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Feb. 14 Barrie Examiner
Laurentian divorces Georgian
After years of attempting to reconcile their differences, Laurentian University and Georgian College have decided to go their separate ways.
As with any two entities that agree to call it quits, once Laurentian attempted to become its own stand-alone university in Barrie – and failed – they found they just didn’t have the will to kiss and make up.
“It’s disappointing. I feel like maybe we could have had more notice. I’m just really surprised,” said Connor MacPherson, a 23-year-old psychology student studying at Laurentian. With an apartment, friends and family in Barrie, MacPherson said Friday’s news that her university would be closing up shop in Barrie before her post-secondary education was complete came as an unwelcome shock.
“I’ll probably go to Toronto, I don’t know, I haven’t decided what to do,” she said.MacPherson is one of almost 700 Laurentian University students who just heard the announcement that Laurentian is pulling up its 15-year roots in Barrie and returning to its Sudbury base after a deal with the province fell through.
Dominic Giroux, president and vice-chancellor, said the university’s board of governors was informed by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) in January that to be eligible for enrolment funding, it would need to agree to several parameters.
Giroux said it comes down to the province wanting Laurentian to maintain its small footprint of 10,000 square-feet, not the 37,000 square-feet it hoped for, as well as insisting Laurentian allow Georgian College to teach its first two years of arts programming.
Giroux said Georgian has shown it doesn’t want to support four-year university programs in Barrie. However, it is supportive of college degrees or of university partnerships – called two-plus-twos – where the first two years are taught by the college and the next two by the university, he said.
“We respect their position, that’s their prerogative as a college. But this difference of vision is difficult to reconcile,” Giroux
Giroux detailed how the ministry put a halt on the new development of satellite campuses in 2009, shortly after Lakehead University opened its doors.
In 2010, Barrie city officials joined with Laurentian in an attempt to persuade the ministry to establish a university campus here, but in 2011, the ministry stated they were imposing a moratorium on new programs here until decisions about satellite campuses were answered.
Last year, the province gave the nod to Markham to build a satellite campus.
In addition to partnerships with Laurentian, Georgian College hosts the University Partnership Centre (UPC) with Lakehead University, Central Michigan, York University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa.
As Georgian president and CEO, MaryLynn West-Moynes puts it, she had wanted to keep Laurentian on-board, but they wanted to put in their own proposal.
“We, at Georgian, invested a lot of time with Laurentian and Lakehead to try to get all three institutions to go forward with one proposal for major capacity expansion. I’m kind of the person in the middle of the two universities and I just felt that if we were to go together it would have made a huge difference and would have enabled the government to say yes,” West-Moynes said. “At that time, Laurentian said no, that’s not in our vision. We were all disappointed we didn’t get any university funding at that time. But you sit back and see that Markham did. They have a demand of 10,000 post-secondary students. We have a demand of 3,000 post-secondary students.”
West-Moynes said it wasn’t a matter of whether their proposals were any better or worse, it was just the math.
“I just think we couldn’t beat the numbers. That’s just a reality of the taxpayer dollars,” she said.
West-Moynes said last year, the MTCU had asked former attorney general, John Gerretsen to consult with the three institutions to help sort out the differing views.
“He invested a lot of time in making sure he understood both what Georgian was about, and what the UPC was about. So we received the report (late fall) and it clearly stated that central to degree-growth in Central Ontario, that the government should support the UPC model.”
West-Moynes said while Laurentian used to have approximately 1,000 students at the Georgian Campus, that’s dropped to about 500 full-time equivalent students this year.
So Laurentian’s enrollment has been in decline, and in the interim, the ministry now allows colleges to offer full honours degree programs.
“I would think it would be fair to say Laurentian has evolved their vision in the last little while. They were, in early days, eager to be partners, and offer degrees that were taught by both institutions and they were moving to wanting to have stand-alone teaching. And yet you know, we have the same model being used by York, UOIT, Central and Lakehead wanting to be our partner offering degrees. There are a lot of universities in Ontario doing the same thing.”
As with any divorce, the youth are the last to know and most frustrated by the turn of events.
Laurentian Students’ Union vice-president, James Westman, said students are upset that they were never invited to be a part of the conversation.
“We find it absolutely unacceptable that the students of Laurentian Barrie had no input whatsoever in our future. We, the students – not the administrators – are the real stakeholders in the situation,” said Westman. “There was an implicit understanding for all first and second year humanities and business students when they enrolled to Laurentian that they would be able to finish their degrees here. The alternative options being presented by the administration are piecemeal and inadequate. No students are happy about the board of governors’ decision; most of them are furious.”
Most Barrie students will be able to complete their studies and graduate with a Laurentian degree, through a combination of on-campus, online and distance courses.
Almost 200 students studying for the bachelor of social work will complete their degrees in April 2019. The 291 students enrolled in three-and four-year bachelor of arts, bachelor of business administration and bachelor of commerce programs will be able to complete their degrees by April 2017.
However, the remaining 219 students must decide upon completing their degrees in Sudbury, complete only a three-year bachelor of arts in Barrie or transferring to another university.
All 23 Laurentian full-time faculty will be offered a position in Sudbury. The 11 full-time non-academic staff will be laid-off with compensation packages worked out with their unions.
The remaining 32 part-time personnel will lose their jobs in 2019.
Mayor Jeff Lehman is deriding the provincial government for its lack of foresight when it comes to Barrie as the province’s only Census Metropolitan Area without a university campus.
“While hundreds of million of dollars have been invested in the province in university education in places like Toronto and the Waterloo region – where their economies are already strong – the provincial investment in capital dollars for university eduction in Simcoe County has been zero. Zero in Barrie, zero in Orillia,” Lehman said.
According to West-Moynes, the province does plan to invest in post-secondary education in Simcoe County, but on a different, if somewhat unconventional, format.
“We just feel really strongly that if we want to help the economy and we’re listening to what students and parents and employers are telling us, they want degrees that are market-focused,” West-Moynes said.
“They want degrees that are going to lead to a job,”