Only a couple of weeks into her new job, Laurentian University (LU) interim president Dr. Sheila Embleton, has her work cut out for her as she deals with the aftermath of the Sudbury university's insolvency.
Embleton, who was seconded from York University to fill the interim position, began her new role Jan. 1. The same holds true for Brenda Brouwer, the new interim provost, who was seconded from Queen’s University.
Both administrators participated in their first meeting of the university senate on Jan. 17.
Some members of the governing body offered words of welcome. Others shared concerns following Laurentian’s Nov. 28 exit from 22 months of creditor protection.
The new interim president provided several updates on steps Laurentian must take as part of its plan of arrangement negotiated while it was still operating under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). This involves, in part, hiring consultants.
Within 60 days of Laurentian’s plan of arrangement implementation, LU is obligated to issue an RFP to engage a third-party consultant to lead the comprehensive operational restructuring and transformation recommended last year. That RFP was issued Jan. 4.
Laurentian is also obligated within 60 days of the plan to put together a Transformation Consultant Group of university stakeholders to work with LU and the consultants.
Embleton said there have been several meetings to draft the group’s terms of reference to be submitted to the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities no later than Jan. 27.
She also provided an update on steps Laurentian is taking toward developing a new strategic plan. Under the plan of arrangement, Laurentian is obligated to hire yet another consultant to assist with this task, and has 120 days from the plan’s implementation to do so.
Embleton said in her report the aim was to post the RFP for the strategic plan consultant on Jan. 17, although she did not provide an update as to whether or not this has happened.
She said Laurentian, which is still only about a month and a half post-CCAA, is currently meeting with the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities every two weeks.
Other work that’s ongoing includes the renewal of Laurentian’s board of governors.
Embleton also said that “announcements with respect to faculty searches will be forthcoming as soon as possible.”
Laurentian’s dwindling faculty complement has been a bone of contention, as beyond those who were terminated as part of the CCAA process, many professors have left the university since, and were not replaced while Laurentian was still under creditor protection.
Embleton said the exact numbers of faculty that will be hired is still “as yet unknown,” but “we should soon be able to announce some academic positions, with more to come in the next cycle.”
Senate member Josée Turcotte said she thinks her colleagues are happy “we have new people to lead the university,” but shared that the CCAA process has been “very painful,” even traumatic.
“So I'm hopeful, but at the same time, I think I'm careful,” she said. “It's really hard to trust again, for me anyway.”
With regards to the consultants that Laurentian is hiring, Turcotte said she’s “really critical,” as LU is short on money and the expertise is in-house.
While pointing out that hiring the outside consultants is a “requirement at this point in time,” Embleton said she does “feel the same way about a lot of outside consulting groups, especially those that don't have expertise in the academic sphere.
“They can be very expensive. They can tell you things you already know. They miss things that you already know. But there is also merit in outside eyes at some points as well, the same way we do for program reviews, for example.”
Embleton was asked by senate members why she was willing to come to Laurentian, and what she hopes to accomplish in her time in Sudbury.
She replied she was first approached by a headhunter firm last year while at an academic conference in Germany.
At first “they wouldn't tell me which university, which kind of dampens the conversation a bit,” she said.
“But then, you know, eventually we got into more conversation, and it seemed to me like an interesting opportunity and an interesting challenge. People who know me know that I don't shy away from things if I think I can, in some way, help, and there's a job to be done.”
Embleton said that by the time she’s done at Laurentian, she hopes to “be able to show that things are better here when I leave than when I arrived,” to rebuild LU’s reputation, and “that Laurentian is in the news for the right reasons rather than the wrong reasons.”
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.