Robert Haché is president and vice-chancellor of Laurentian University
Debate on the future of Laurentian University has been raging since the events of last spring, igniting passionate opinions among various stakeholders. The key challenge now is to channel that energy to find potential solutions for our University, since it has always been central to the togetherness of the North’s Franco-Ontarian community.
For more than 60 years, Laurentian has been a hub of culture, industry, art, science and politics, proud of the significant contributions made by Francophones and Indigenous people at the heart of our institution. Despite its humble beginnings, Laurentian has become the benchmark for postsecondary studies in the North.
In the face of Laurentian’s challenges, there is no doubt that we have all had to mourn the loss of an institution that defined an era, but did not possess all of the tools required to ensure its future sustainability.
We are currently at a crossroads, and one thing is clear: Laurentian University must not lose its French-language programs.
Right now, one in five Laurentian students is registered in a French-language program. A transfer of programs would cause an outflow of 20% of our student body, and the reality of this upheaval is that students would no longer be able to pursue a bilingual education, causing many young people to migrate away from the North.
Students’ ability to choose their future and make Laurentian a university “for and by students” must be protected. We are committed to creating an outstanding student experience, and to train leaders who will foster growth in Northern Ontario.
It is therefore not a matter of imposing our administration’s vision, or calling upon the Franco-Ontarian community to determine the fate of Laurentian, but rather to serve the interests of our students, who have largely expressed a desire to study in a bilingual and tricultural setting.
Today, the future of Laurentian is at stake. Our status as a bilingual university in a tricultural setting is a major strength and key attraction for students.
We know we have a lot of work to do to regain trust, restore pride, and rebuild a sense of belonging.
Nevertheless, as a community dedicated to providing our young people with a rewarding education in a setting that will prepare them for success in the life and career that they choose, we must learn from the past, and build on what binds us together.
We must also be steadfast as we look to the future.