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University of Saskatchewan students, faculty rally in support of fired public health dean

Members of a student-led TransformThis organization gather before a rally againstof the University of Saskatchewan administration on campus in Saskatoon, Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Students and their leaders rallied on the University of Saskatchewan campus on Tuesday in support of Robert Buckingham, the professor and public health dean who was fired for criticizing the school's budget cuts. The professor would have been there, only he was not sure if he was still banned for life by the university.

Prof. Buckingham said no one in the current administration has contacted him about the school's offer for him to return to campus. "I have left numerous phone calls to them to respond and restore my e-mail access, but to no avail," he said.

The debate is now turning to what further steps the university might take. Jim Miller, a U of Saskatchewan history professor and a Canada Research Chair, said he sent a letter to the chair of the university's board of governors, Susan Milburn, and "called for [the university president's] dismissal for cause by the board." Ilene Busch-Vishniac told the media on Tuesday she has no plans to resign.

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Before going public with his criticisms, Prof. Buckingham consulted the previous university president, Peter MacKinnon, over his concern that budget cuts could threaten the School of Public Health's independence, said Mr. MacKinnon's wife, Janice MacKinnon, a professor at the school.

Prof. MacKinnon, a former Saskatchewan NDP cabinet minister, said Prof. Buckingham sought her husband's counsel on the process for putting forward a motion on the independence of the School of Public Health. Mr. MacKinnon, president of the university from 1999 to 2012, hired the U.S. professor as dean of the public-health school in 2009, and the MacKinnons are friends with Dr. Buckingham.

"It wasn't as if he was telling Dr. Buckingham what to decide. Dr. Buckingham knew what he wanted to do and what his concern was," Prof. MacKinnon said. "Peter agreed with him that the school should be independent. It had been created independently."

Mr. MacKinnon was not available to comment.

Provost Brett Fairbairn fired Prof. Buckingham last Wednesday, and the next day, after international outcry, publicly said he could return as a tenured professor but not as dean of public health. Mr. Fairbairn resigned before an emergency meeting of the university's board of governors on Monday night.

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Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More

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