Towards a New Campus in Downtown Barrie

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

We have seen a lot of momentum building this month in Barrie around our plans for a Laurentian campus in downtown Barrie. This has been fueled by the commitment made in the election platform of the Ontario Liberal Party to “build three new, leading-edge undergraduate campuses”, but especially by the Toronto Star story in which Laurentian’s proposed Barrie campus was named as one of the three eventual campuses in question.

Last night, I had the opportunity to present an update to the Barrie City Council. You can view my Power Point presentation here. I also tabled an Economic Impact Study prepared by KPMG. This was a follow up to a presentation I made to City Council on May 10, 2010.

During my presentation, I informed City Council that the Laurentian Board of Governors had approved in June a $14 million pledge towards a new Laurentian campus in downtown Barrie. This investment will be funded from a portion of the additional revenues which the university will eventually keep by no longer delivering programs through Georgian College’s University Partnership Centre. One of the five strategic goals of the City of Barrie’s 2010-2014 Strategic Plan is to create a vibrant and healthy city centre. One of the strategies identified to achieve this is to encourage a city centre postsecondary education presence.

As per current capital benchmarks from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, a teaching facility for 2,500 FTEs would cost approximately $60 million, plus land and ancillary facilities.

During my presentation, I shared with Council a draft Memorandum of Understanding outlining proposed commitments from the University and the City. The University is seeking the City’s support in its $40 million application to the province in June 2010 for the expansion of its existing satellite campus in Barrie, as well as a matching $14 million pledge from the City.

A decision from Council is expected in October or early November. The initial response was very favourable.

I also shared with Council that the University had established a community-based steering committee to lead the project of the downtown Barrie campus. The committee will include representation from the university (Board, Executive Team, Vice-Provost, student and faculty representatives), the city (Council and senior staff), the community (downtown residents, downtown business improvement area, hospital, school boards, business, media, etc), as well as volunteer experts in urban planning, architecture, real estate and facilitation.  The purpose of this steering committee, which will be chaired by Janice Skot (President and CEO of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie, former CEO of the Northeastern Ontario Regional Cancer Centre and former CEO of the Laurentian Hospital in Sudbury) will be in the short term to provide advice on the downtown site selection and associated matters. In the medium term, the steering committee will provide advice on the overall project plan including communications and advocacy, have designates involved in the selection of the design team, and advise on the design of the campus.

How did things evolve in Barrie?

In February 2010, Laurentian’s Board of Governors approved its long-term capital strategic directions, which included the establishment of a Laurentian University campus in downtown Barrie.

In May 2010, I informed Barrie’s City Council of Laurentian’s long-term capital strategic directions. We received very enthusiastic feedback from Councillors.

In June 2010, all Ontario colleges and universities were invited to submit their long-term capital priorities for the next 10 years. Our #1 priority was the School of Architecture, which has since been approved. Our #2 priority then, which is now our #1 priority, is a Laurentian campus in downtown Barrie to serve 3,000 students (2,500 FTEs).

On May 6, 2011, several electronic brainstorming sessions to inform our 2012-2017 Strategic Plan were held in Barrie.  One session involved students, faculty and staff, while another involved community members. The dynamic Mayor of Barrie, Jeff Lehman, made inspiring opening remarks at the community consultation on the importance of Laurentian University to the City of Barrie and its future.  A clear consensus emerged on the desire for a Laurentian University facility in downtown Barrie. The community consultation included close to 30 community representatives including Mayor Jeff Lehman, MP Patrick Brown, Ontario PC Party candidate and former City Councillor Rod Jackson, former Mayor Rob Hamilton, business and community leaders, and representatives from the City of Barrie and Simcoe County, the Royal Victoria Hospital, school boards, the Downtown Barrie Business Association (BIA), the United Way, La Clé d’la Baie en Huronie, Indigenous organizations, and the Barrie Public Library, among many others.

