Sudbury

Laurentian University review calls for major investments to reach 'baseline standard'

Sudbury’s Laurentian University will need to invest up to $32.5 million over three years for a “major transformation program”, according to a new operational review of the institution.

Laurentian filed for insolvency in February 2021

A review of Laurentian University's operations recommends sweeping changes for the university to meet a standard baseline set by other institutions. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Sudbury's Laurentian University will need to invest up to $32.5 million over three years for a "major transformation program", according to a new operational review of the institution.

On March 2, the international management consultancy firm Nous Group published operational and governance reviews on behalf of the university, which filed for insolvency in February 2021.

"The review has found that Laurentian University's administrative operations are less efficient, effective and resourced than many universities," said the operational review's executive summary.

"Findings indicate deficiencies across all functions, many of which appear to be operating below a baseline standard."

After it filed for insolvency in February 2021, Laurentian underwent a restructuring process under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, which is still ongoing. In April 2021 the Sudbury university cut more than 100 staff and faculty positions and eliminated more than 30 programs.

The university has said those cuts have resulted in a $38 million annual cost reduction.

The Nous Group determined Laurentian will need to invest between $26 million and $32.5 million over three years to meet that baseline standard that exists at other Canadian universities.

The review identified seven areas the university would need to address to make those changes. They include creating a new strategic plan, optimizing student services and improving financial performance to support sustainability.

Specific recommendations ranged from consolidating student services to make the experience easier and investing more in information technology, where the review said many assets need to be updated.

The review also said Laurentian's bilingualism policies make it more difficult for the university to attract the best talent for a particular job, in a small market.

"For example, top finance talent could be minimal in Sudbury compared to other cities, and there are more lucrative finance opportunities locally in the mining sector," it said. "Further, staff noted that the bilingualism policy is not applied consistently across the university."

Tom Fenske is the president of the Laurentian University Staff Union. (Erik White/CBC)

Tom Fenske, president of the Laurentian University Staff Union, said many of the issues the operational review identified were already well known. 

"Why have we not been spending time and money on these priorities?" he said. "Why were they not able to be identified by senior leaders?"

Fenske said some jobs in the university's information technology department, for example, have gone unfilled for more than a year due to a lack of qualified candidates. But he said the pandemic has shown remote work is an option for certain jobs, and the university should be more open to that option.

But at the same time, he said Laurentian needs to adhere to its tricultural mandate, and only hire unilingual candidates in rare exceptions. 

Governance review 

In addition to its operational review, the Nous Group also made 37 recommendations in a separate governance review. 

The review suggested Laurentian can adjust its current bicameral governance model, in which it has a board of governors responsible for university operations and finances, and a senate responsible for academics.

Or the university could opt for a unicameral model, where there is one governing council with various boards, for academics and business decisions, for example. The review noted the University of Toronto uses that model.

Fabrice Colin, president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association, said he prefers the current bicameral model, but said faculty members have concerns the review did not address.

"Many of these recommendations are making, in fact, the senate subservient to the board," he said.

Colin said the university senate, which is mostly made up of academics, often makes decisions that the board, which is responsible for the university's finances, ignores. 

The review did not have recommendations to address that issue, he said.

But the governance review did make recommendations around performance reviews for the board and senate, and making sure members understand their roles and responsibilities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Migneault

Digital reporter/editor

Jonathan Migneault is a CBC digital reporter/editor based in Sudbury. He is always looking for good stories about northeastern Ontario. Send story ideas to jonathan.migneault@cbc.ca.

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