Laurentian University files for creditor protection

Laurentian University has filed for creditor protection amid what its president calls "unprecedented financial challenges."

'Despite our best efforts … Laurentian is insolvent,' top official says

Sign saying 'Laurentian University' in English and French.
Despite its CCAA status, Laurentian officials say current students will not see a change in their day-to-day education and the school will continue actively recruiting new students. (Erik White/CBC)

Laurentian University has filed for creditor protection amid what its president calls "unprecedented financial challenges."

Laurentian's financial health "is currently amongst the weakest in the province compared to other universities," Robert Haché, president and vice-chancellor of the Sudbury, Ont.-based school, said in a statement on Monday 

"Despite our best efforts over the last year, Laurentian is insolvent."

Laurentian is a hub for post-secondary education in northern Ontario. But in the last decade, Haché said it has seen declining demographics in the region, "recurring deficits" and the domestic tuition reduction and freeze of 2019 — the same year it closed its Barrie campus. The pandemic also brought "various costs and revenue impacts," he said. 

The school says filing under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act will allow it to restructure.

"The university has taken this step with a view to emerging as a fully restructured and financially viable institution," a spokesperson said in a release earlier on Monday.

University president Robert Haché says Laurentian is facing unprecedented financial challenges. (Laurentian University)

"Current students will not see a change in their day-to-day education and Laurentian will continue actively recruiting new students."

Ernst & Young Inc. is the court-appointed monitor in the proceedings.

Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano called the move "unprecedented" and "deeply concerning" but said Laurentian students "remain the government's priority."

"We are focused on ensuring they can continue their studies without interruption," he said in a statement. 

"The government will be exploring its options, which could include introducing legislation to ensure the province has greater oversight of university finances and to better protect the interest of students and Ontario taxpayers." Romano said.

"The government wants to ensure this issue does not repeat itself in other institutions in the post secondary educational sector."

The province has appointed Dr. Alan Harrison to advise Romano.

Meanwhile, Laurentian University's faculty association and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations are calling on the province to "step up and provide Laurentian with the funding it needs — not just to survive for a few more months, but to secure the public institution's long-term future."

LUFA says it has repeatedly raised concerns about the "increasingly secretive and non-consultative" approach administration has taken to making important financial decisions.

"The challenges facing Laurentian University are [from] a lack of transparent and accountable institutional governance that allows for oversight and input by the university community," said Fabrice Colin, President of LUFA.

"Instead, government representatives, who should have been providing oversight and good governance, joined with other members of the senior administration and Board of Governors to cut the Laurentian University Senate and important stakeholders out of critical discussions around the university's finances."

OCUFA President Rahul Sapra says "more and more decisions are being made behind closed doors" at universities across Ontario, "in clear violation of university acts and their own constitutions, circumventing existing democratic governing bodies that include faculty, staff, and students."

"OCUFA and LUFA would like to remind the Minister that he has four representatives on the Laurentian University Board of Governors — Laurentian's highest decision-making body. Where were these representatives when faculty, staff, and students were trying to hold the university administration accountable?"