Laurentian University and Georgian College have been working for the past 2.5 years on the renewal of the existing relationship agreements, unfortunately without success.  While the College had agreed earlier in May to honor four specific parameters which the University and the Laurentian University Faculty Association had mutually agreed to in December 2009, and subsequently agreed to recognize and provide adequate space for the newly-recognized Laurentian-Barrie Student Union (LBSU), Georgian College confirmed to us in writing  on June 6th that it could not provide space for program growth or private offices for faculty members which is a requirement in our collective agreement. Most importantly, the College declined one of our key requests, which was to change the delivery model for the Bachelor of Social Work and the Bachelor of Business Administration so that all four years would be taught by university faculty. This is crucial to sustain our current accreditation with the Canadian Association for Social Work Education and to support the Faculty of Management in becoming the eighth business school in Ontario and the first in Northern Ontario to secure an accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. As a result, the status quo is not an option for Laurentian. We remain committed to having a productive working relationship with the College and in facilitating student mobility between our respective institutions.

On May 30th, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities delivered a speech at the Canadian Club in which he commented on “Putting Students First: Ontario’s Plan for Postsecondary Education”. As part of this plan, the province announced its intention to fund 60,000 new spaces in postsecondary education in the next five years (a direction which the Ontario PC Party also adopted in its election platform), negotiate strategic mandate agreements with each institution after the election and develop a new satellite campus policy which would lead to a competitive process for establishing new satellites.

The Board of Governors also held its own electronic brainstorming on June 24th as part of the 2012-2017 strategic planning process. The initiative which generated the highest number of votes was a strong presence in Barrie, including a new Laurentian University campus in downtown Barrie.

At that same meeting, the Board approved 14 guiding principles for the sustainability and future expansion of Laurentian’s programs in Barrie. The Board also approved that the University confirm to the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities its interest in expanding its existing satellite campus in Barrie. Finally, the Board approved that the University approach the City of Barrie to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a Laurentian University downtown facility, inform the City of the University’s desire to make an eight figure commitment towards phase 1 of the project, and obtain a matching contribution from the City.

Our proposal for a Laurentian campus in downtown Barrie is already viewed as one of the strongest proposals in the province for the expansion of satellite campuses. A joint $28 million commitment from the university and the city, along with the proposed MoU, would significantly strengthen our $40 million application to the province.

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is:

You can also join the 2,400 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech

A Year Following Up on Employee Engagement, Implementing Our Academic Plan and Finalizing Our Strategic Plan

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

In this blog posting, I would like to discuss the follow up to the “Have Your Say” survey administered on faculty and staff engagement, address some rumors related to our financial situation, and conclude by commenting on the strategic planning process.

Faculty and staff engagement

In early May, a significant proportion of faculty and staff took the time to complete a confidential on-line survey “Have Your Say” on faculty and staff engagement. Over 51% of full-time faculty and 79% of full-time staff completed the survey, which is a very strong participation rate especially for a first survey.

As I shared with you in the employee engagement town-hall meetings held in February, enhanced faculty and staff engagement and a positive organizational culture are key to a strengthened university, which in turn leads to enhanced student satisfaction and engagement, which in turn can translate in greater national recognition and Laurentian being increasingly a university of choice. Faculty and staff who didn’t have a chance to attend one of the three town-hall meetings held in Sudbury and Barrie in February may view one of these presentations on the Employee Engagement intranet.

Survey results were shared with the Advisory Committee on Employee Engagement on June 27th and with the Leadership Group on August 29th. The Advisory Committee met again on August 30th to discuss next steps. Members of the Leadership Group met again in sub-groups during the week of September 12th.  They will engage with faculty and staff in the coming weeks to share the results, both university-wide and, when available, for their specific Faculty or department.  A second conversation is planned in each Faculty or department to discuss the commitments that individual faculty, staff and members of the Leadership Group can make to one another to foster a positive organizational culture. Survey results will be posted on the Employee Engagement intranet on October 7th.  Members of the Leadership Group will regroup on November 14th after their initial meetings with faculty and staff.

