University of Saskatchewan reverses part of the decision regarding Executive Director of the School of Public Health

Senior leaders at the University of Saskatchewan have announced that part of a decision they made regarding the Executive Director of the university’s School of Public Health (SPH) has been reconsidered and reversed.

“Academic freedom and tenure are sacrosanct at the University of Saskatchewan. This case, however, is not about academic freedom. Dr. Buckingham was removed from his executive director position for acting contrary to the expectations of his leadership role.” U of S President  Ilene Busch-Vishniac said. “Dr. Robert Buckingham, who was terminated from his position on May 14, will not return to that leadership position. He will, however, be offered a tenured faculty position. The confusion on this issue stems from differing interpretations based on his contract. Because we hold tenure in high regard, we will immediately reverse that part of our initial decision.” She adds “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.”

“The University of Saskatchewan has been on the receiving end of inaccurate and undeserved criticisms launched from across the country,” Busch-Vishniac said. “Up to now, the university offered limited comment on the matter because of principles regarding individual privacy on employment matters. The debate that is raging confuses Dr. Buckingham’s former role as Executive Director of the School of Public Health with the academic freedom associated with that of a tenured faculty member. In his role as an administrator at a level that removes him from the faculty association, Dr. Buckingham is not only permitted but encouraged to have opinions that might disagree with those developed by top administrators. However, once a decision is made at the institutional level, all senior leaders must publicly conform to that decision or resign their leadership role.

Busch-Vishniac said the university does not punish tenured faculty for their opinions, adding that the TransformUS initiative itself has been debated and written about extensively on and off the campus for over a year now, she explained. “We have set in place numerous mechanisms for people to express themselves on matters related to TransformUS and they have worked well. The initiative has been debated, criticized, amended, changed and disparaged. This was all done without any sense that people could not express themselves. The TransformUS process was done slowly, carefully and openly. To suggest that we are doing something secretly or we are obscuring details of plans is plainly false,” she said. “Our university has been, is and always will be, committed to providing a positive and safe campus while maintaining our academic values of open, unencumbered discussion. These are statements I have uttered on numerous occasions and I repeat them again today—researchers, faculty, scientists, scholars, students, librarians—all enjoy academic freedom. We have a culture of encouraging vigorous debate.”

“In the case of senior leaders of the university, we met individually with each a minimum of three times to hear their reactions to comments in the TransformUS reports provided by committees dominated by faculty peers. In this particular case, I also met with the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine (at their request), and with Dr. Buckingham to discuss possible means of combining these two structures given their substantial overlap. Dr. Buckingham expressed himself forcefully on all of these occasions and his concerns were heard, although the recommendations in the action plan made public recently reflect a decision to push for amalgamation of these two units.”

Busch-Vishniac stressed that the University of Saskatchewan will remain focused on its goals. “Change is necessary. The university will not be deterred from efforts to ensure its financial sustainability—for current and future students, faculty, staff, alumni and communities and stakeholders all over the world.”

Martin Phillipson, Vice-Provost, will assume the role as interim executive director until a longer-term leader can be assigned.


For more information:

Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations Specialist


37 replies to “University of Saskatchewan reverses part of the decision regarding Executive Director of the School of Public Health

  1. Val

    There is the phrase “the buck stops here” I suggest the “buck” is in the president’s office and she should fall on her sword or otherwise relieve our university of her presence.


  2. Michael

    With 3 children getting closer to making choices for further education, I now think more and more about moving back to Calgary or Edmonton….


  3. James

    Dear President and Provost, we, not you, are the University. We, the alumni, donors, students, faculty, employees, taxpayers and citizens are the University and the very stakeholders you sought to keep uninformed. We have lost confidence in your ability to lead here and your legacy to our beloved campus will not be our University’s legacy. We do not see the appropriate leadership philosophy, nor the leadership skills we seek. To Dr. Buckingham, we are proud that you weren’t confused about to whom you were accountable, nor intimidated to speak out. We believe you were merely trying to do the right thing, but in the process you demonstrated to thousands of young adults what is sometimes required of an educated citizen. Bravo!


