Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ilene Busch-Vishniac should resign immediately as President of the University of Saskatchewan

The university of Saskatchewan fired Robert Buckingham the other day. Buckingham was Executive Director (Dean) of the School of Public Health. He objected to a policy called "TransformUS" that was designed to save the university money. It proposed to abolish the School of Public Health and merge it, and the College of Dentistry, with the College of Medicine.

He was not only fired from his administrative post, he was also fired from his tenured job as a Professor and banned from the University campus.

Buckingham and another Dean (Associate Dean Ken Sutherland of Dentistry) were warned that they should not speak out against the proposals that were being developed by the Provost and the President. He responded by publishing a letter titled "The Silence of the Deans."

According to a CBC article,
Security guards escorted Buckingham out of the building on Wednesday, the same day the Saskatoon-based university stripped him of his tenured faculty position. A termination letter reasoned that by speaking out against the school's restructuring plans, Buckingham "demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination" and was in breach of contract.

He was also banned for life from the campus.
There are dozens of other articles in newspapers and blogs across the country that confirm these events and condemn the University of Saskatchewan.

Watch this Global TV video to get an overview of what happened and how the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association intends to respond.

I can understand why the university might want to relieve Robert Buckingham of his job as Dean but, even then, they should tread very carefully if they are firing him only because he speaks out against the destruction of his Faculty. However, under no circumstances should the university fire a professor who is protected by the right to academic freedom—especially if the only cause for dismissal is a disagreement with the university administration.

The letter of termination has (rightly) been made public (see below). It's an extraordinary letter. I don't think this termination has a ghost of a chance in court if it should come to that. The irony is in the Provost's words, "you have damaged the reputation of the university." Any "damage" done by Robert Buckingham in speaking out against the destruction of his Faculty pales in comparison to the damage done by the Provost and the President. The stupid actions of Brett Fairbairn and Ilene Busch-Vishniac are being broadcast all over the world. It will take years to restore the reputation of the University of Saskatchewan after this.

As you can see from this CBC News report, the Saskatchewan Minister of Advanced Education is concerned about the firing. This CTV News video shows the NDP Leader of the Opposition referring to the "outrageous" actions of the university. Oops!

The first step is for the Provost and the President to reinstate Robert Buckingham to his job as professor and then the Provost and the President should resign. This should happen today, or tomorrow at the latest. If they don't resign then the governing body of the University of Saskatchewan should fire them from their administrative posts for cause. Administrative leaders of a public university cannot ignore academic freedom.



12 comments :

  1. Apparently, the Wiki page on Busch-Vishniac is essentially blank because of an alleged copyright issue. Is this, perhaps a fallout from the ongoing controversy at the university.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilene_Busch-Vishniac

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    1. Not directly. It seems that the Wikipedia entry was for the most part copied from her official homepage on the University of Saskatchewan website. I don't think its coincidental that the illicit duplication was discovered and blocked today, though.

      See:
      Wikipedia
      Duplication Detector Report
      "About Ilene" (U of S original)

      The stuff was added by Wikipedia user MimZfish on 24 April

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  2. It seems to me that we should be outraged at the firing of Buckingham as Professor and his banning from campus -- even if the merging of schools was a actually good idea, and even if the higher-ups were within their rights to terminate Buckingham as Executive Director of the School of Public Health. (I have no idea whether the merger is or is not an improvement, but generally when small schools are merged into larger ones this is a Bad Thing for the smaller school).

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  3. Also of, perhaps, some interest, is that her husband, Ethan Vishniac, is an astrophysicist and the son of microbiologists Wolf Vishniac, who developed a device known as the Wolf Trap for detecting indications of biology on the surface of Mars.

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    1. Perhaps Buckingham should be relieved that he wasn't put in a Wolf Trap, or sent to Mars.

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  4. Mots of the firing is now inoperative, to use the Nixonian term.

    http://words.usask.ca/news/2014/05/15/university-of-saskatchewan-reconsiders-part-of-the-decision-regarding-executive-director-of-the-school-of-public-health/

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    1. Nixonian is right. In the firing letter reproduced above, he is told "you are to leave campus immediately and are not to return to your office". In the letter linked to here, Ilene Busch-Vishniac writes that

      “Another point of confusion is with respect to an interpretation that Dr. Buckingham was banned from the university. Let me set the record straight—that was never the case.”

      which is either astonishingly misinformed or completely disingenuous. Unless, after he is frog-marched off campus, he is then allowed to turn around and come back at will.

      I also notice that he is not continued as Full Professor, but is instead said to be "offered a tenured faculty position". Is that a different position than he previously held? Is it in the same school and department? At the same salary? One wonders whether there will be special conditions on this "offer".

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    2. In some fairness, the term inoperative was not used by Nixon but by his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, sometimes known as Ron Zieglier.

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  5. I have noticed a difference between American and Canadian pseudoscience, which I first observed when Larry was posting those videos on the miserable state of science under Canada's conservative PM.

    In Canada, antiscientists employ the argument that scientists are being rude or speaking out of turn or breaking the rules which require them to be deferential to higher authorities. Thus, in the TV news videos, we see idiot apologists for the government's politically motivated funding cuts asserting that politicians decide what the facts are, and if scientists report facts which contradict that (e.g. global warming, poisoned whales, Vikings in Canada before the English), then the scientists have spoken out of turn, which is quite rude. The Canadian antiscientists' best argument is: those real scientists have spoken out of turn, they don't know their proper place, and that's not nice at all. (Of course, the irony is that the pro-government antiscientists making these accusations are themselves total assholes.)

    American antiscientists, on the other hand, e.g. like the Discovery Institute, all call themselves smarter than Galileo and say they're overturning the "dominant paradigm". The American antiscientist accuses real scientists of being bad people because they're supposedly deferential and know their proper place, while the American anti-scientists claim they're great and brilliant because they are speaking out of turn, and congratulate themselves for heroically breaking the rules.

    So the American and Canadian antiscientists use opposite arguments. What they have in common is that they're both assholes. The Americans get close to admitting they're assholes, like they're proud of it (think Egnor), while the Canadian antiscientists stay within a facade of niceness that does not actually change the fact that they're still assholes.

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    1. P.S. Busch-Vishniac reminds me of Delores Umbridge from the Harry Potter books. Best villain in the whole series.

      I surprised she didn't make Buckingham write "I should not tell lies" over and over in a special quill pen that draws his own blood for ink.

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    2. Nailed it! Shades of Umbridge - what a non-apology...

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    3. Bingo, Diogenes. It was my first thought when I saw this.

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