THUNDER BAY — Despite criticism from the dean of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, the president of Lakehead University is reiterating her concerns about a lack of consultation over the future of NOSM.
"There has been absolutely no consultation whatsoever with chief stakeholders whatsoever," said Moira McPherson, who's also the vice-chair of the medical school's board. "The university, faculty, staff, students, the Indigenous community, hospitals, health-care providers and many other key groups...we've all been left out of the conversation."
McPherson initially wrote Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano last week, noting there was no confirmation from the government that a NOSM campus will continue to serve Thunder Bay if it receives degree-granting status.
The province announced it is moving to make NOSM a fully independent institution as a result of the insolvency of Laurentian University, which co-hosts the medical school along with Lakehead.
In an interview Tuesday, NOSM Dean Dr. Sarita Verma called on McPherson to stop making what she called misinformed and destructive statements which she suggested are creating unfounded anxiety about the future of the medical school in Thunder Bay.
However, McPherson didn't hesitate to repeat her concerns, saying "there's many, many unanswered questions that we're very concerned about...there are many potential impacts. We won't know until we've received the right amount of information."
Lakehead's president said she was astounded by the absence of consultation prior to Romano's announcement.
"Lakehead University, NOSM and Laurentian University is a collaborative relationship forged over many years, through the commitment and support of all our partners working together... It's astounding that a decision like this could be made without coming to the table and bringing the right people and the right information to understand and look at this in depth."
McPherson said separating the medical school from Lakehead raises the risk of numerous problematic impacts, including the destabilization of medical education in Northwestern Ontario.
"We know there are going to be significant increases in costs and duplication of services," as well as impacts on students including increased tuition, she said.
McPherson also cited the loss of supports for students which are currently provided by the two universities as they complete their studies.
"Research partnerships and collaborations, funding arrangements for different organizational and community partnerships, all of these are question marks for us right now."
McPherson said the current NOSM model is working well in Northwestern Ontario.
"A unilateral move to sever a relationship that is so important to the foundation of this community is a terrible, hastily-made decision. As I hear more and more from the various groups in our region, it really raises serious, serious concerns."
Minister Romano defends move to make NOSM an independent medical school
Colleges and Universities Minister Romano also spoke out Tuesday, issuing a statement defending the decision to make the Northern Ontario School of Medicine an independent university.
"The government believes that NOSM is critical to ensuring the availability of health human resources in Northern Ontario and that NOSM is ready to take the next step in the evolution to becoming an independent, degree-granting post-secondary institution," the minister said.
He said the legislation he tabled recently will allow the medical school "to become more agile and nimble to the changing environment for students" as they help tackle the region's health human resource needs.
Romano added that it's important to note that NOSM already operates largely independently, and that the ministry already funds the school directly.
He asserted that making the school fully independent "will reduce duplicative and unnecessary administration and governance."
The minister also said the evolution of an institution to a fully independent university is a process that has occurred in Ontario many times, including at Lakehead University which began as a technical institute. It then became a college, and eventually received university status.