University cut 69 programs in Apr. 2021
Laurentian University failed to comply with its obligations under the French Language Services Act when it cut programs in April 2021, French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke found in her latest investigation.
In Feb. 2021, the university declared insolvency and commenced a court-supervised restructuring proceeding under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act. Two months after, it cut 69 programs, including 28 French-language programs, as part of its restructuring.
As a result, the Office of the Ombudsman’s French Language Services Unit received 60 complaints from students, teachers, and Franco-Ontarians who were directly affected by the program cuts.
In June 2021, Burke launched an investigation to determine whether the university and the ministries of Francophone Affairs and Colleges and Universities neglected their obligations under the Act.
Based on her report, Burke found that while the university realized that its financial difficulties might impact programs leading to designated degrees, it did not consult with the ministries before announcing the cuts to its French-language programs.
“The nearly 50 percent cuts to French-language programs announced on April 12, 2021 by Laurentian University have had a significant and detrimental impact on the university’s delivery of French-language services,” Burke said.
Moreover, Burke found that the university violated the requirements of the French Language Services Act by ceasing to offer two designated degrees − Master of Arts and Master of Human Kinetics − without following any of the mandated procedural steps.
She also found that the ministries failed to fulfill their obligations to ensure French services at the university were protected.
“Laurentian University and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities were focused on the university’s financial difficulties, while the Ministry of Francophone Affairs failed to take an active role – resulting in a situation where no one was ensuring the protection of language rights under the French Language Services Act,” Burke said.
Burke determined that there were no processes in place to assess how eliminating programs leading to designated degrees may impact the ability of students to obtain those degrees in French and provide for regular communication about such issues among the three organizations.
“If such processes had been in place, the university’s obligations under the Act could have been considered and addressed in advance, rather than after the cuts were made,” Burke said.
With this, the new report made 19 recommendations to resolve communication gaps and prevent similar situations in the future.
“I am confident that my recommendations will benefit French-speaking Ontarians in the future in the post-secondary education sector,” Burke said.