Following a major cabinet shuffle in Ontario on June 18, Jill Dunlop was appointed the new Minister of Colleges and Universities. Minister Dunlop is a first-term Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe North. She previously held the position of Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues. Dunlop replaces Ross Romano, previous Minister of Colleges and Universities, who has been appointed Minister of Government and Consumer Services.
Ford’s removal of Romano from his position as Minister of Colleges and Universities follows months of community actions and pushback and calls for Minister Romano’s resignation by OCUFA and sector partners after over 60 programs were cut at Laurentian University as part of the CCAA (Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act) process. Indigenous studies and Francophone programs were also terminated as a result of the CCAA process.
Laurentian University is the first and only public institution to go through the CCAA process due to financial challenges without any help from the government to avert these challenges. These cuts, the elimination of over 100 faculty jobs, and the turmoil at Laurentian University are a direct result of negligence on the part of former minister Romano, who was aware of the financial challenges Laurentian was facing at least six months before they became public.
Romano did not do the work needed to support Laurentian University and its students, faculty, or community. Ontario’s university faculty and academic librarians lost confidence and trust in Romano’s commitment to the university sector and are relieved to see him be removed from the portfolio of Colleges and Universities.
In addition, Romano made numerous troubling decisions for the postsecondary education sector without consulting faculty, academic librarians, staff, or students. He also repeatedly ignored invitations to meet with representatives of OCUFA to discuss the situation at Laurentian and other challenges facing Ontario universities.
Minister Romano and the Ford government have imposed many unilateral, harmful, and controversial decisions, including:
- Repealing large parts of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act,legislation that provided better working conditions and labour protections for thousands of precariously employed campus workers.
- A substantial tuition fee cut and freeze without providing universities with a corresponding increase in funding.
- Cutting the Université de l’Ontario Français, only to reverse course due to public outrage and the federal government’s efforts to save the institution.
- Massive cuts to student financial assistance, making education more expensive and increasing student debt.
- Imposing the unlawful Student Choice Initiative on universities in an effort to silence student voices, which has since been overturned by the courts.
- Introducing a reckless new funding formula that will put more than $3 billion of postsecondary education funding at risk and fundamentally reshape Ontario’s postsecondary education system.
- Supporting the Canada Christian College’s efforts to call itself a “university” and to award degrees in arts and sciences, despite its questionable academic credentials.
- Squandering public funds on micro-credentials, which truncate the knowledge provided by university degrees and serve to de-skill students and workers—undermining their career prospects and future earnings.
- Allowing universities to re-open in advance of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Allowing Laurentian University to collapse despite knowing about its financial issues since as early as fall 2018 and allowing it to file for Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA)
- Consistently refusing to meet or consult with OCUFA and most other major stakeholders in the postsecondary education sector.
OCUFA hopes that Minister Dunlop’s approach to the sector will be different than that of her predecessor. OCUFA hopes to meet with Minister Dunlop in the coming weeks to discuss her vision for the future of higher education in Ontario and current issues facing postsecondary education, including the rise in precarious jobs and the need for government investment in universities to ensure they are an active part of Ontario’s economic recovery.
Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. It is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education in Ontario and recognizing the outstanding contributions of its members towards creating a world-class university system. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.