Laurentian University plans real estate review to see what could help pay off debt
Sudbury, Ont., school looks for court approval to move on to Phase 2 of restructuring plan
Laurentian University says its court-appointed monitor approves of steps taken so far to get the Sudbury, Ont., institution back on stable financial ground, and is seeking approval to move to its planned second phase as it investigates ways to pay off creditors.
The information is in the latest court documents made public on its website.
In its first phase, the university announced cuts to dozens of academic programs, faculty, staff and non-unionized members, as part of insolvency proceeds that allow it to operate while dealing with its financial situation.
Laurentian is also working to end agreements with three federated universities — Thorneloe, Huntington and the University of Sudbury — saying it would help it retain $7.7 million. But the University of Sudbury and Thorneloe are challenging the move in court.
'Time is of the essence'
The cuts to French-language programming at the University of Sudbury and Laurentian are concerning to Josée Forest-Niesing, a Sudbury lawyer who represents northern Ontario in the Senate.
She made a motion in the Senate this week to discuss the possibility of federal Minister of Official Languages Mélanie Joly stepping in with the province to provide funding to preserve programming for francophones. The motion was voted down.
Forest-Niesing worries the speed of the restructuring will cause irreparable damage.
"I think time is of the essence. It's a question of putting a bandage on a hemorrhage, I realize, but it still is quite necessary to react now."
The university acknowledges in its notice of motion for a stay of proceedings that the steps taken so far, including cuts to programs and staff, have been painful.
"These changes are disruptive and unsettling for many stakeholders, including most directly the faculty and
staff who recently received notices of termination. These changes have also placed additional burdens on remaining faculty and staff."
The next phase of proceedings under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) will include "the rebuilding of confidence and relationships with students, faculty, staff, donors and research-granting agencies, lenders, the communities we serve, and all stakeholders," the school says.
The university is seeking an external adviser to review operational and governance matters throughout the institution. It is pledging the process will be open and transparent.
The school also plans to review the value of its real estate, including buildings leased to other parties, to determine assets that "could be monetized" to pay off debt.
Fears of damaging school's history
Forest-Niesing finds this step disturbing, given the University of Sudbury sits on land owned by Laurentian. She said divesting real estate to satisfy creditors might be legal, but could damage the history of the campus.
We all have serious concerns about the fact that this is a publicly funded institution availing itself of recourses that were clearly intended for private enterprise.- Josée Forest-Niesing, senator
"There are certain things that will be possible within the legal proceedings that have been undertaken," she said. "I think we all have serious concerns about the fact that this is a publicly funded institution availing itself of recourses that were clearly intended for private enterprise."
Laurentian is also looking at its long list of creditors to determine how best to deal with their claims.
The university is seeking an additional $10 million in funding to carry it to the end of August as it goes through the second phase of restructuring.
The motion will be heard in court on April 29, when a judge will decide whether the process can move ahead.