Robert Buckingham offered tenured role at Saskatchewan university after firing

The University of Saskatchewan says it will restore Prof. Robert Buckingham to his tenured academic position, but not to his other post as head of the School of Public Health after he was fired for speaking out against cuts and restructuring plans.

University of Saskatchewan president offers public apology to Buckingham

Robert Buckingham, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan since 2009, was fired on Wednesday for critical comments about the school's restructuring plans. (CBC)

The University of Saskatchewan says it will restore Prof. Robert Buckingham to his tenured academic position, but not to his other post as head of the School of Public Health after he was fired for speaking out against cuts and restructuring plans.

U of S president Ilene Busch-Vishniac told CBC News that Buckingham should never have been fired from his tenured position, calling the dismissal "a blunder." She said the university is looking into how it happened and those involved will be disciplined.

University of Saskatchewan president Ilene Busch-Vishniac says the firing of Robert Buckingham from his tenured position was 'a blunder.' (David Shield/CBC News)

"This was not a decision made by one person. This was a decision made by my team. I am very comfortable standing here telling you it was the wrong decision," she said. 

"I issue a public apology to Doctor Buckingham for putting him in the position that he felt his tenured position was threatened," Busch-Vishniac said. 

In a news release from earlier today, however, the university says Buckingham will not be given back his job as head of the university's School of Public Health.

“Academic freedom and tenure are sacrosanct at the University of Saskatchewan. This case, however, is not about academic freedom," Busch-Vishniac said in the release. "Dr. Buckingham was removed from his executive director position for acting contrary to the expectations of his leadership role.” 

Buckingham was fired Wednesday morning for criticizing the institution's budget cuts as part of the TransformUS restructuring plan.

“The confusion on this issue stems from differing interpretations based on his contract," Busch-Vishniac said. "Because we hold tenure in high regard, we will immediately reverse that part of our initial decision.” 

Busch-Vishniac also said Buckingham was not banned from the university.

'No hard feelings' says Buckingham

Today, Buckingham said he'd love to go back to the University of Saskatchewan and that he has no hard feelings toward anyone, including the university's administration.

Buckingham is unapologetic about speaking out against cost-cutting on campus.

"I should also say I have the right to disagree, even as a dean, to university policies," Buckingham said.

Buckingham has not yet spoken to university officials.

"I may not win, and I accept to lose, but at least I have the right to say publicly, 'I disagree with this, for these reasons,'" he said.

When Buckingham showed up for work on Wednesday, he said he was met by two campus security officers. Buckingham said the university claimed he breached his contract through the letter, and irrevocably damaged his relationship with the school.

The letter Buckingham released on Tuesday was called "The Silence of the Deans."

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

Province asks for emergency board meeting

Earlier Thursday, Saskatchewan Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris had demanded answers from the university about Buckingham's firing, and had sent a letter to the board of governors.

The provincial government has also requested an emergency meeting of the board of governors.

Meanwhile, Premier Brad Wall expressed his concern for the university. 

"We need to make sure that institution, its reputation and its ability to operate at the highest possible standard as a whole, are protected," Wall said.

Brett Fairbairn, provost and vice-president academic at the University of Saskatchewan, said in a statement issued on Wednesday that leadership positions at the institution are roles of trust and stewardship. 

"It is not open to anyone to wear the hat of a leader and a non-leader simultaneously," Fairbairn said in the statement. 

Fairbairn said that being a leader includes putting the good of the organization ahead of one's own interests or views. He added that deans and other senior leaders had opportunities throughout the TransformUS process to raise their views in small and large group settings.


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