May 15, 2014 12:39 pm

U of S dean fired after speaking out against TransformUS

Watch above: reaction to the firing of a U of S dean for speaking out against TransformUS

SASKATOON – A now former dean at the University of Saskatchewan said he was fired, stripped of his tenure and escorted off campus after speaking out against TransformUS, an action plan to reduce the university’s operating budget deficit.

Dr. Robert Buckingham, who declined to comment on camera until he obtains legal counsel, said he was fired and escorted off campus Wednesday morning after firing off about TransformUS.

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“The university doesn’t comment on individual personnel matters, I guess I can say generally that when we hire and assess people we do that on the basis of their job contracts,” said Brett Fairbairn, the provost and vice-president academic at the University of Saskatchewan.

“For deans, the job contracts involve expectations of confidentiality and of leadership compliancy so once we hire people we expect them to perform those responsibilities.”

In a letter addressed to the former dean, the University of Saskatchewan cites a breach in Buckingham’s employment after he released a document entitled “The Silence of the Deans” and attachments including an internal email. A copy is attached at the bottom of this story.

The letter also advised Buckingham that his administrative leave scheduled to begin July 1st, 2014 would be revoked.

“He should have the right to speak but since he was going out anyway I don’t think he should be made into a martyr and indeed the University did overact,” said Alexander Ervin, a professor of anthropology at the U of S.

Ervin says in his 43 of services with the university he’s never seen anything like this and was astonished by the news.

“There is sort of this climate  of fear in general that operates here. I mean it makes sense, if you want to preserve your program, if you want money for your program you’re not going to complain about what the administration’s doing,” said Ervin.

Ervin says it appears this was a last-ditch effort to by Buckingham to save his enterprise and there’s more than meets this eye with this situation.

“At last they’re doing something that’s useful, cutting down on senior administrative structures and amalgamating. They should have started with that, that’s exactly what they should have done to begin with instead of putting everybody in this state of fear and they should have focused directly on the students’ needs,” said Ervin.

According to a statement released by the university on Tuesday, senior leadership has ample opportunities to voice their concerns prior to decisions being made:

“The University of Saskatchewan has high expectations of its senior leaders to support the university’s directions and to lead their implementation. Top among current priorities are the university’s TransformUS initiatives. Leaders have opportunities to express personal opinions in leadership discussions. Once decisions are made, all leaders are expected to support the university’s directions.”

“In my view you can’t lead an organization and oppose it at the same, if you want to do that you need to resign your leadership role,” said Fairbairn.

As for whether the perceived heavy handedness of the university will work in muzzling others – the faculty association says don’t count on it.

“We stand behind them 100 per cent in their right to criticize the administration, to criticize the directions of the university, to challenge and to make the academic decisions themselves and we will stand behind them with all of our resources; personnel, legal, financial, everything,” said Michael MacGregor, vice chair of the faculty association with the University of Saskatchewan.

News of the firing came as a surprise to Advance Education Minister Rob Norris, who on Wednesday stressed that any changes underway on campus would not jeopardize accreditation that’s been given to the school of public health or accreditation being sought by the college of medicine.

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