Former University of Sudbury Indigenous Studies professor Will Morin said he’s angry Laurentian University has not hired faculty members from the Indigenous Studies discipline to teach six courses formerly offered by the University of Sudbury.
After Laurentian announced earlier this month it’s terminating the federation agreement with the three federated universities operating on Laurentian’s campus, the University of Sudbury announced it would not be offering any classes this spring.
That included its Indigenous Studies courses.
But the University of Sudbury reached an agreement with Laurentian, which said it would offer six Indigenous Studies courses this spring previously offered by the University of Sudbury for students requiring the credits to graduate.
William Morin, now a former University of Sudbury Indigenous Studies professor and Anishinaabek/Ojibway artist, immediately wrote to Joël Dickinson, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, whose department was putting the call for instructors for these courses.
“With Laurentian University cancelling the Federation and not accepting the course offered at University of Sudbury, 140 Indigenous Studies students were caught in the mess,” reads Morin’s letter, sent by email on April 26.
“LUNEC (Laurentian University Native Education Council) requested that University of Sudbury assist and an agreement was struck in short order to offer six INDG (Indigenous Studies) courses for the summer only. However, no University of Sudbury faculty has yet been contacted directly by LU on this matter, and or to be offered to teach the course we are advertised to teach?”
Additionally, Morin was troubled by the information listed. “I continue to receive daily emails from students seeking more information about the course, as I am still listed to be the instructor.”
The offers for these positions were made first to Laurentian University staff — not the Indigenous Studies faculty — seeking to find “in house” faculty, who, in Morin’s opinion, are not qualified to teach these courses.
In a return message from Meredith Teller, business manager in the Faculty of Arts at Laurentian University, Laurentian’s decision making process is explained.
“We were instructed to first offer these courses to FT (full time) faculty at LU who were not given termination notices,” the email reads.
“We were then to offer them to sessional faculty who have seniority status at LU. If no qualified applicants are found, or if there are no applicants, the next step we are to follow is to offer the courses to LU faculty members who were recently given notices of termination.
“If no qualified applicants are found, the next step is to seek applications "externally" and it is at that stage that professors from U of S would be considered.”
It is this hiring formula that angers Morin.
“Knowing full-well that those qualified, trained in the discipline of Indigenous Studies, on campus are not being considered, as they are employed at University of Sudbury,” he said.
In an interview with Sudbury.com, Morin says he sees this as Laurentian University wanting the Indigenous Studies courses and the “profile these courses bring to Laurentian University,” without considering the instructors who developed them.
When the initial agreement arrangement was made, by the request of the Laurentian University Native Education Council, it was to have Indigenous Studies courses offered to help Indigenous students.”
However, no specifics regarding who would be hired to staff these teaching positions was added as a provision.
Morin said “we assumed that the names attached to these courses as instructors would be honoured by Laurentian. That was the assumption. But that assumption died when Laurentian began requesting individuals to submit interest in teaching these courses and putting a campus-wide call for members of the Faculty of Arts to be able to teach these courses.
He says it’s like the administration “goes down this hierarchy and then maybe offers it to someone in the community, while the people trained within the discipline got the axe by Laurentian’s unilateral dismissal of the federation.”
Morin also notes the “birth order” of Laurentian among the federated universities, which, besides the University of Sudbury, also includes Huntington University and Thorneloe University. Laurentian is the last addition to the group, as Morin puts it, “Laurentian is the youngest of them and they are behaving accordingly.”
Morin says he has spent the weeks that have passed since the beginning of Laurentian’s insolvency filing asking himself a simple question: why?
“I have been critically thinking, asking, why is Laurentian doing what they were doing,” he says. In his opinion, it was the knowledge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), UNDRIP* and the aspects of what’s known as “Indigenization.’
“They knew that the TRC was in the works, they knew that the UNDRIP was in the works, that key individuals were like, ‘well, there's some real good dollars to be made on Indigenous education.’
He says that this knowledge, paired with the COVID-19 pandemic, was the route to the dissolution of the federation agreement. He says Laurentian saw an opportunity to make money at a time they were struggling financially, and also saw the federated universities as competition for those dollars.
“Laurentian says: ‘we've got to let you go. But we're going to keep all the money we already budgeted to receive for you University Sudbury, Huntington, Thorneloe. But we're going to keep it for ourselves.”
Both in the interview, and in his letter, Morin notes the number of students who are left to suffer the consequences of these actions.
“The issue here is that I have a primary standing in my department in teaching this course, and together with the quality of delivery of this course, it has attracted high enrollment, mostly from referrals from past students. The enrollment is over 80 students in my last login. With LU cancelling the Federation, and not accepting the course offered at University of Sudbury, 140 INDG students were caught in the mess.”
Additionally, these students enrolled in courses advertised with the pre-dissolution University of Sudbury staff as the instructors, something Morin qualifies as “false advertising.”
“To continue to promote these INDG courses and not (be) forthcoming that they are ‘not as advertised,’ by having unqualified LU faculty to teach these courses, is false advertising. Ignoring this fact at this point in the CCAA by LU is opportunistic and indicative of LU's long term plan in their ‘Indigenous perspective’ programing.”
Dickenson responded with empathy, says Morin, detailing the restrictions of the process.
“I do not disagree with you whatsoever,” Dickenson’s message reads. “My hands were completely tied as I was instructed to follow the procedures outlined in our collective agreement. I apologize profusely for this insulting process. Should Indigenous Studies not be available through U of S, my plan is to listen to community, LUNEC, and the AVP Academic and Indigenous Programs on how to move forward.”
Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com