When this process began in February, I made a number of commitments:

  • Survey results would be shared first with the Advisory Committee, to which every faculty and staff association/union was invited to appoint a member;
  • Survey results would be shared with the Leadership Group. Its members would benefit from capacity building on how best to initiate constructive follow up conversations with faculty and staff;
  • Each faculty and department would have the chance to discuss the survey results, and most importantly, what can be done in a tangible way at the faculty or department level to foster a positive organizational culture;
  • Survey results would be posted on the intranet;
  • Each member of the Leadership Group would have a specific performance goal in 2011-2012 related to faculty and staff engagement;
  • The survey would be re-administered every two years to foster collective accountability and allow us to measure progress over time.

I am pleased to confirm that all these commitments have or will be fulfilled.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “we must become the change we want to see”. When I did my tour of 52 meetings with departments in 2009, and in my many interactions with the university community since then, faculty and staff identified one aspect or another that they wanted to see improved within the University from an organizational perspective. We now have measurable information to inform our collective actions and focus.  However, the follow up is not about improving survey results in 2013.  It’s about fostering, together, a positive organizational culture.

I really look forward to the outcomes of the follow up discussions and action planning at the faculty, department and university-wide levels.

Rumors related to our financial situation

I know that some rumors are circulating among faculty and staff about further staffing impacts related to the university’s financial situation. Such rumors can deter our attention from the task at hand of building a positive organizational culture, being responsive to student needs and pursuing excellence in teaching and research. I would like to put some of these rumors to rest.

The university’s operating budget is more transparent than ever, with the addition this year of 13 supporting schedules detailing the salary and non-salary budgets of each academic and non-academic department, as well as budget projections for the next two years.  These materials were circulated at Senate in May and to the Board of Governors in June.

Unlike many universities, our operating budget is balanced. Our pension plan is solvent. The “going concern” deficit of the pension plan has largely been addressed, thanks to changes negotiated with LUFA, changes implemented with non-unionized staff, and the University fully absorbing in this fiscal year $0.5M in special pension payments on behalf of LUSU members.

We are in a much better financial position relative to other Ontario universities.

While in any institution, there will always be ongoing minor organizational realignments, the University has no plans for further staff redundancies or mass staffing changes.

In a presentation made to the Board of Governors in camera on June 24th, the Executive Team advised the Board that with budget assumptions at the time, the University was projecting 8 fewer faculty and 7 fewer staff positions in 2012-2013 and another 3 fewer faculty and another 2 fewer staff positions in 2013-2014.  These reductions will be achieved through attrition by not replacing some of the vacancies, while new positions will have to be created to meet emerging needs.

These staffing projections assume an average of 4% in annual tuition fee increases for domestic and international students in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, no undergraduate enrolment growth in 2011-2012, fully funded undergraduate enrolment growth of 135 students in 2012-2013 and 200 students cumulative in 2013-2014 (excluding architecture). While we don’t know yet what will be the province’s tuition policy for the next two academic years, enrolment is now projected to increase by approximately 180 students this Fall, which puts us in a much better position relative to our June assumptions.

There are currently 86 faculty members who are approaching retirement.  A significant proportion of these positions will be replaced in the coming years.

The Academic Plan approved by Senate in February outlines five criteria which shall inform the Deans’ recommendations for new or replacement staffing:

  1. The enrolment in a program;
  2. The centrality of the program to the university’s mission;
  3. The ability of a Department/School to offer an advertised program completely; and
  4. Where relevant, retain its accreditation.
  5. Finally, in responding to requests for hires, Deans/University Librarian shall consider the cohesiveness and functionality of the department/school making such requests.

Once again this year, we circulated this month a copy of the performance goals for each member of the Executive Team to the Leadership Group and to Senate. I believe this enhances transparency, accountability and internal alignment.  Many of you have commented favorably to me in the past about this practice.

One of the Provost’s performance goals this year is to seek recommendations from the Deans/University Librarian by December 31st on positions which should be renewed/not renewed/created in the coming years (in priority sequence for new hires) based on the five criteria articulated in the Academic Plan.

