In the wake of the province's decision not to fund the Université de Sudbury’s proposal to create a standalone Francophone university in Sudbury, several organizations, including the university itself, have released statements denouncing the move.
In an unattributed statement on background issued just before 4 p.m. on June 30, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities said the proposal and associated funding request to create a standalone Francophone university in the city “does not reflect the current demand and enrolment trends.” This is especially true, the statement continues, because there is already “existing capacity” in Greater Sudbury and across Ontario to offer French-language programming.
Although it denied the Université de Sudbury proposal, the ministry said it will “continue to work with all of our Francophone education institutes to help deliver high quality post-secondary education for northern and francophone communities.”
It has been more than two years since the Université de Sudbury announced its plans to become an autonomous French-language university under the principle of governance “by and for” the Francophone community.
It made the decision to transform its operations to serve the Francophone community in the weeks before Laurentian University announced it was terminating the federation agreement going back to LU’s founding 60 years before.
After the announcement, the university stated in a release that it will consider its next steps as it “stands in solidarity with its community,” and seeks to “create more post-secondary education options for Franco-Ontarians.”
The statement notes the business plan submitted by the university as part of a review completed by the Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB) process “confirmed the alignment between labour market needs and proposed programs,” and that the university will “continue to work with the Ontario government to clarify the plan as we consider our options.”
In evaluating the now denied PEQAB proposal, the ministry said it conducted a review of a number of factors, including labour market data, the increase of student interest in STEM disciplines and trades, and the Université de Sudbury’s proposals for complementary project funding under the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Minority Language Education and Second Official Language Instruction.
In reaction to the announcement, in which they state the ministry’s response is “vague and imprecise,” the Assemblée de la Francophonie de l'Ontario (AFO) stated they are “astounded” by the ministries decision, and they intend to “explore all necessary means to overturn it.” The AFO is a Francophone lobbying group, with the stated goal to ““bring together the province's francophone community, and to act as a spokesperson, among other things, to assert the rights of Franco-Ontarians.”
One of the method they minted to employ is their demand to meet with Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities, “to obtain answers to its numerous questions.”
The statement reads the AFO “deplores how the ministry communicated this decision,” and asserts that the university’s management “did not even have time to break the news to its team and its board before it was made public by the government.”
The AFO states the government’s actions “show a profound lack of respect for the entire Franco-Ontarian community.”
"I am deeply disappointed that the same government that allowed tens of millions of dollars of public funds to be wasted on multinational consulting firms and law firms charging $1,000 an hour, refuses, for nebulous reasons, to invest $10 million per year in a French-language university that would have generated approximately $90 million in economic impact for the region when fully developed,” said AFO president, Fabien Hébert. “The government chooses the status quo and rewards the financial irresponsibility of Laurentian University.”
The Coalition nord-ontarienne pour une université de langue française (Northern Ontario Coalition for a French-Language University) also has strong feelings about the provincial decision.
Representing institutions, individuals, and organizations active in a variety of sectors in Greater Sudbury and Northern Ontario, the Coalition stems from the PlanifSudbury Francophone roundtable.
“We deplore this decision, but are not surprised,” said Denis Constantineau, spokesperson for the Coalition, in a release. “This government does not listen to the community. It's hard to believe that in 2023, Francophones in our region don't have the right to their own university, an institution dedicated to them in its own right.”
Indicating the Coalition would be consulting with other stakeholders to determine their next steps, Constanineau stated, “The fight is not over.”
“This attempt at appeasement by Queen's Park is outdated. The French-speaking community has long demonstrated that it is capable of showing determination until justice is done.”
You can find out more about the Université de Sudbury on their website at usudbury.ca.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com