The University of Saskatchewan will not reinstate Robert Buckingham as the dean of Public Health but will continue with its restructuring plans and budget cuts, according to the interim president.
Gordon Barnhart, who was appointed last week when former president Ilene Busch-Vishniac was fired, said Tuesday that while the university has made progress and presently has a balanced budget, the financial future of the university needs work.
After the most contentious week in school history, one that saw senior administrators resign or be dismissed, the U of S is trying to restore a tarnished reputation.
Dr. Barnhart was given a letter Monday signed by more than 850 students, staff and alumni that called for scrapping the budget-cutting TransformUS plan because it was more about saving money than meeting student needs. Students were also angered by the firing of Dr. Buckingham, who spoke out against TransformUS and was ousted as both professor and dean and had his tenure taken away.
Dr. Barnhart said Dr. Buckingham, already back at work as a professor, will not be reinstated as dean. “It’s not being considered,” said the acting president. What is being considered is a new name for a TransformUS-like overhaul.
“The name will likely disappear,” Dr. Barnhart said of the highly disliked label. “But the overall intent to make this a better place – that will continue, not just for financial sustainability because we want to make sure we’re making the right decisions.”
University officials have said repeatedly that in two years, given rising costs, the institution will amass a $44.5-million debt load. The troubles took root in 2012. School officials were planning on a sizable increase in government funding, as much as 5.8 per cent but ended up with less than two per cent.
That prompted the university to focus on program prioritization – a step-by-step approach to reallocating resources touted by U.S. educational consultant Robert Dickeson. The U of S dubbed it TransformUS and began it last year.
“People have put in hundreds of hours planning this refocusing,” said Dr. Barnhart. “It is change and people don’t always react well to it.”
There is, however, some on-campus support for the TransformUS approach.
Jim Greer, professor of computer science and the director of the University Learning Centre, said his program has been targeted for restructuring, so much so that his administrative position is “likely to change radically and perhaps be phased out.
“I felt I had ample opportunity to express my concerns and make my case within the TransformUS process,” Prof. Greer said. “I have not felt the need to whine publicly to the media or external agencies about the changes being contemplated … And I will continue to encourage my colleagues to put the interests of the broader institution above their own self-interests.”
Dr. Barnhart, a former student and a history professor at the U of S, made a point of saying the province recently awarded a 4.4 per cent funding increase toward operating costs and other expenditures. The money is appreciated, said Dr. Barnhart, but the university will maintain its independence in how it operates and what it offers for students.
As for his first week on the job, Dr. Barnhart has met with the deans and the board of directors and wandered about campus where some people have hugged him and wished him good luck in calming what has been an intensely difficult time.
“Today I said, ‘Thank God it’s Friday,’” the interim president said. “My staff told me it was only Tuesday.”