Sudbury

Laurentian senate votes to overrule Thorneloe on film and theatre program closure

The senate of Laurentian University has overruled Thorneloe University's decision to scrap its theatre and film programs. It's unclear what that means for students or the future of the relationship between the four universities on the same Sudbury campus.

Laurentian senate also discusses moving all arts programs out of federated universities

Thorneloe University announced its closing its film and theatre programs in April, but that was overruled by the Laurentian University senate on Tuesday. (Erik White CBC)

The senate of Laurentian University has overruled Thorneloe University's decision to scrap its theatre and film programs.

However, it's still very unclear what exactly that means for students or the future of the relationship between the four universities that share the same Sudbury campus. 

The federated university announced it was ending two of its best-known programs back in April.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the Laurentian senate voted to reiterate that it alone has the power to cancel an academic program and declared film and theatre classes would remain on the books until the next review in 2026.

Laurentian president Robert Hache predicted this could just lead to Thorneloe not offering the program in the future. Requests for Thorneloe to comment on the senate vote were not returned.

Hache said while the Laurentian senate makes the academic decisions for all four universities on campus, the financial powers rest with the individual boards of governors. 

"We have the intermingling of a financial decision with an academic outcome. And I think we need to look very carefully at how those two sides of the equation need to roll out," Hache told the senate. 

The president of Thorneloe University, John Gibaut, said the school's very future has been in question since the provincial government cut tuition 10 per cent last year.

He says this and other factors led to a 28 per cent drop in revenue, "austerity verging on being counter productive" and a focus in on the film and theatre arts programs. 

John Gibaut is the president of Thorneloe University. (Supplied)

"They are the lowest generator of revenue and are thus the most expensive to maintain. That might sound crass, but the mere fact is we have run out of money," said Gibaut.

"The sadness that you feel, is the sadness that I feel. Your frustration is our frustration."

Two Thorneloe students did speak to the senate about their frustrations.

"At first, we didn't know how to react. we were just numb," said Alexandre Fishbein-Ouimette.

"Even to this day no one in administration at Laurentian has informed us of our rights as students."

Rosie Leggott described her program as "my home and my classmates are my best friends and my professors are my mentors."

"In one morning, all of that was taken away. And I was confused, because this is is the same school that invited me for a tour," she told the senators. 

 "This is not what we were promised and this is not what we planned."

Several senators expressed concerns about the financial standing of Laurentian, made even worse by the COVID-19 crisis and wondered if the school could even afford to lose the tuition payments of the 50 students from these two programs.

Nina Cochrane, left, and Samantha Aucoin rehearse the Shape of Things in March, the last production put on by the Thorneloe theatre program before the pandemic. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

After passing the motion to secure the film and theatre programs, the senate then voted Tuesday afternoon to recommend that Laurentian take a serious look at the four-headed university model on the Ramsey Lake campus.

Specifically, it called for the beginning of the process to see all arts programs moved out of Thorneloe, Huntington and University of Sudbury and under the Laurentian umbrella.

Several senators suggested this would avoid a similar problem to the film and theatre programs in the future and "put an end to ongoing uncertainty" with the federated schools.

Laurentian academic vice-president Serge Demers said the idea was an "affront to their autonomy."

But Gibaut thought the "destination" the motion was heading to could be worthwhile, but said many "tricky" negotiations were need to make an actual "roadmap" to change the way the four universities have been structured since 1961. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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