Statement from the U of S Board of Governors: Changes to university leadership

Today the University of Saskatchewan Board of Governors announced the termination, without cause, of the appointment of Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac as President and Vice-Chancellor, effective immediately. She is eligible to take up her faculty post in the university’s College of Engineering.

In the wake of an ongoing reputational crisis related to recent leadership decisions, the Board met on May 19, 2014, and determined that further due diligence was required. The board has since gathered more information and has deliberated again. The board feels strongly that the university’s ongoing operations and its reputational rebuilding efforts will be more effective with new leadership.

It was 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 board has named Dr. Gordon Barnhart as the Acting President of the University of Saskatchewan. The board has every confidence that Dr. Barnhart will provide strong leadership at this critical time in the university’s history. He comes to the post with five decades of history with the university. The board is very pleased that Dr. Barnhart has accepted this acting role. He will begin in the acting role on May 22, 2014.

The board would also like to state in the strongest possible terms, that the University of Saskatchewan is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. It would also like to stress that it believes that tenure is a sacrosanct principle within this university.

Finally, the Board of Governors at the University of Saskatchewan continues to be strongly committed to the goal of financial sustainability and renewal.

Details regarding searches for both president and provost will be announced at a later date.

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Biography of Gordon Barnhart
As a well-known historian, Barnhart  completed his BA (’66) in history at the U of S, and, after completing a masters degree at the University of Regina, returned to the U of S to complete his PhD in history (’98). From 2000 to 2005, he served as the University Secretary, and later taught political studies and history classes in the College of Arts and Science. Since 2012, Dr. Barnhart has been an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Science, Department of History. Gordon Barnhart was the twentieth Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan, a post to which he was appointed in August 2006.  Prior to this, Barnhart served in a range of provincial and federal government positions, including Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly and Clerk of the Senate.


19 replies to “Statement from the U of S Board of Governors: Changes to university leadership

  1. Ullrich Fischer

    The BoG did the right thing in this case. The whole fundamental principles of free speech and tenure have been upheld and a clearly incompetent adminstration has been appropriately restructured with minimal risk of further legal ramifications from the former administrators. The right of professors to openly express their views without fear of losing their jobs has been upheld. Hopefully the replacements in those administrative positions will be less prone to create such a scandal in the future by acting out of anger at perceived insubordination.

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  2. Jonathan

    I hear on the radio this morning that the University is shutting down the community gardens at the student residences. I also understand that continuing education programs are being cut or consumed by colleges. These include open enrolment art, music, horticulture, leadership and ecology programs. It seems like we are shooting ourselves in the foot in the public relations battle. Our reputation was build on extension work 107 years ago by extending agriculture programs to the very founders of this province. Should we be giving all that up?

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  3. Mitch

    Well it sure has been an interesting month of May at the University of Saskatchewan. With all that has/will be happening, I’m sure productivity at the U is down with all the discussions happening lately.
    With the Executive Director of the School of Public Health being dismissed, which was legal but unfortunately due to touching his tenure position, errors were made and resulted in the mess. Where in all this are Human Resources and the Legal team? Should this have NOT been caught by HR and corrected before the “Personal and Confidential” letter was given to the Executive Director which was later plastered all over the Star Phoenix, CBC, CTV, GLOBAL and the internet for all to see. Guess this day and age, Confidential doesn’t mean private, personal anymore! For this reason alone the Executive Director needed to be fired. Being in that high of a position, you should know better. But then so should HR and everyone else involved.
    So when will the Associate Vice President of HR be let go?

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  4. Bill

    The message is clear. If you disagree with senior administrators after you have had ample opportunity to express your views and after a University Council vote of confidence (42 – 18) in the TransFormUS process, all you have to do is breach your contract of confidentiality, which entices an administrative reaction, go public , and create a media storm devoid of rational discussion . This action results in the dismissal of those senior leaders. How do we mend a broken and perhaps dysfunctional governance system that may well result in paralysis anytime major change is needed? Like it or not a precedent has been set about what to do if you disagree with a direction leaders are taking.

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    1. Goerge

      As a matter of fact, the problem with the previous administration’s actions was not that they terminated a dean, which is within their right, but taking away a professor’s tenure without due process. The administration could have removed Professor Buckingham as a dean but had absolutely no basis in revoking his tenure without due process. If a university administrator does not understand their own administrative procedure,s/he deserves to be fired.

