and awards will continue to receive them. 

A report on the restructuring is expected April 30.

Meanwhile, people like Kotila are still left with questions.

"There's a lot of stress and uncertainty for many students and I think one of the big things that's pretty universal across the board is just this feeling and fear of the unknown."

With files from Kate Rutherford

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