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The newly opened student centre on the Laurentian University campus on Feb. 1, 2021.

Gino Donato/The Globe and Mail

Professors at Laurentian University have agreed to a 5-per-cent salary cut in a new contract ratified just days after dozens of programs were eliminated and more than 100 faculty were fired or took early retirement.

The new collective agreement was approved by a vote of slightly more than 80 per cent of the faculty at the Sudbury university, which has been rocked by a financial crisis ever since administrators filed for creditor protection in February.

Faculty association president Fabrice Colin said the vote was taken under duress, as the university had threatened bankruptcy would ensue if a new collective agreement wasn’t reached.

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“It was a hard, sad day,” Prof. Colin said. “We fought hard to minimize the damage, but we knew without the provincial government at the table, we were in an impossible position.”

On Monday, 110 faculty positions were eliminated in a move that reduced tenured teaching faculty by about a third, one of the most dramatic cuts ever seen at a Canadian publicly funded university. Nearly 70 programs were also eliminated, with significant reductions in arts, humanities and French-language offerings at the bilingual institution.

The faculty agreed to a new contract as part of the insolvency process that will reduce their wages by 5 per cent and freeze them for two years. Faculty in science, engineering and architecture programs also agreed to increased teaching hours.

There appears to be no provision for severance payments for the more than 80 faculty who were fired, although Prof. Colin said they may pursue a claim under the insolvency process. About 25 positions were eliminated through early retirements or vacancies that won’t be filled.

The university said in a statement that the new agreements with faculty and staff, which include pay cuts for all employees, including management and the university president, reflect a sense of sacrifice and commitment to the school’s future.

Laurentian filed for creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, a process usually reserved for private corporations, after years of operational deficits and debts incurred for the construction of campus buildings.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Prof. Colin and Rahul Sapra, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, called for the resignations of Ross Romano, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities, Laurentian University president Robert Haché, and several senior administrators.

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Prof. Sapra asked why the Ontario government did not step in with financial assistance rather than allow the CCAA process to play out. The government recently provided more than $100-million in COVID-19 support payments to the post-secondary sector, but no additional money went to Laurentian.

Scott Clark, a spokesman for Mr. Romano, said an injection of funds would not have fixed “the significant long-term and systemic challenges faced by Laurentian.” He added that the minister is confident the CCAA process is the right way to address the situation.

Parliament agreed to hold an emergency debate on the Laurentian situation on Wednesday night at the request of NDP MP Charlie Angus. The university has particular significance at the federal level due to its mandate as a bilingual institution.

The cuts announced on Monday eliminated 58 per cent of francophone programs at the university, Prof. Colin said. He called the impact “catastrophic,” and added that it would make it impossible for Laurentian to live up to its mandate and commitment to French-language instruction.

For many students, the depth of the cuts has come as a profound shock, as programs were eliminated overnight and with no consultation. Some students plan to leave the university as a result.

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Olivia Broomer, a second-year student, said the news this week was upsetting. She is taking a minor in philosophy, a program that no longer exists. She said it was devastating to see beloved professors lose their jobs.

“I’ve been very hurt by the school’s decision to withhold information. Students have been left completely in the dark,” Ms. Broomer said. “I was proud to call Laurentian University my school, and now I’m not.”

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