Fallout from dismantling of Laurentian federation threatens Indigenous Studies

University of Sudbury

University of Sudbury board member Dominic Beaudry resigns his post

SUDBURY – The Laurentian University meltdown that is currently taking place in Sudbury has engendered a slew of unintended consequences. Laurentian, which entered creditor protection earlier this year when its lender, Dejardins, declined to continue to provide financing of the institution has announced it was withdrawing from the federation agreement with the three affiliated colleges: University of Sudbury, Thorneloe University and Huntington College.

It was the announcement by the University of Sudbury that it would seek to become a free-standing francophone university that set off alarm bells in the Indigenous community.

The University of Sudbury has long prided itself as being, aside from an institution that offered courses in French, the home of a long-standing and respected Indigenous studies program. Many Island residents have taken courses from the University of Sudbury over the past decades and the annual powwow hosted by the university has been well-attended. The decision to move to a francophone-only format would, in effect, abandon that tradition.

The decision by the University of Sudbury has led to the resignation of at least one Indigenous board member, Dominic Beaudry of Wiikwemkoong.

“I joined the board to advocate for Indigenous studies programs,” said Mr. Beaudry when contacted by The Expositor for comment. “I did not join University of Sudbury to advocate for any other program.” Mr. Beaudry’s resignation was effective Friday March 26 and he declined further comment on the issue.

Former CBC broadcaster and author Wab Kinew noted that he had taken a number of courses at the University of Sudbury and tweeted his concerns while asking for support. “There’s worry that the financial instability at Laurentian University could prompt the termination of its Indigenous Studies program,” he wrote. “Faculty have written an open letter urging protection of those courses. Please read and consider signing in support: caut.nationbuilder.com/

open-letter.”

Local author and University of Alberta professor Karen Pheasant also expressed her dismay. “I was thinking of applying to teach in that program when there was an opening advertised,” she said. “I dodged a bullet on that one I guess.”

The ongoing negotiations that are part of a restructuring process at Laurentian University are being conducted behind closed doors and have caused deep concerns for many students, particularly those who still need a number of credits to complete their degrees in Indigenous studies, but also creating an atmosphere of anxiety despite assurances being issued by the university.

It is anticipated that Laurentian will follow the same process as when it wound down the theatre program at Thorneloe, offering courses to complete theatre studies degrees at its own facilities utilizing its own forces when it comes to fulfilling the outstanding Indigenous studies degree courses—it remains to be seen whether the quality of the course offerings will remain at their former level.

For its part, the University of Sudbury offered its charters to both the francophone and Indigenous communities to set up their own institutions, releasing a statement: “In these exceptional times of uncertainty, the University of Sudbury is pursuing all possible options with Indigenous communities, stakeholders and partners regarding the future of our Indigenous studies program.”