University of Saskatchewan terminates president after controversy

The Canadian Press
May 21, 2014 08:53 PM

SASKATOON - A university president who sparked a storm of controversy by firing a tenured professor has herself been let go.

The University of Saskatchewan board of governors announced that Ilene Busch-Vishniac was terminated without cause as president and vice-chancellor, effective immediately.

The board said in a statement issued late Wednesday that the university "is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression" and considers tenure "a sacrosanct principle."

"The board feels strongly that the university's ongoing operations and its reputational rebuilding efforts will be more effective with new leadership," said the release.

"It was a painful week for the University of Saskatchewan. Many students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the U of S, and the people of the province generally, were dismayed by news emerging from the campus over the last seven days.

"The board was deeply troubled by this situation and committed itself to repairing the university's reputation."

On Tuesday, hundreds of angry students, staff and alumni staged a noisy protest demanding Busch-Vishniac resign.

Protest organizers said the tipping point was her treatment of Robert Buckingham, who was stripped of tenure and fired from his job as head of the School of Public Health. Buckingham was escorted from campus by police last week after writing a letter to the Saskatchewan government and Opposition New Democrats critical of the university's budget overhaul process.

Busch-Vishniac quickly responded that the school "made a blunder" when it fired Buckingham.

He was offered back — and accepted — his tenure position, but Busch-Vishniac said he would not be reinstated as executive director of the School of Public Health. She said leadership at the university is expected to align behind the decisions of the administration.

Uproar over the Buckingham debacle also led to the resignation Monday of Brett Fairbairn, the university's provost and vice-president academic. Fairbairn had signed Buckingham's termination letter.

Students at the protest also complained that there wasn't enough consultation about the budget cuts, which includes eliminating some programs and jobs.

The cuts are part of a bigger goal to address a projected $44.5-million deficit in the school's operating budget by 2016.

The board said Busch-Vishniac can take up a faculty post in the university's College of Engineering.

She will be replaced by former lieutenant governor Gordon Barnhart as the acting president. Barnhart is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, served as university secretary and has taught political studies and history classes in the College of Arts and Science.

His appointment was quickly approved by Premier Brad Wall, who took to Twitter to call Barnhart "an excellent choice" as interim president.

"Thank you to the board for this decision," wrote Wall.

-- by Jennifer Graham in Regina


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