Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Board of Governors at the University of Saskatchewan fires President Ilene Busch-Vishniac

Last week the Provost of the University of Saskatchewan fired Robert Buckingham, Dean of Public Health, for his outspoken criticism of plans to disband his Faculty and for his public criticism of the administration for attempting to muzzle him. Buckingham was not only removed from his job as Dean but fired from his tenured position as a Professor and banned from the campus.

One week later ...
  1. Buckingham has been reinstated as a Professor in the Faculty of Public Health.
  2. The Provost, Brett Fairbairn, was forced to resign.
  3. The President, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, has been fired.
This has been a good week for universities in Canada and for the principle of academic freedom. All the major TV networks and all the major newspapers were appalled at the actions of the University of Saskatchewan. Even the Premier of Saskatchewan and the minister in charge of higher education expressed their displeasure.

Watch the CBC excerpt at: University of Saskatchewan board fires president Ilene Busch-Vishniac. It gives you a good flavor of the way this is being covered in Canada. Nobody is defending the university.

Some of the best coverage of this sorry episode is by the Star Phoenix of Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan president Ilene Busch-Vishniac fired. According to their reporters, the Chair of the Board of Governors (Susan Milburn) announced late last night that President Busch-Vishniac has been fired "without cause." She will retain her position as a tenured Professor in the College of Engineering where presumably she will assume normal teaching and research duties.
[Susan Milburn says] "The board feels strongly that the university’s ongoing operations and its reputational rebuilding efforts will be more effective with new leadership."

The board in its statement said it had been "a painful week for the University of Saskatchewan. Many students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the U of S, and the people of the province generally, were dismayed by news emerging from the campus over the last seven days. The board was deeply troubled by this situation and committed itself to repairing the university’s reputation."

The StarPhoenix went to the president's home on the U of S campus but husband Ethan Vishniac said Busch-Vishniac would not comment.

Busch-Vishniac, who began her term at U of S on July 1, 2012, was terminated without cause, which means she is eligible to collect severance and can take up a faculty post in the university’s college of engineering.
The backdrop to this story about academic freedom is "TransformUs"—a plan to drastically cut expenses in order to meet a $45M deficit. Apparently, students and faculty at the University of Saskatchewan were not brought on board during the discussion leading up to the decision and they are not happy with a budget plan that appears to be imposed by a small number of senior administrators.

The Board of Governors has restated its support for "TransformUS" in spite of widespread protests on campus. It looks like the Board will be the next target.

Meanwhile, the faculty is upset because the Board of Governors granted the President the right to veto tenure recommendations made by peer-group tenure committees. The Faculty Association will likely take legal action against the Board because their action violates the agreement between faculty and the university. (The faculty at the University of Saskatchewan is not (yet) unionized.) (The Faculty Association is a certified union under the Trade Union Act. They have been certified since 1977.)

Stay tuned.....

This is my fifth post on this subject. The others are at ...


  1. Susan Milburn is placed by the finance industry, who I presume manages the pension fund of the university.

  2. Thank you for your posts about the tumultuous events at the U of S.
    One correction: The Faculty Association (USFA) is the faculty union. We have been unionized as long as I have been here (20 years), and we owe a great deal to the USFA for their support!

    1. Thank-you. I fixed my post. I had assumed that your Faculty Association was just an "association" like the one at the University of Toronto.