Katlyn Kotila, Laurentian student and community activist
Never let a good crisis go to waste.
NEOLIBERALISM IS ALWAYS ON THE PROWL. Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario may soon be another victim. The people of Sudbury are doing all they can to prevent that.
Laurentian is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and complete shut down. Neoliberal austerity policies helped put it there. The only rescue plan on offer depends on applying the Companies Creditors Arrangements Act (CCAA)—an even more neoliberal doctrine.
Treating a university like a business
The CCAA is a law specifically meant for use by private businesses. It allows businesses to arrange things so other businesses might want to buy them up to get at their assets. It has never before been used to handle restructuring a public enterprise.
“It’s the perfect neoliberal storm,” says Save Our Sudbury activist Pam Doig. Like something out of Naomi Klein’s famous book The Shock Doctrine.
“They starved Laurentian of resources, pushed it into making desperate decisions to save itself and then have no mercy on it when it all falls apart.”
Not just another university
Laurentian is not just another university.
To begin with, it is a unique public institution with a tri-cultural mandate to support French, English, and Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. It is also the only university offering francophone programs in Northern Ontario.
But, more than all that, it is very much a “downhome” university, proud to be embraced as something important and essential to a no nonsense small city of workaday people ready to work hard for everything they get—including a university education. Fifty-two per cent Laurentian graduates are the first in their families to pursue a postsecondary education.
“Laurentian is special,” says undergrad Katlyn Kotila, “because it is not U of T or McGill. “I was born and raised in Sudbury and Laurentian just feels right to me.”
“We get a lot of what I call ‘refugees’ as transfers from the bigger schools” says Reuben Roth, a labour studies and sociology professor at Laurentian.
“Some folks don’t like it when I say Laurentian is a working class university, but I mean it as a compliment,” says Roth.
Strong community support
One important measure of how important Laurentian is to all Northern Ontario is the fact that 65% of Laurentian alumni stay to live and work in Northern Ontario after graduation;
A major measure of how important Laurentian is to the city of Sudbury—not to say the North—is the fact the mobilization to save the university is called Save Our Sudbury. SOS includes the unions and student unions based on the campus, faculty, staff, and students from Laurentian and large numbers of people in the broader community and the entire region.
The group has been doing everything they can to mobilize both the local community and supporters far beyond with social media campaigns, lobbying politicians, online town halls and teach-ins, demonstrations, extensive media work, and all the rest.
Demonstrations of broad and strong public support for assuring a better future for Laurentian include: a March 3 SOS online town hall attended by over 500 people; a March 11 in-person street demonstration in Sault Ste. Marie; a March 28 car rally of over 100 cars in Sudbury; and the March 30 launch of a city-wide lawn sign campaign.
The Laurentian Senate passed a motion on March 23 to affirm that it will not approve, or even consider, any restructuring of the university as a way to fix financial problems.
“Laurentian makes Sudbury ‘a shining city on a hill’. That’s how we like it and how we are damned determined to keep it,” says Doig. “Let the bean counters do their worst. We’re ready.”
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