For years, Laurentian University has been the most feasible choice for a new generation of West Nipissing students, francophone and anglophone alike, that want to experience higher education.
“Because the area has historically been working class, most of my friends’ parents and my parents don’t have degrees,” says Stéphane Robert, a part-time journalism student at University of Sudbury, a Laurentian federation school before the recent restructuring. “And now we’re all getting degrees, we’re first-generation students. So, it’s been super important for us northerners to be able to study in our region because we know that when people tend to go study down south, or if a Francophone studies in English, they tend to stick wherever they go… there are a lot of Franco-Ontarian firsts that have happened at Laurentian and it’s so important, it’s hard for me to actually find the words.”
Whether it was the close proximity to home, the extensive French and Indigenous programming or the small classes sizes that allowed students to feel like they’re still in Sturgeon Falls, the university was a popular choice among locals. Now, as Laurentian struggles through insolvency, it remains to be seen if that will continue.
This year, Laurentian was the first Canadian university to enter the Companies Creditor Arrangement Act (CCAA) process, in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. On April 12, the university announced they would be cutting 69 programs and over 100 faculty members as a part of the restructuring. That list included 28 French language programs.
“Even if they do fix their financial situation, I don’t know if they’ll ever recover their reputation,” says Michelle Vincent, a fourth-year psychology student. “I don’t know if any students want that name or want to be associated with it right now. And that’s just sad… I feel like the French is being erased.”
As if that news wasn’t devastating enough for students and faculty, the day those cuts were announced also marked the start of final exams for the semester.
Sophie Lanteigne was one of the students who woke up that day to find her major, Littérature et culture francophone, and her minor, Histoire, would not be offered anymore.