May 13, 2014 5:30 pm

Professor suggests University of Saskatchewan intimidating faculty

University of Saskatchewan professor suggests university is intimidating faculty over cuts.

File / Global News

SASKATOON – A University of Saskatchewan professor says faculty are being intimidated to keep quiet about an overhaul that includes cuts.

Robert Buckingham, executive director at the School of Public Health, says the university president told senior leaders not to speak out about the process known as TransformUS.

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“Her remarks were to the point: she expected her senior leaders to not ‘publicly disagree with the process or findings of TransformUS'; she added that if we did our ‘tenure would be short,” Buckingham wrote in a letter to the provincial government and Opposition NDP.

“With that meeting there was the ‘silence of the deans.’ Never in my 40 years of academic life have I seen academics being told that they could not speak out and debate issues.”

The Saskatoon-based university released a plan last month that includes cutting jobs, reorganizing the administration and dissolving some programs to try to save about $25 million.

The cuts are part of a bigger response by the university to address a projected $44.5-million deficit in its operating budget by 2016.

The plan calls for the school of public health to be rolled into the college of medicine, but Buckingham worries that could jeopardize the college’s recently earned international accreditation. In January 2014, the school became the first school of public health in North America to have their masters of public health program accredited by the Agency for Public Health Education Accreditation.

“Much of what has been built over the last five years is threatened by the TransformUS plan to place the school of public health under the college of medicine,” wrote Buckingham.

He questions why the university would want to put the successful school of public health under the college of medicine, which is struggling and on probation.

NDP Leader Cam Broten, who raised the issue in the legislature Tuesday, says the provincial government needs to find out what is happening at the university.

“It’s a publicly funded institution and while the university has autonomy, it’s absolutely important and appropriate for government to be asking probing questions, to ask about are academics free to discuss their ideas and present their concerns,” said Broten.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris says issues of organization and renewal are “the purview” of the university, but that accreditation is not at stake.

Norris says professors should not be told to keep quiet, but also that he needs to find out if different rules apply to those in administrative roles.

“When it comes to those with additional responsibilities on a campus, they can be deans or school heads, there may be some instances where in fact they do have responsibilities, professional responsibilities. And that’s where I actually need to see (the letter) in more detail,” said Norris.

“Regarding the professoriate, fair question. The answer is, of course not. In fact, I think it would be kind of naive to expect that there wouldn’t be broader discussion.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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