Professor fired for speaking out against TransformUS

Watch above: reaction to the firing of a U of S professor who spoke out against TransformUS

SASKATOON – A professor at the University of Saskatchewan has been fired for speaking out against TransformUS.

Dr. Robert Buckingham was fired Wednesday morning from his tenured professorship at the university.

Buckingham confirmed to Global News he was escorted off the campus without a chance to pack up his personal belongings.

Buckingham will not say anything else until he has retained a lawyer.

In a letter addressed to Buckingham that was released by the Sask. NDP, the university cites a breach in his employment after he released a document entitled “The Silence of the Deans” and attachments that included an internal email.

“The university doesn’t comment on individual personnel matters,” said Brett Fairburn, the provost and vice president of academics at the university.

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“I guess I can say generally that when we hire and assess people, we do that on the basis of their job contracts. 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.”

On Tuesday, Buckingham spoke out against TransformUS, stating there was a risk to accreditation for the school of public health, of which he was the executive director.

“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 at the university.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris says administration issues are “the purview” of the university. Norris has said professors should not be told to keep quiet, but that different rules may apply to those in administrative roles.

“I’ll go back and I’ll just reiterate, traditionally there are a couple of pillars that the academic community works on. First and foremost, there has to be a freedom of expression on campus,” he said Wednesday, after learning about the firing on Twitter.

Norris says he is concerned.

“You know, it caught me off guard. It caught me off guard,” he added.

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NDP Leader Cam Broten says the provincial government needs to find out what is happening at the university.

“I don’t think that’s inappropriately meddling in the university affairs because this is a question about what our universities are, what should be happening there and to me, it’s about freedom of thought, freedom of expression and creating a culture where people actually want to come forward and contribute,” said Broten.

Under TransformUS, the school of public health is to be rolled into the college of medicine, a move that worried Buckingham, stating it could jeopardize the school’s recently earned international accreditation.

Buckingham said professors are being intimated to keep quiet about the overhaul but the university’s faculty association said the firing will not stop others from speaking out.

“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,” said Michael MacGregor, vice president of the faculty association at the University of Saskatchewan.

“We will stand behind them with all our resources – personnel, legal, financial, everything.”

Buckingham has also been banned for life from the University of Saskatchewan campus.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Termination letter from the University of Saskatchewan to Dr. Robert Buckingham.
Termination letter from the University of Saskatchewan to Dr. Robert Buckingham.Termination letter from the University of Saskatchewan to Dr. Robert Buckingham. Supplied / Saskatchewan NDP