On May 29, 2014, Interim President Gordon Barnhart (BA’67, PhD’98) sat down for an interview with Shannon Boklaschuk (BA’00, MPA’14), a communications coordinator in Student and Enrolment Services Division at the U of S. The following is the text from that interview.
Q: Many stakeholders, both on and off campus, have expressed their concerns about the issues that have arisen at the U of S. What would you like to say to faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the public?
GB: What I’ve been saying—and I very strongly believe this—(is) that I think we’ve turned the corner, or turned the page, as the chair of the Board of Governors has said. I don’t think anybody is minimizing the problems that we’ve had, but that we’re now saying (is), OK. Those things happened. Some corrective action has taken place, and perhaps more yet will come. We (will) start anew, and start rebuilding our reputation. I think people have to appreciate that the things that the university does so well were being done all the way through all of this. It’s just that the controversy took precedence over everything else, and that was all that people were thinking about and talking about.
Q: The University of Saskatchewan’s reputation has been tarnished locally, nationally and internationally in recent weeks. How can our reputation be restored?
GB: I think that it has been. Some people have been saying that perhaps that’s a very long-term thing. I’m thinking that perhaps it won’t be. We certainly have some donors that are showing that they’re unhappy, but I think that we can very quickly show them that we’re taking actions to solve the problems. I’m very, very confident the reputation will (be restored). I’m seeing it already in terms of a positive feeling from the emails that I’m receiving. I think it will also depend on how we work our way through the change that’s needed…in a very, hopefully, painless, or less painful, approach.
Q: Some alumni have questioned the value of their U of S degrees in light of the recent events on campus. How would you respond to their concerns?
GB: I think I want to reassure them that their degree is worth as much now as it ever has (been worth). I think the University of Saskatchewan has a solid reputation, and that won’t change. I don’t think their degree has lost its value at all. The first week in June is a time to celebrate student success at convocation.
Q: Why should we continue to have pride in this institution?
GB: This is an oasis for learning, for research. It’s a community that works together. That’s very enriching in its own way. We should also have pride, I think, in the number of people who have graduated from here and that they have gone on for very well-established, illustrious careers for the province and for the country and for the world. And when you look at people like Gordon Thiessen (BA’59, MA’62, LLD’97), the former governor of the Bank of Canada, he was from Saskatchewan. He graduated (from) the U of S. Those are the kinds of people that we can very proud of, because they came from here, small-town Saskatchewan, and have gone on to do great things in their careers.
Q: Many faculty, staff and students have observed that morale has been low on campus. How can that be improved?
GB: I think we have to stop dealing with the negative, and we have to start to say this is an excellent place to study and to work. I just met in the hallway five minutes ago a young woman who’s here with her mother, and she’s been accepted to university in the fall and she is so excited to be coming to the U of S. That’s one example, but I think we have to take our focus away from the cost-cutting, even though that’s important. We have to shift our focus to educating the young minds that are coming here from across this nation and realize that we have some very, very good things happening.
Q: You have said that you anticipate serving as interim president and vice-chancellor for about 12 to 18 months. What are your immediate priorities?
GB: Obviously, the first and the biggest priority would be to make sure that we improve the reputation, which we’ve already talked about. (We need to) make sure that we have our financial house in order, but also make sure that we have good, clear direction as to where we’re going from an academic point of view. I think we need to help people restore their confidence in the campus. It’s a wonderful campus, and I think we’re all proud of it.
Q: You have previously served as Saskatchewan’s 20th Lieutenant Governor, clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislature, clerk of the Canadian Senate and university secretary at the U of S. Why did you agree to take the job of interim president and vice-chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan?
GB: I was happily minding my own business and working part-time at three different contracts—one with the province, one with the city and one with a mining institute—and the invitation came from the Board of Governors saying that they were experiencing difficulties and they wondered if I would take over. I first thought, “Why me? What do I have that I can contribute?” But they seem to have great confidence in me. And I love this institution. I’m not interested in doing it for the long term, but I said I will do it for a year, year and a half. It will depend on how long it will take for them to complete the search and to find a candidate that will serve this university well. My goal there would be to make sure that I can leave this place in very good shape for the person who will follow.