The University of Saskatchewan has cancelled the budget review process at the centre of this spring's controversial firing of Robert Buckingham, the former dean of the School of Public Health.
Interim president Gordon Barnhart announced that the priorities established by TransformUS, including the merger of some faculties, would be replaced by smaller, specific reforms. A projected financial deficit of $44.5-million by 2016 has also been trimmed through cuts to staff and operating budgets and the remaining future deficit is considered manageable without making deeper reductions.
The firing of Dr. Buckingham in May led to an international outcry over academic freedom and several high-placed administrators lost their positions as a result. Brett Fairbairn, the academic vice-president, resigned, president Ilene Busch-Vishniac was fired two years into her five-year contract term and Barb Daigle, the associate vice-president of human resources, left this summer.
Dr. Buckingham welcomed the news that TransformUS has been cancelled. "It was flawed from the beginning," he said.
Dr. Buckingham is on a one-year leave from the university and plans to return as a professor next fall. He was fired from his position as dean and tenured professor after he wrote and made public a letter he titled, "The Silence of the Deans," in which he questioned the plan to merge his school with the College of Medicine. The administration, the letter said, had instructed deans to support the TransformUS process even if they disagreed with its proposals. Dr. Buckingham was marched off campus, but after protests from around the world, was reinstated as a tenured professor but not as dean.
TransformUS "became the stick that was used to bring change … The term is not being used any more and the method is not being used," Dr. Barnhart said. The hundreds of hours of discussion that were part of TransformUS won't go to waste, he said. The university will still expand the aboriginal education and continue the restructuring at the College of Medicine. Last year, the college, the province's only medical school, was placed on probation by the Committee on Accreditation of Canadian Medical Schools.
The university's faculty association, one of the strongest opponents of TransformUS, said the process did not take academic merit into account in recommending cuts. Programs that have a small number of graduates should still be protected. "You can't be everything to everybody, but you can have a number of small, excellent programs. Don't let money be the primary driver of what you do," said Doug Chivers, the chair of the university's faculty association.
Going public with his objections to the process was the right thing to do, Dr. Buckingham said. "The role of a college dean is to speak up when he or she feels their unit is at risk," he said.
When he returns next year, Dr. Buckingham will join a faculty that also counts Dr. Fairbairn and Dr. Busch-Vishniac. Both are back teaching at the university.