In my view, faculty renewal decisions are among the most important decisions that any university makes. Ideally, faculty recruitment strategies must be at least national in scope and should be initiated at least 12 months before the beginning of a tenured or tenure-track appointment in order to maximize the pool of candidates. Selection processes should not be limited to academic departmental interviews. This will be one of the key priorities of our new Executive Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development, Bernard Beaulieu, working closely with the Academic Vice-Presidents, the Vice-Provost, Deans and the University Librarian.

Bernard will begin in his role on October 1st. In light of the importance of sound human resources management and organizational development for the future success of the university, Bernard will be a member of the Executive Team. This also reflects my commitment to fostering a positive organizational culture, following up on the faculty and staff engagement survey.

Enrolment increased this Fall university-wide for a third year in a row. Our average entry grade increased for a third year in a row as well, from 79.2% in 2008-2009 to 80.8% in 2011-2012. International enrolment increased by 25% this Fall, while enrolment in graduate enrolment increased by 15% this Fall. Does this mean we should rest on our laurels?

Absolutely not. This is why another of the Provost’s performance goals this year, consistent with the Academic Plan, is to seek Senate approval by June of proposals in the Social Sciences, Humanities and Science to combine/re-group programs in new innovative ways that cross departmental barriers. As stated in the Academic Plan, such programs should be of high quality, sustainable, in-demand by students, building on previously identified areas of academic strength.  Further, the Provost will seek Senate approval by June 2012 of majors and specializations that reach across Faculty boundaries.


Strategic planning

From February to June, over 20 consultations were held within the university community to inform our 2012-2017 Strategic Plan. In addition, seven electronic brainstorming sessions involving students, faculty, staff, Board members, alumni and community members were held both in Sudbury and Barrie.  Over a dozen submissions were also received by the 27 member steering committee.

The Board expects a five page measurable 2012-2017 Strategic Plan to be approved in December. The content of the plan is to be aligned with the university’s four key goals and must articulate our purpose, values, aspirations and intended results for 2017.

The steering committee reviewed a first draft of the 2012-2017 Strategic Plan on August 31st.

A second version was developed with their feedback and is now being used for validation.  It features a proposed purpose statement, specific values, 10 aspiration statements and a number of results for 2017 for each aspiration. Validation sessions have already been held in the past few days with the Leadership Group, faculty councils of Social Sciences and Humanities, Professional Schools, Library and Archives, Science and Engineering, and Senate.  Validation will continue until the end of October with the Board of Governors, remaining faculty councils, the executives of faculty, staff, student and alumni associations/unions, and the Laurentian University Native Education Council.

One of the trends which emerged from the May survey on staff engagement was the importance that all staff members have an opportunity to shape the future directions of the university.  Three validation sessions for staff are scheduled for the morning and the afternoon of Monday, October 3rd, and the afternoon of Wednesday, October 5th. Each full-time staff member will be invited to one of these sessions.

While this validation phase occurs, a third version of the strategic plan will be presented to the steering committee on September 28th, a fourth version will be shared with the Board of Governors on October 13th in Barrie for input, a fifth version will be brought forward at the final meeting of the steering committee on November 2nd, while a sixth and final version will be presented to Senate on November 15th and to the Board of Governors on December 16th for approval.  The input from the validation phase will inform the next four versions of the strategic plan.

I am very confident that this process will lead to a concise, focused and compelling strategic plan to guide our decisions and build on our momentum as a university for the next five years.

Should you have any questions or comments about the strategic planning process, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Anne-Marie Mawhiney at or at (705) 675-1151 or 1-800-263-4188, extension 3221.

As you can see, now that the University is in a better financial position, the coming months will be a period where we will build on the ongoing accomplishments of students, faculty and staff by collectively taking action to promote a positive organizational culture, plan strategically for faculty and program renewal as called for by the Academic Plan approved by Senate, and confirm the future strategic directions of the university.

While this represents significant work, I know we will be very successful thanks to our collective knowledge and insights, the spirit of creativity and innovation demonstrated by students, faculty and staff, and our relentless focus on the four key goals approved by the Board of Governors in October 2009.

In my next blog posting, I will provide an update on the University’s plans for Barrie.

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is:

You can also join the 2,400 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech