The negative national press Laurentian University has received lately and the impact it will have on recruitment for fall 2022 was a hot topic of discussion at the university’s senate meeting last week.
Underscoring the discussion in LU’s senate, the day after the senate meeting, Toronto Star columnist Bob Hepburn actually named Laurentian as one of the “losers” of the year in his Dec. 15 column about the Top 10 Winners and Losers of 2021.
Laurentian declared insolvency earlier this winter, and has been undergoing court-supervised restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).
The university has been grabbing national headlines since the CCAA filing, but interest in the Laurentian situation was renewed earlier this month.
That’s when the Ontario legislature issued a rare Speaker’s warrant, ordering LU to hand over by Feb. 1 documents it’s been refusing to provide.
Also last week, on Dec. 16, the province announced a financial package for Laurentian. In connection with that financial package, 11 members of Laurentian’s board of governors have stepped down, including chair Claude Lacroix.
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk says Laurentian is refusing to provide her with privileged documents as she conducts a value-for-money audit of the university.
Lysyk was tasked with the value-for-money audit this past spring by the Standing Committee of Public Accounts.
The matter was heard by the courts earlier this month, and Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz reserved his decision, which has yet to be released.
As mentioned above, the Ontario legislature issued a Speaker’s warrant earlier this month at the behest of the Standing Committee of Public Accounts, ordering Laurentian to release a long list of documents, including privileged documents.
Laurentian had offered to release some privileged documents to the legislature, but not everything that was asked for, a situation MPPs say is unacceptable.
“Unfortunately, we expect the concerns raised publicly by the Auditor General, the steps taken by the Standing Committee and the news coverage of those events to place additional pressure on Laurentian’s ability to attract applications for the upcoming year,” Laurentian president Robert Haché wrote in his Dec. 14 report to the LU senate.
“This is why it is so important that all the facts around Laurentian’s situation be accurately represented, so the entire community understands everything we are doing to successfully complete our restructuring while doing everything possible to meet the external demands placed on us.”
Laurentian has already seen 14-per-cent decrease in enrolment this fall as compared to a year ago as it continues to undergo insolvency restructuring.
Stephen Havlovic, a professor of human resource management at Laurentian, said at the Dec. 14 Laurentian senate meeting he’s been a consultant to British Columbia’s auditor general for nine years.
“With all due respect, the president's (Haché’s) comments and written statements are not going to be taken with credibility to the public compared to those coming from the auditor general, attorney general, and members of the public parliament,” he said.
Havlovic said he’s also concerned about damage to Laurentian’s enrolment ensuing from the current situation. With negative press headlines, including in national media, “there's defamation to the brand of the university.”
CCAA process “will fail” if Laurentian released certain privileged docs, says LU pres
Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) president Tom Fenske said he’s “genuinely confused” about the situation regarding the issues surrounding Laurentian releasing privileged documents.
He’s wondering about the relationship between the court case involving the auditor general and Laurentian and the Speaker’s warrant issued by the legislature.
“I would like to know, how can we have two very different conversations at the same time in regards to privileged documents?” Fenske said.
Haché said these two processes are “really the same process.” (This is despite MPPs emphasizing they are separate matters).
He said the Public Accounts committee followed up on the auditor general’s requests for Laurentian documents and made additional requests of their own “we understand at the behest of the auditor general.”
Haché said his understanding is this information would be “be passed onto the auditor general.”
“So we have, in the interest of trying to be absolutely as co-operative as we can, offer to provide access to privileged information, which Laurentian holds the privilege, anything up to, but does not include things that are relevant to the CCAA process,” he said.
“The very strong advice that we have received is if we get into the sharing of privilege within the CCAA process, the CCAA process will fail.”
Despite everything that’s happening right now, Haché said he actually looks forward to the auditor general’s report on Laurentian.
“I think it will provide … a big step toward that stage of accountability that everyone is looking for,” Haché said.