SASKATOON – The president of the University of Saskatchewan says the school is willing to return tenure to a professor who was fired over a letter he wrote critical of budget cuts.
Robert Buckingham was terminated this week after the Opposition New Democrats released his letter in the legislature.
University president Ilene Busch-Vishniac says that academic freedom and tenure “are sacrosanct” at the university.
But she also says the case of Buckingham, who was executive director of the School of Public Health, is not one of academic freedom.
“Dr. Buckingham was removed from his executive director position for acting contrary to the expectations of his leadership role,” Busch-Vishniac said in a release Thursday.
“Dr. Robert Buckingham, who was terminated from his position on May 14, will not return to that leadership position. He will, however, be offered a tenured faculty position.” Busch-Vishniac said confusion had stemmed from differing interpretations of his contract.
She also said Buckingham was never banned from the campus as had been reported by the NDP.
The university’s decision came shortly after Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he wanted an urgent meeting between the province and the board over the professor’s firing.
Wall said he had spoken with the board and its chairman and expected the meeting to happen soon.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers also weighed in Thursday and called on the university’s president to immediately reinstate Buckingham.
The association said in a release on its website that Buckingham’s firing is an embarrassment to post-secondary education across Canada.
“Open discussion and debate is at the heart of the university,” wrote association director James Turk.
“Firing a dean and tenured full professor because he publicly disagreed with your plans for the university is an intolerable attack on academic freedom and proper university governance.”
Turk suggested Busch-Vishniac should publicly apologize to Buckingham for her ill-considered and heavy-handed response to proper discussion and debate.
“That is the only remedy that has the possibility of restoring the reputation of an excellent university that you have so badly damaged.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers is the national voice for 68,000 academic and general staff at more than 120 universities and colleges across the country.
The 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 goal to address a projected $44.5-million deficit in the school’s operating budget by 2016.
Buckingham said in his letter to the provincial government and the NDP that Busch-Vishniac had told senior leaders not to publicly disagree with the overhaul.
“Her remarks were to the point: she expected her senior leaders to not ‘publicly disagree with the process… (or) our tenure would be short,” Buckingham wrote.
A termination letter, signed by provost Brett Fairbairn, said Buckingham ‘demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination’ in ‘publicly challenging the direction given to you by both the president of the university and the provost.’
“You have damaged the reputation of the university, the president and the school and have damaged the university’s relationship with key stakeholders and partners, including the public, government and your university colleagues,” said the letter, also released by the NDP.
Buckingham has said that never in 40 years of academic life has he seen faculty being told that they could not speak out or debate issues.
© The Canadian Press, 2014