Laurentian University review calls for major investments to reach ‘basic standard’

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Laurentian University in Sudbury will have 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, international management consulting firm Nous Group published operational and governance reviews on behalf of the university, which filed for bankruptcy in February 2021.

“The review found that Laurentian University’s administrative operations are less efficient, effective and resourced than many universities,” said the operational review summary.

“The results indicate shortcomings in all functions, many of which appear to be performing below a baseline standard.”

After filing for bankruptcy in February 2021, Laurentian went through a restructuring process under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, which is still ongoing. In April 2021, the University of Sudbury cut over 100 staff and faculty positions and eliminated over 30 programs.

The university said the cuts resulted in annual cost reductions of $38 million.

The Nous group has determined that Laurentian will need to invest between $26 and $32.5 million over three years to meet this basic standard that exists in other Canadian universities.

The review identified seven areas the university should address to make these 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 facilitate the experience and investing more in information technology, where the review indicated that many assets need updating.

The review also indicated that 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 might be minimal in Sudbury compared to other cities, and there are more lucrative finance opportunities locally in mining,” he said. “Furthermore, staff noted that the bilingualism policy is not applied consistently across the university.”

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

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

“Why haven’t we spent time and money on these priorities? ” he said. “Why couldn’t they be identified by senior leaders?”

Fenske said some jobs in the university’s information technology department, for example, had not been filled 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 some jobs, and the university should be more open to that option.

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

Governance review

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

The review suggested that 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 a board of trustees with various councils, for academics and business decisions, for example. The review noted that the University of Toronto uses this model.

Fabrice Colin, president of the Laurentian University Faculty Association, said he preferred the current bicameral model, but said faculty members had concerns that the review had not addressed.

“Many of these recommendations, in effect, render the Senate subservient to the council,” he said.

Colin said the university’s 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 make recommendations to address this issue, he said.

But the governance review made recommendations around performance reviews for the board and senate, and ensuring members understand their roles and responsibilities.

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