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  5. Chris

    This decision by the Board disappoints me. I believe the Board is not removing the President because she acted improperly in dismissing the Dean, but rather because she mismanaged a situation that led to a downgrade of the University’s reputation. While I agree that this would be a reason to remove the President, I think that students, faculty, and the public are looking at this action by the Board as justifying their views that academic freedom was being trampled on when the Dean was removed from his position. In fact, if any manager at any company criticized their President of CEO in a public way for decisions that had already been discussed and established, and released private company emails to the public, security would without a doubt escort them to the door. Academic freedom refers to one’s studies and research, not to one’s position on University policy – policy that is and should be dictated by the Board, the President and her senior executive.

    No academic wants their program cut – who can blame them. Are all of our programs at U of S important? Yes, without question they are. But we can’t escape the fact that there is a huge deficit looming over the University if drastic changes are not made, and that will involve decisions that are not popular with some people. No matter what is cut, someone will lose their job or be upset that their program has been downsized, but it still has to be done.

    After this episode, my guess is that no Canadian University President will have the guts to make tough decisions against the wishes of the academics, and I am worried that our University and others in Canada will sink into debt because of it.

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  6. Dino Mechery

    I recommend Dr.Barry Ziola Director College of Medicine be appointed as an advisor to the board of governers.He can correct the mistakes taken in the past by the administration and can guide the admin on the right course

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  7. Naz Islam

    Finally Board has taken a right decision firing 2 top leaders, right time for right step, this has profound effect on further ahead of this university. I highly appreciate this. Now come to the point where the problem begins, the TransformUS. Change the idea, think as metamorphosisUS or just simply developUS. Dont cut budget but utilize money and skills efficiently as University shines forever. Thanks!

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  8. John Pharr

    I second John Berlinsky’s comments about the use of search firms. Over my 40 years at the UofS I have seen little evidence that such ‘head hunters’ know what they are doing or are worth their egregious fees.

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  9. Justin Pfefferle

    These have been challenging times on campus, but the efforts of students, faculty, and support staff to organise and speak out against the corporate hijacking of the institution have restored at least some of my faith in the university as a bastion of democratic exchange and intellectual freedom. I’m especially heartened by the fact that those who voiced their opposition to TransformUS and the firing of Dr. Buckingham did so in a peaceful manner, while still being resolute and committed in their resistance.

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  10. Dr. Niyi Olaloku

    Administration is a mix of consultation, dialogue, testing the water and compromise before making decisions. You need tactful and diplomacy and the courage to change course if public opinion does not support decisions made.
    A university President should along with people who dissent and carry everyone along. If you cannot take criticism and dissent, you cannot be a leader…PERIOD. Power is not absolute, there is accountability. The harm has been done, we have to move forward and allow time to heal the wound.

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  11. Neil Thomlinson

    I hope that the departures of President and Provost don’t distract people’s attention from the REAL problem, which is the provincial government. Early signs are not good. While we are all committed “to the goals of financial sustainability and renewal,” sustainability can come in many forms besides cuts. My worry is that the Board is still sipping that government’s Kool-Aid.

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  12. John Berlinsky

    Before embarking on the search for a new president, the Board should review the search procedures followed in the past. In particular they should consider the role of the search firm and how well aligned the interests of the search firm are with those of the university. They should also consider how top candidates are vetted and particularly how references are checked. Short-listed candidates will typically have well-established track records, but to fully understand those records it is important to speak to a broad enough range of former colleagues and staff to learn of potential problems as well as past successes.

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  13. Sasa Stefanovic

    This move by the Board of Governors at the University of Saskatchewan, especially following the resignation of Provost and VP, Academic, restored my view of USask as one of the premiere universities in the country, willing to fight for and uphold academic freedom and integrity.
    Thank you!

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    1. R Knowling

      I agree with this comment. The statement from the Board of Governors highlights their anxiety abiout the damage this episode did to the University’s reputation but little concern for the violation of university institutional standards. Surely that should be their primary concern. As it is stated above the BoG seems to be saying “If no one had objected to Buckingham’s dismissal we would not be doing this”. This coupled with the fact that the President was let go “without cause”, which is essentially the gentlest way of say “You aren’t a good fit in this position”, shows how terrified the BoG is of this entire situation

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  14. Paul Denham

    I am pleased (and, I must admit, somewhat surprised) that the President has been fired. Perhaps now we can get on with the job of making U of S into a great university instead of an Institute of Technology.

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    1. Richard

      Read the biographies of University Presidents from the 1950s forward. A scientific institution has long been the agenda. Never for a moment believe that the humanities aren’t at risk here.

      Reply

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