Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine building on the Laurentian University campus on Feb. 1, 2021.

Gino Donato/The Globe and Mail

Laurentian University spent millions of dollars in research grants to keep the lights on because it had one main bank account where funds intended for academic work were mixed with money for operating costs.

The grant money was earmarked to support the research and livelihoods of dozens of academics, graduate students and lab workers. Now many of them are unsure of what the future holds and whether they will have the funds to complete their work.

Laurentian said last week that it is facing insolvency and has been granted creditor protection while it restructures. Many academics and staff at the Sudbury campus are still coming to terms with what that means. The university, which declined requests to interview president Robert Haché, has made clear in statements on its website that there will be layoffs, possibly even of tenured faculty. It also said it will continue to operate and that the process should have no impact on students.

Story continues below advertisement

Pascale Roy-Léveillée, a scientist who studies permafrost, said she was shocked to learn dedicated research funds had been spent by the university on operating costs. It wasn’t until a courier company declined a payment to ship lab samples last week that she realized her research money was no longer hers to control.

“It’s just terrible,” she said. “The money’s gone.”

She recently accepted a post at Laval University but is still under contract at Laurentian and worries about the implications for her work, which may now be interrupted. She’s also concerned for colleagues and students who are facing uncertain futures.

“It’s not just myself who’s implicated in terms of my [work], my future credibility as a scientist and my ability to get funding, but also the students and research professionals who are involved in the research,” she said.

“A lot of the researchers are saying: How will Laurentian recover from this?”

Although it’s a relatively small university, with about 7,000 undergraduate students, Laurentian boasts a strong research program.

Prof. Roy-Léveillée said that in her case it involves about $115,000.

Story continues below advertisement

It’s not clear if the university intends to cover her research expenses through the $25-million loan it secured for restructuring or in some other way. But there are labs with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and whole teams of graduate students and researchers who depend on that money.

Several of Canada’s key granting agencies, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, are listed as unsecured creditors in the court filings. NSERC is owed $4.6-million, the Canada First Research Excellence Fund is owed $5.2-million, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is owed $1.6-million, the documents say. Both NSERC and the SSHRC said they are monitoring the situation and awaiting further information.

In a monitor’s report filed with the court, Ernst & Young wrote that research grants typically must be spent only in connection with the approved proposal and not for any other purpose; in most cases they “cannot be used to fund faculty salaries or university operating overhead,” the report states.

Laurentian had a practice of placing all incoming funds – tuition money, operating grants, as well as those with a restricted, designated purpose, such as research money – into the same operating account.

The report said it was not necessarily unusual for a university to do this, but most universities have sufficient funds to cover all expenses. After years of persistent deficits, Laurentian can no longer cover its research obligations, the report states. It was going to run out of cash in a matter of weeks before it sought creditor protection.

In December, the Laurentian board was told of the operating account situation and immediately stopped it. It created separate accounts, including an unspent research grant account and one for restricted funds.

Story continues below advertisement

In a note on its website, Laurentian said research can continue, but a new policy means that all expenditures, even those with external funding, have to be approved by the research office and must be “critical to the delivery of Laurentian’s operations.”

Now even routine expenses such as the purchase of pipettes for lab work require oversight, said Adam Kirkwood, a PhD student in boreal ecology.

Mr. Kirkwood said he fears that the decision to not have a separate bank account for research is going to have a knock-on effect that could hinder his work and slow his progress toward his degree. His work requires costly trips to remote parts of Northern Ontario, and he also worries about his income as the university restructures. He asked questions of university administrators at a recent meeting of the senate but did not get the answers he wanted.

“The gist we got is that nothing is guaranteed,” he said. “The funds were so poorly managed. Why wasn’t there [an account] for research funding?”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies