“This letter is also to advise you that the administration leave scheduled to begin on July 1, 2014 is hereby revoked…You are to receive your final pay on May 30, 2014, as per the normal payroll cycle. You are to leave campus immediately and are not to return to your office, the School of Public Health or the university. All benefits and pension cease as of today. Please contact … Human Resources … to make arrangements for the return of university equipment and your office keys, as well as to arrange a time that is appropriate to collect any remaining personal effects.”
This is how, U. Saskatchewan VP Academic and Provost, Brett Fairbairn, fired the Director of the School of Public Health, Robert Buckingham. And as if the letter was not enough, he had him taken to his office by the University police where he could pick up his things, then escorted from campus, and told not to return.
For months now, friends and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan have been giving me the play-by-play about the TransformUS initiative, hoping that I would blog about it. I didn’t, though I alluded last January to that flawed process. I was deterred by the worry of not having a complete and balanced understanding of that situation. Then came the firing of Buckingham via the letter mentioned above. Blogging was too slow for the occasion, and many went on Twitter to call for the immediate resignation of both the President and the Provost.
Fairbairn eventually resigned and the president, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, was fired by the Board. You would think that the only remaining contention is whether she should have been fired with cause. Wrong!
Most surprising and quite alarming was the reaction of some in the administrative class throughout Canada’s post-secondary system. Indeed, behind the scenes many leaders of the so-called U15 were rallying behind Ilene Busch-Vishniac, writing letters to the Board of U. Saskatchewan supporting their beleaguered president-colleague, and trying to counter the open letter signed by more than a thousand faculty member from across Canada.
Other administrators were “fighting back” on Twitter. Here is for example a response to a tweet by Emmet Macfarlane
We were trying to argue that removing a provost for incompetence & lack of understanding of his position is not lynching. The response was swift.
This leads me to believe that this episode may be one of the most important milestones in Canada’s relatively short history in post-secondary education. This refresher of a lesson for administrators about core values of their university looks like it has been needed big time. The Board of the University of Saskatchewan took the lead, did the honorable thing and reminded us of some basics.
“The University of Saskatchewan is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. It would also like to stress that it believes that tenure is a sacrosanct principle within this university.”
It is fitting to end this sad but extremely useful episode with the following remarkable tweet.