Dear Faculty and Staff,
On April 16, 2021, the Government of Ontario tabled legislation that will sever the Northern Ontario School of Medicine from its partnership with Lakehead and Laurentian Universities and make NOSM its own stand-alone, degree-granting institution.
This was a surprise to us all given that NOSM is part of Lakehead University. Furthermore, given the significant impacts such legislation would have on our students, faculty, staff, researchers, and community, we were shocked and disappointed not to have been consulted or included in an important decision that directly affects our institution and the communities we serve.
The current innovative partnership between Lakehead and Laurentian universities and NOSM was forged over many years through collaboration, commitment, and the support of hundreds of dedicated local partners working together with us.
The partnership was specifically designed to respond to the unique and complex health-care needs of the people of Northern Ontario. It has resulted in a growing network of skilled physicians in the North, has nurtured growth in health and science research and innovation, and has been internationally recognized.
While the legislation to create a stand-alone NOSM university was presented as part of a Red Tape Bill, this change is not simply a benign administrative amendment. We know that it will have far reaching impacts on students, on medical education in the North, on the communities we serve, and, unfortunately, on Lakehead University.
Since the original legislation was tabled in April, the University has taken a strong and principled position that Schedule 16 be pulled from Bill 276 because of the risks to NOSM and Lakehead University. Many others have supported this position, including our Faculty of Law Dean, Dr. Jula Hughes, who stated in her letter to the Government, “Bill 276 throws a double wrench in the works: it exposes medical education in the North to a host of uncertainties and profound challenges. At the same time, it unjustifiably and gratuitously interferes with the reputation of Lakehead University . . .”
In recent weeks, we’ve sought to build and strengthen the Government’s awareness of the impacts of the proposed legislation on program accreditation, costs, and partnerships. We have put forward innovative solutions that maintain and strengthen access to high-quality education and research in Northern Ontario through continued partnership with NOSM. We continue to assert that the Government’s objectives to expand NOSM can be achieved under the current model.
You – our faculty and staff – have voiced your concerns while championing and celebrating our existing relationship with NOSM. I can’t thank you enough for the support you have shown for our University community, and for your compelling voice in celebrating a partnership that was on a positive trajectory.
You have been joined by many others in your opposition to the legislation. Our Board of Governors and our Senate stated strong opposition to the legislation. Over 2,000 letters from concerned citizens, community partners, and medical professionals across the province were sent to the Premier, Ministers, and local MPPs. Students, Indigenous leaders, mayors, universities, and other organizations, each with unique perspectives and interests, are united in their deep concern about the impacts of this decision.
I was joined in opposing the legislation at the Standing Committee on General Government by the Lakehead University Student Union, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, past University Presidents, the past Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, and a former Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, who was the architect of the current Northern Ontario Medical School model.
Unfortunately, despite our efforts, the Government of Ontario voted to pass Bill 276 at Queen’s Park earlier today (June 3). Until such a time as this legislation is proclaimed into force, Lakehead University’s current relationship and operations with NOSM remain status quo.
Though we continue to have grave concerns about the means by which this decision was made – without consultation with our University, Senate, faculty and staff, nor with health-care providers, Indigenous communities, and regional business leaders – we know we must now turn our attention to the future.
There are still many important details that need to be explored as the Government moves its agenda forward. Lakehead is committed to engaging in productive and collaborative consultations, however we will continue to uphold a position that does not undermine our University, nor the thriving academic environment we have worked so hard to grow.
We look forward to continuing as a strong advocate for the regions we serve, to actively participating in partnerships that provide the best opportunities for rural, remote, and Indigenous learners, to growing research partnerships that contribute knowledge to society, and to continuing to partner with local and global communities to advance solutions to grand challenges. We hold firm in our belief that we are stronger in the North when we work together, and that Lakehead is vital to high-quality medical education in Northwestern Ontario.
Once again, I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you who spoke out and advocated on this issue. While this outcome was not what we wanted, please rest assured that your voice was heard and made a real difference in speaking to the future of health care and post-secondary education in Northern Ontario.
Sincere best wishes,
Dr. Moira McPherson
President and Vice-Chancellor