  4. U of S faculty member

    If the senior administrators are allowed to stay, then how will the U of S ever be able to recruit a top-notch Dean in the future? No academic from the outside would ever want to come and work as a Dean under the concept of leadership that the current admin espouses. We are doomed to decades of impotent weak-kneed Deans.


  5. Em

    The letter written by Brett Fairbairn, which is rife with vindictive anger at being disobeyed (insubordination) and goes miles past reasonable into the realm of vituperative poison, indicates a serious problem in senior administration. The just course is for Fairbairn to offer his resignation from his post. A full, public, and printed apology from the U of S to Buckingham and to the Usask community must be included.


  6. U of S Alumni

    The evidence is clear – the U of S was wrong and needs to accept its penance.
    If you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there !
    U of S seems lost – at least out of their depth


  7. Brian Noble

    The University President and Provost have erred in the most egregious way, expecting that Dean’s must keep secret that which they and the professoriate know is wrong. That is the word across the entire Academy in Canada today. U. Saskatchewan Sr. admin has done not just a disservice to its own credibility and reputation, but to the entire cause of Democratic Academic conversation and Academic Freedom in Canada. The honourable thing for the President to do is resign, and for the Board to find a replacement who supports transparent academic conversation and decision making. Give U.Saskatchewan back the good reputation it once enjoyed.


  8. Kate

    This provost is quick to condemn when he feels usurped. Yet lets other transgressions of senior leaders go unpunished for years. Why? Because the issues don’t make it to the public as this one has and they don’t affect him directly. Brett Fairbairn has got to go.


  9. sheldon cousins

    As an American who worked for several universities in the States before coming to usask, this is exactly how it would and should be handled. Unless we own our own establishment or business, then we get to say and do as we please. Once one works for an entity, there are rules and guidelines to follow for the greater good of students and the institution. Its ok to disagree on matters, but there comes a time when the institution decisions takes precedence and are final even if one disagrees and believes the decision is at the institution’s detriment. Embrace the decision and see where you could assist in moving such agenda. In the end, universities have presidents like any other entity for a good reason, and that is to progress the cause and at times make those difficult decisions like what was done. The signal and lesson here is one needs to comply and work with their employer and voice concerns in a reasonable manner always thing of the greater good with no selfish motives. Also, and at any time he or she believes their personal feelings, judgements about an issue is in direct conflict with their jobs there are two choices. Conform or seek employment elsewhere. The lesson here is a simple one, work with your employer to the best of your abilities and when you feel you can no longer do that, then move on with your skills and talent to another entity. No one is above the law not even the president of a country.


  10. Kevin

    Nice to see that the original “news” story on this has been wiped from the website–you know, the one where the admin that IBV tonight said “knew immediately” that they’d blundered doubled down on Dr. Buckingham’s dismissal. For shame.


  11. Maureen

    Another blunder by an administration intent on changing the U of S with their “Transform US” plan, whether the consequences are good or bad. When will the Board of Governors and/or Provincial Govt step in to initiate some control over these loose canons before damage is irreparable?


  12. Retired employee - can't be fired!

    Another “blunder” by an administration out of control with their “Transform US” agenda. When will the Board of Governors and/or Province of SK step in to save our University?


  13. UofSAlumnusWithNostalgia

    It appears that U of S is no longer the well respected institution I attended. Gone are the days of valuing arts, critical thinking, and technical excellence. Over time it has become a business, and the President and Provost are acting like small minded small business owners. This poor attempt at confusion as an excuse does not fly. Leaders with integrity would admit they made a mistake. As far as Transform US goes, if we value only the colleges that make money, we lose so much as a society.


  14. Ty

    Covering up incompetence to protect a privileged position by forcefully silencing criticism is nothing new. What is always surprising though, pleasantly, is finding a person with the courage to stand up for reason in the face of slander and damage to personal reputation and well being.


  15. Jeorjo Whel

    Dr. Busch-Vishniac and Dr. Fairbairn are clearly in over their heads and are doing more bad than good for the university. Whatever their intentions, they are not well-suited to running a university and should resign.


  16. Shaun Cunningham

    Was President Busch-Vishniac assigned her current position due to a talent for obfuscation as the statement above seems to indicate?


  17. Shaun Cunningham

    Was President of S President Busch-Vishniac assigned her current position due to her talent at obfuscation as the statement above seems to indicate? I have never been more embarrassed to call the U of S my alma mater – and shamed only once.


