Laurentian Science Buildings.  From Wikimedia Commons Vanderbilt8, CC-SA-3.0CUPE Ontario is calling on the Ford Conservative government to safeguard Laurentian University’s future through adequate public funding that will ensure continuing access to higher education for Northern Ontarians and protect jobs.

The union is supporting an online petition from the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA) demanding better public funding. 

Earlier this month, Laurentian University became the first public university in Ontario to file for court protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, a legislation typically used by private corporations.

“We can’t treat public institutions like businesses and have them go through court process meant for private corporations. It sets a bad precedent for public institutions facing insolvency due to underfunding and lack of government oversight. The Ford Conservative government must intervene in the interest of Laurentian’s students, workers and the communities it serves,” said David Simao, the chair of CUPE’s Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC).

The pandemic has exposed chronic underfunding of universities, which are increasingly reliant on tuition fees and private sources of funding. While many major universities in urban centers continue to attract students and private donations, schools in smaller communities such as Laurentian are struggling in the pandemic due to declining enrolment rates, exacerbated by the four per cent reduction in government funding for universities in 2019.

The court has set an April 30 deadline for the university to restructure its operations, which will likely lead to job losses and reduction in programs.

“We are concerned about the proposed restructuring of Laurentian, as it will likely lead to job cuts, reduction in programs and an erosion of its tricultural mandate to serve English, French and Indigenous communities,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario.

“The Ford Conservatives have a responsibility to ensure that people in the north have access to high-quality higher education through a well-funded and appropriately resourced public institution. The Ford Conservatives are failing to meet that obligation.”