U of S firing of president Busch-Vishniac relieves students

A whirlwind week of firings and resignations culminating in the dismissal of the president of the University of Saskatchewan has some people expressing relief with how things have turned out.

Controversy arose after Prof. Robert Buckingham was stripped of tenure

Protesters marched on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan on Tuesday, the day before the university president was fired. (CBC)
Former University of Saskatchewan president Ilene Busch-Vishniac is expected to receive a severance package of about $450,000. (CBC)

A whirlwind week of firings and resignations culminating in the dismissal of the president of the University of Saskatchewan has some people expressing relief at how things have turned out.

"For myself and a lot of other people, there's a sense of relief that something's come out not only of our actions but on top of it that people are being held accountable here," Nick Marlatte, a university student who helped spearhead a rally on campus Tuesday, told CBC News Thursday, the day after the university's board of directors announced it had fired Ilene Busch-Vishniac, who was two years into a five-year term as president.

It is estimated she will receive about $450,000 in severance. Busch-Vishniac has also been told she can remain on faculty in the college of engineering, in line with her academic background prior to entering the ranks of university administration.

"It's always sad news when someone gets fired," Prof. Robert Buckingham observed when asked about the sacking of the university's top official.

Buckingham was in the same position a week ago when he was abruptly fired, escorted off campus and stripped of tenure. He had publicly criticized university leaders over their handling of an initiative called TransformUS, aimed at restructuring the institution and saving money.

Buckingham was quickly returned to his tenured position after Busch-Vishniac said officials had, in her words, blundered.

University of Saskatchewan provost Brett Fairbairn resigned Monday over the Buckingham matter, and the president's firing came two days later.

Buckingham said he hopes the university will also change what he has described as a "top-down" plan for restructuring.

"Hopefully what will happen next is that this will be a more inclusive process where we'll look at student input, faculty input as well as administrative deans' input," he said.

Interim president Gordon Barnhart said Thursday he will start by learning more about the plan.

"I want to make sure I have a good grasp on where we are at and also to see how much money has been saved already and how close we are to the targets," he said. "Then we have to plan, from there, how we go ahead."

At the political level, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall expressed approval of the choice of Barnhart to step in as president.

Calls to minister from around world

The minister responsible for advanced education, Rob Norris, added he was hearing from many quarters about concerns over the recent goings-on at the university.

"I was getting calls from Europe. We were getting calls from across the country. I was hearing from other academics, other academic leaders," he said. Norris also said he was told that some professors were actively looking for other jobs to take them away from the university.

The board of governors said Wednesday it will announce plans to find a permanent president, and a new provost, sometime in the future. Barnhart said Thursday the recruitment process could take 12 to 18 months.

The turmoil also has many people pondering the reputation of the university and how it has been affected. The changes, however, were made with some optimism.

"I think with new leadership it's going to regain its reputation," student Joshua Grella said Thursday.


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