SASKATOON – The University of Saskatchewan’s acting president has formally replied to an open letter protesting the TransformUS cost-cutting process.
The DefendUS group began circulating an open letter several weeks ago asking for signatures to help restore collegiality, transparency and meaningful consultation at the university.
The letter calls for the TransformUS process to halt and for a review of the school’s self-projected $44.5 million operating budget deficit by 2016.
Former U of S president Ilene Busch-Vishniac was fired in May following outrage over the dismissal of Dr. Robert Buckingham, a tenured professor and dean who spoke out against the TransformUS process.
DefendUS stated they were “particularly alarmed” by the firing of Buckingham and the overall silencing of dissent among faculty and administrators.
In response to the letter, sent with over 1,000 signatures, the group received a response from the new interim U of S president Gordon Barnhart on June 6.
Barnhart stated in his letter the TransformUS process will now move slower and the school’s finances will be reviewed.
“We are committed to slowing down this process and taking time to deliberate carefully on what happens next,” said Barnhart.
“I, too, want to have as much information about our finances before we move forward.”
Barnhart also said he would like to take DefendUS up on their request for some type of public meeting in the near future.
“I myself want to talk to students, deans, staff and faculty members over the coming weeks. I think we need to speak to alumni, our board, council, senate and other stakeholders as well,” said Barnhart.
According to their website, DefendUS feels Barnhart’s reply is a good step towards meaningful consultation and ensures everyone feels heard.
“I think with the last administration, we would’ve been foolish maybe to expect a response. I think it’s a good signaling from interim president Barnhart that he’s open to dialogue,” said Dan LeBlanc, a DefendUS orgranizer.
“It’s very positive for us. We remain vigilant about it but we’re open to discuss and we think it’s a really positive step.”
DefendUS remains concerned the interim president did not reject TransformUS altogether, but knows change takes time.