  18. John Conway, Emeritus Professor

    Just how can the UofS completely dismiss the value of tenure one day and then embrace it completely the next day? The reversal and apology are driven by one thing only, that is, the near unanimous condemnation of the firing.


  19. GD Robicheau

    The U of Calgary admin and BoG having been a train-wreck lately and been slapped around by the courts. Perhaps schools should be a little more choosey with whom they promote to the positions of power. Protection of tenured faculty is a tenant of higher education. It makes them look terribly unprofessional and like a joke of a school


  20. Jo Jo

    If the administration bullies deans like this, can you imagine how they handle students? I am very glad I did *not* attend UofS and feel sorry for any student who does. UofS should be ashamed.


  21. Mohan Matthen

    It was illegal to fire him from his tenured position without due process. So you are not offering him a tenured faculty position, and you are not “reversing” anything. You are simply recognizing that you had no right to do what you attempted to do.


  22. Kent Rondeau

    In the face of administrative bullying, Dr. Buckingham has shown remarkable courage to speak his mind on a matter so crucial to the future of the School of Public Health. The University of Saskatchewan deserves so much more from its appointed leaders who continue to demonstrate an appalling level of arrogance, mean-spiritedness, and incompetence.


  23. Ken

    Unfortunately your President used to be the Provost at our school, McMaster, where she undoubtedly learned her heavy handed ways and knee jerk actions. Sorry for your luck.


  24. Malin Rozon

    Curious to know which particular criticisms President Busch-Vishniac feels are “undeserved”. I haven’t seen any so far.


  25. Saskplanner

    Boy, the damage has been done… talk about someone damaging the reputation of the university, and it wasn’t him – it was the President and Provost, both of whom I know…..


  26. Ken Kwi

    Can you say wrongful dismissal lawsuit? Whatever reputation this university had is now diminished severely and in a permanent way .


  27. Mark Meyers

    This press release unfortunately still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Why didn’t the President and the Provost clear up any “confusion” about Buckingham’s contract before proceeding in such a reckless and draconian way? Certainly University counsel could have been consulted. Also, were Buckingham’s administrative leave and other benefits reinstated as part of this reversal? And why were police escorts necessary to remove him if indeed his presence on campus was not an issue? In any case, both the original actions and the clumsy backpedaling suggest a short-sighted and hamfisted approach to the issues, and have done severe damage to the university’s reputation. I have no doubt that the stigma of these actions will linger, hurting both recruiting and fundraising efforts. This is the sort of thing we might expect from some third-rate authoritarian institution somewhere else, not from a major (U-15) university in Canada.


  28. Bruce Denna

    Whoever came up with the decision to fire a tenured professor should likely be fired for doing so much damage to the international reputation of the university. The firing spread so far and wide so quickly that it will be a stain on the university’s reputation for years to come!


  29. William Williams

    The president should ask the Provost to apologize for his comments in the letter he sent to Dr. Buckingham. It clearly states in that letter that he was banned from campus. Since the University is publicly shaming Dr. Buckingham, I also suggest to the President that she publicly discipline the Provost for such a comment in the letter to Dr. Buckingham. I also suggest that the President publicly acknowledge that she poke in error in the above press release as the letter clearly states he was banned from campus.


    1. Paul Rapoport

      William Williams is correct. Both Dr. Busch-Vishniac and Dr. Fairbairn have damaged more than their own university. They should resign.


    2. Mark Meyers

      Good point. Here’s what the letter says: “You are to leave campus immediately and are not to return to your office, the School of Public Health or to the university.” At the end it adds that Buckham should “arrange a time that is appropriate to collect any remaining personal effects.”
      How is that not a ban?


    3. Douglas Taylor

      Well said. It is particularly galling to have the president deny that he had been banned from campus when the evidence is clearly there that she and the esteemed Fairbarn trumpeted that it was thus. Hope you caught Vishniac being interviewed on As it Happens tonight. She was rather unrepentent and matter of fact of the whole thing. Public discipline and/or rebuke is certainly in order but who is higher up to do such a thing. The Board of Governors is likely just a collection of political hacks and yes men.


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