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Interim University of Saskatchewan president Gordon Barnhart poses for a photograph in his office on the U of S campus in Saskatoon, SK, May 27, 2014 (Liam Richards/Photo Liam Richards)
Interim University of Saskatchewan president Gordon Barnhart poses for a photograph in his office on the U of S campus in Saskatoon, SK, May 27, 2014 (Liam Richards/Photo Liam Richards)

Group worried about cuts at U of Saskatchewan gets response from president Add to ...

A group concerned about cuts at the University of Saskatchewan says it’s heartened by a response from the new president, CJWW Saskatoon reports.

Gordon Barnhart has agreed to talk with some of the 800 students, staff, faculty and alumni who form the group called DefendUS.

The group recently wrote Barnhart a letter that demanded greater consultation in cost-cutting changes at the Saskatoon post-secondary school.

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Organizer Amanda Guthrie says Barnhart has also said he wants to work with the entire campus community.

She says he indicated he will hold a public meeting after he talks to DefendUS representatives.

However, Barnhart has also said he wants some time to look at the books before he calls any big meetings.

The university released a plan earlier this spring that includes cutting jobs, reorganizing 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.

The letter said that a committee reviewing the cost-cutting solutions dubbed TransformUS included only three students. It added that the recent firing of a professor who spoke out against cuts made the process untrustworthy.

The professor was offered back — and accepted — a tenure position, but was not reinstated as head of the School of Public Health.

Barnhart was appointed after president Ilene Busch-Vishniac was fired in part over how Prof. Robert Buckingham was treated.

Guthrie said Friday she’s pleased with Barnhart’s approach.

“I see it as positive that he wants to meet with DefendUS organizers to lay the groundwork for meaningful meetings,” she said. “He could have easily just said ... we’re going to have a meeting ... and it could have been another disingenuous consultation.”

She said students have been trying for 1 1/2 years to be heard about the school’s financial problems.

“We’ve seen the administration say that they’re reaching out to students and faculty, that they want to hear our comments, but never really actually listening to us or taking our comments seriously, so I do see this as a small victory.”

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