The Ford government’s obsession with austerity and privatization was a major driver of Laurentian University’s insolvency and collapse. This was the message OCUFA Board Chair Gyllian Phillips delivered to participants in “Our Movement, Our Fight, Our Future,” a webinar series focused on reclaiming power through labour organizing in Northern Ontario.
“Universities, especially northern universities, have been underfunded for decades,” said Phillips. “The funding models currently in place are not focused on improving education quality or research capacity. Instead, they have been linked to external economic factors, over which universities have little to no control.”
Ford’s “Open for Business” agenda has continued the ongoing erosion of funding for Ontario’s public services, which are so vital for those living in Northern Ontario. In North Bay and other health regions, the effects of Public-Private Partnerships—where public services are partially privatized—have been devastating, often costing more than if they have been funded entirely by the government.
This regressive approach to public services extends to Ontario’s postsecondary institutions, where increasingly corporatized governance structures serve interests that conflict with the central mission of province’s universities. Instead of focusing on high-quality education and generating new knowledge, universities are being twisted into institutions that exploit precariously employed contract faculty to train students for only short-term career prospects.
Years of chronic underfunding incentivized Ontario universities to seek other forms of financial support, including alarmingly high tuition fees and private funding with strings attached. This approach drove Laurentian to the brink and Ford’s apparent refusal to support the university in that moment of need pushed it over the edge.
“Northern universities like Laurentian are vital for northern communities,” said Sue Wurtele, President of OCUFA. “Ford’s failure to step in and save Laurentian was a betrayal of northern, Francophone, and Indigenous communities.”
The resulting damage is well known. Dozens of programs were cancelled, over 100 jobs were eliminated, invaluable research lost, and countless lives turned upside down.
“Who really benefits from Ontario being ‘Open for Business’?” Phillips asked. “Certainly not the staff at hospitals and Laurentian university—those who have been laid off and those who remain to do twice the work—and certainly not the students, patients, or community members affected by the continued neglect of these public institutions.”
Northern Ontario deserves better. The Ontario government must recognize the important mandate of northern and bilingual institutions and increase special purpose grants for those institutions while also making additional investments in universities that serve Indigenous communities.
Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty, academic librarians, and other academic professionals in 31 member 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.
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