KAWARTHA LAKES – Jia Noseworthy was well on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a teacher when her plans came crashing to a halt.
Noseworthy graduated from I.E. Weldon Secondary School in Lindsay in 2019 and was thrilled and passionate to become a new student at Laurentian University in Sudbury. According to Noseworthy, the school was thriving when she began attending, with a beautiful campus, small classroom sizes and professors that exceeded her expectations.
“I loved it,” she said. “The class sizes were small, the professor student relationships were amazing for a university.”
But, on April 12 all of that changed.
Noseworthy says she received an email from the university which she recalls being the worst email she has ever received.
The email stated that the Laurentian Academic Senate voted in support of a plan to close a number of programs which have had low or no enrolment over a number of years.
“Grad students are completely in the dark, they gave us a list, if you’re within it, reach out to the dean of the program, they threw away their accountability and put it onto someone else,” said Noseworthy. “A lot of Deans have no idea what to say, they were hit hard too, a lot got fired.”
Noseworthy emailed her Dean, requesting clarification on the changes and plans for the future and she received, “thank you for your inquiry, plans are being formulated for you to continue and finish your Bachelor of education.” She says she has not heard anything since.
We emailed the Dean of Faculty of Education Dr. Patrice Milewski but have not had a response.
Over 50 programs have been cut, many professors have been let go and for many students the future is nothing but hazy. Noseworthy isn’t the only local student impacted. There are others who are facing various degrees of uncertainty due to the upheaval.
“You cannot rely on Laurentian anymore, now I feel shameful to go there because of what they have done to my professors and the indigenous and francophone communities,” said Noseworthy. “Laurentian offers a lot of French programs and they gutted a lot of it, to cut so many programs from a city that is hugely French is mind blowing.”
According to Noseworthy, the University also cut ties with their Federated Universities, University of Sudbury, Huntington University and Thorneloe University.
Scott Clark, Press Secretary Office of the Minister of Colleges and Universities, noted that it is deeply concerning and regrettable that Laurentian University has had to take such drastic measures to get their fiscal house in order.
“We are monitoring the situation closely. Our government remains resolute in ensuring pathways to graduation for all students,” he said. “To that end, the Ministry is actively engaged with Laurentian University and other postsecondary institutions to understand their plans and is looking into options to ensure the academic continuity of each student impacted.”
According to the email that Noseworthy initially received, “these program changes, combined with the recently announced termination of our agreements with the federated universities, will focus Laurentian’s academic offerings on those programs which are of higher demand.”
The email continued to state that these changes will also allow them to further align financial resources to ensure that these programs are adequately supported.
“Our ongoing program offerings remain extensive and reflect the breadth of academic pursuits that are available at Laurentian.”
But Noseworthy strongly disagrees, noting that the school chose to cut indigenous studies, women’s gender and sexuality studies, as well as men and women’s swimming and hockey, two very popular sporting activities for the school and the community.
“Philosophy is crucial especially in today’s day and age, for the indigenous studies it is devastating, Sudbury is rich in indigenous cultures,” she said, noting that Laurentian was the second University in Canada to obtain an indigenous study program. “Laurentian will take over the indigenous study program but they fired all of the indigenous faculty, it’s wild what’s going on with indigenous communities right now, and to try to replace those professors is contributing to colonialism.”
The indigenous study program was previously taught by the University of Sudbury, one of Laurentian’s federated Universities.
Noseworthy added that Laurentian has always been a strong advocate for the indigenous communities, making this change one of the most shocking.
“They gut the program and stole it, it is theft and the indigenous professors that I’ve had are devastated, it’s terrifying to see Laurentian being able to do this,” she said.
Laurentian University President, Dr. Robert Haché, released a statement in February stating that Laurentian University has commenced a court-supervised proceeding under federal legislation.
“It will not affect the day-to-day operation of the University or the student experience that defines Laurentian. All decisions that are made will continue to be made in the ordinary course and will be done in the best interests of those who rely on us to provide a top-quality education,” he said.
His statement went on to say that despite the school’s long history of success, a number of developments over the past decade have put an increased strain on the operational and financial health of the University.
These strains include a combination of factors such as historical recurring deficits, declining demographics in Northern Ontario, the closure of the Barrie campus in 2019 and the domestic tuition reduction and freeze that was implemented in 2019 and most recently various costs and revenue impacts due to the global pandemic, he said.
“We are facing unprecedented financial challenges and our financial health is currently amongst the weakest in the province compared to other universities. We intend to change that,” added Dr. Haché. “Despite our best efforts over the last year, Laurentian is insolvent. This is a problem that can and will be addressed if all stakeholders work together to implement a vision for Laurentian that includes more financially sustainable operations.”
The University, at the direction of the Board, commenced a proceeding under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) which will allow the University to financially and operationally restructure while continuing to operate in all respects.
“CCAA, I can see for a private business but not schools, universities shouldn’t be run as a business, it’s an educational facility, not a business,” said Noseworthy. “I get they have to save money, but they have been in debt for 200 million for at least five years now. Not only are we struggling to get any sort of support or media coverage, Ross Romano, Minister of Training, Universities and Colleges hasn’t spoken a single word on it and we are mad.”
Before their programs and faculty began to dwindle, Laurentian was also home to a renowned Midwifery program, one of the only French, Midwifery programs in Canada.
According to Noseworthy, the program, which only allowed for 30 students a year, was not even funded by Laurentian.
“They decided to cut it to support themselves economically, but they don’t fund it,” she said. “So now, how are French women supposed to get pregnancy support when we have cut the French midwifery program, it is mind blowing to me.”
According to Noseworthy, approximately 100 staff members have been let go while the deans have been left in the dark, even unaware that it would be their responsibility to direct students on what their next steps or plans should be.
“The mental and physical toll, I am struggling a lot, I have zero idea, not only is this decision affecting how I am figuring out academics, but I am also in Kawarthas, four hours away, should I go home, re-sign a lease, Laurentian isn’t offering any input on transferring,” she said. “They don’t even show anything on their website on how to transfer to another university and I feel guilty reaching out to the deans, I don’t want to be a burden on them right now.”
After spending $20,000 and two years studying, Noseworthy is unsure of what her plans will be for September. She says the University of Ottawa and Trent University may be possibilities for her to finish her degree. Being raised in Lindsay she is hopeful to one day teach at Weldon where her education pathway began, after she was inspired by the high school’s faculty during her younger years.
“It feels like I’m going a little bit backwards in life right now, I was away for two years, living on my own, now because of Laurentian, I may have to move back in with parents, definitely not the university experience I had hoped for,” she said.