Dr. Donald Dennie

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A University “By and For” Francophones

March 2021 | Dr. Donald Dennie

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel gave new life to this phrase when he uttered it during Obama’s first term. What is routinely left out though, is the second sentence in the quote,” …what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” 

Is the current financial crisis at Laurentian University, and the simultaneous enrolment crisis at Université de l'Ontario Français, such an opportunity? An opportunity to do something that we “could not do before”? This is the question Northern Policy Institute asked three leading thinkers to answer.

This piece answers the question by diving into two scenarios that would encourage greater autonomy for French post-secondary education in Northern Ontario: a Université de l’Ontario français campus at Laurentian, or an autonomous structure at Laurentian. Out of both scenarios, the latter was concluded as more realistic.

The first scenario is unlikely given multiple disparities between the two institutions along the lines of programs, faculty, students and governance. For example, UOF’s programs are interdisciplinary (e.g. Urban Environment Studies) while Laurentian has a more traditional disciplinary focus (e.g. Chemistry, Political Science). Not only would combining be difficult, but students from Laurentian would not be able to take courses in their focus area, thus discouraging any moves to transfer to UOF.

The second scenario is a worthwhile alternative, particularly if the institute was the University of Sudbury. Not only does U of S have interinstitutional agreements with Laurentian, but that it has had a university charter with full powers since 1914. If this option were to move ahead, a transition structure could consider factors such as the ability of students to choose from a variety of French-language university courses administered by U of S and, with agreements in place, from other programs administered by Laurentian. Furthermore, professors could teach U of S courses and, with agreements in place, could be involved in bilingual and graduate courses. They would retain their tenure and have union protection through the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), which already represents U of S faculty. 

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