French language profs at Laurentian worry about cuts in wake university's insolvency

A group of francophone professors at Laurentian Unviersity is worried about the future of francophone programs as the institution re-structures under creditor protection.

Group hopes $12M Canadian Heritage grant will help province support teaching in minority languages

A group of French-language professors is expressing concern over the future of Laurentian University's french-language education. It's the latest in the unfolding story of the Sudbury university's financial insolvency. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

A group of francophone professors at Laurentian Unviersity is worried about the future of francophone programs as the institution re-structures under creditor protection.

A member with the Assembly of Francophone Professors — which represents the university's 130 francophone and francophile professors and sessional teachers — says they may be perceived as small and vulnerable to cost-cutting.

Denis Hurtubise says the group is calling on the university to use the annual $12 million grant it receives from Department of Canadian Heritage to protect them for the future.

Hurtubise says he'd like to see the programs centralized, with francophones having more control over administering them.

"It would have more autonomy in terms of decision making and in terms of budget and so on. That's the way we see, it's really a matter of having more control over our destiny than right now," he said.

Hurtubise notes enrolment is high in francophone programs at Laurentian University, indicating a need for them. There are roughly 40 courses at the school.

"If you look at the documents that were, you know, presented to the judge in court recently, the seemingly main culprit for the university seems to be the smaller programs ... [that's] presented as an issue," he told Up North CBC host Jonathan Pinto.

"So what we can surmise from that is those programs would be cut as a money-saving measure, since many of our programs in French are smaller programs with [smaller amounts of] students ... obviously we feel we are [being] targeted, among others"

Hurtubise says the grant was put in place to help provincial governments support teaching in minority languages.

"The grant is for programs in French, so that amount is there to help university in case those programs would be more costly,  to support those programs so that they can exist," he said.

"So that's why we underscore that amount of money, because for us, it means basically that those programs are protected against cuts."

The association is calling for a more transparent and decentralized structure for French language programs at Laurentian, which they are still trying to figure out.

"It's a principle that we talk about," Hurtubise said. "And I would say that there are many shapes it could take. Personally the way I would see it would be an entity that would be within Laurentian."

Student life continues as normal since Laurentian University declared financial insolvency on Feb. 1. No one from Laurentian University has been made available to CBC News for comment on the situation. (Erik White/CBC)

Worry over government 'inaction'

In a news release yesterday, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations says the province is refusing to take action beefing up funding for the school.

The association, which represents 17,000 university faculty and academic librarians across Ontario, says faculty and students from across the province have been meeting with dozens of MPPs to demand the provincial government take responsibility for the under-funding of Laurentian University.

The want the government to provide the school "with the necessary resources to secure its future."

But the province is taking a wait-and-see approach as the university works through the CCAA process.

"What was communicated to us is that Romano and the Ministry are essentially OK if their inaction causes dozens of program closures, hundreds of job losses, and thousands of students to reconsider where they want to study this fall," said Jean-Charles Cachon, Secretary-Treasurer of the Laurentian University Faculty Association.

"The wounds these impending cuts would cause to our local Indigenous and francophone communities are difficult to overstate. Both Minister Romano and Minister of Francophone Affairs Caroline Mulroney have refused to meet with us. We feel we have been abandoned by the Ontario government."

This week faculty, staff, students, and concerned community members have also taken to social media. They are using the hashtags #FundLU and #HumansOfLU to share stories of the contributions Laurentian has made to their lives and appeal for the provincial government to provide the university with the funding it needs.

In addition, an ongoing letter-writing campaign has seen almost 6,000 emails sent to Minister Romano and Premier Doug Ford asking them to properly fund Laurentian University, both in the short- and long-term.

With files from Kate Rutherford and Jonathan Pinto