Sudbury·Audio

Prof raises questions about the appointment of Ontario's special adviser in Laurentian's insolvency case

Some academics at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. say they've stumbled upon a previous professional relationship between the university's president Robert Haché and the special adviser on Laurentian to the Minister of Colleges and Universities, Alan Harrison.

Alan Harrison and Robert Haché both worked at University of Calgary between 2009-2011

Biology professor Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde says he's discovered a past connection between Laurentian's current president and the province's special adviser on the Sudbury, Ont., school. (Laurentian.ca)

An academic at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. says a recent discovery is contributing to mistrust between faculty members and the provincial government as Laurentian goes through restructuring due to insolvency.

Biology professor Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde says he stumbled upon a previous professional relationship between the university's president Robert Haché and the special adviser on Laurentian to the Minister of Colleges and Universities, Alan Harrison.

Laurentian is financially insolvent and restructuring under a court-monitored process. Harrison was appointed by the province as a special investigator in the case.

Schulte-Hostedde says he learned about the connection between Haché and Harrison when he received a message from a colleague at the University of Calgary.

His colleague knew both Harrison and Haché when their work overlapped there. Harrison was provost and vice-president (academic) and Haché was associate vice-president of research between 2009 and 2011.

Now with the two men again crossing paths during Laurentian's financial crisis, Schulte-Hostedde wonders if the ministry knew they had met before.

"Now one is investigating the institution led by the other. Is there a conflict of interest? Is there a favouritism happening? I don't know, but I think the question has to be asked," he said.

A spokesperson for Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano said Harrison was appointed to provide "strategic advice to the minister about the situation at Laurentian University, how the government can respond, and steps we can take in the future to avoid a similar situation.

"The government is committed to taking action to protect and strengthen northern Ontario's post-secondary education, and will continue to rely on Dr. Harrison's advice to meet those goals."

Shchulte-Hostedde said the ministry could restore some trust in the process by releasing details of the special adviser's report.

"I think that the release of that document would put to bed any concerns about favouritism. It could, anyway," he said.

"I don't see any other way because Minister Romano has said very little about what's going on here at Laurentian, certainly very little sympathy for faculty, students and the Sudbury community. So I think we just need to see the report."

Romano has repeatedly said the confidentiality imposed by the court-ordered process limits what he can say.

A ministry spokesperson said there's been no decision yet on whether the report will be made public.

During an unrelated news conference Tuesday, Romano was pressed for more information about what's happening at Laurentian University, but he declined to comment on specifics.

"We have to let the process unfold ... and when we can say more, we will see more."

He said the province values Laurentian and what it means to the region.

"It is the biggest university in northern Ontario. It was the first university in northern Ontario. It contributes so much from a research perspective, and just tremendous economic driver for the region and a necessary part of it coming forward," he said.

"We'll be able to say more when the time comes."

For Schulte-Hostedde, waiting on answers is becoming increasingly frustrating.

"I think Minister Romano has to assure the Laurentian community that anything that's being done from his ministry is being done above board and objectively," he said.

"This makes it look like there could be something else going on and it would be good to know that this was an objective process."

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