University of Alberta president defends Ilene Busch-Vishniac
Indira Samarasekera says the former U of S president shouldn't have been fired
The president of the University of Alberta says the University of Saskatchewan's Board of Governors acted too hastily when it fired former President Ilene Busch-Vishniac.
Speaking to CBC's The Afternoon Edition Wednesday, U of A President Indira Samarasekera admitted Busch-Vishniac and her management team made a mistake when it terminated the tenure of Professor Robert Buckingham earlier this month.
However, she says the decision to fire the president, even after the Buckingham decision was quickly reversed, will make finding a new president very difficult.
"The consequences are going to last a very long time," said Samarasekera. "Because if you want individuals of quality, they're going to want to ask the question, do I want to go to an institution where I try to do the right thing, I make a mistake, I correct the mistake, next thing I know I'm (gone)?"
Buckingham was fired from his position as Executive Director of the School of Public Health after he publicly spoke out against the university's cost-cutting restructuring plan, called TransformUS.
While Samarasekera says deans and other administrators should be able to speak out on policy issues while they are being drafted, she says once they're in place, it's the responsibility of deans to toe the line.
"If you are in a leadership position where you have to execute those decisions, if you remain against them, how on earth are you going to execute them with any kind of passion?" she said. "And what does it say to the people that are reporting to you or a part of your unit that have to carry out that mandate? It makes absolutely no sense at all."
Samarasekera also says the idea of academic freedom was never in jeopardy in this case. She makes a distinction between research and freedom of speech.
"Academic freedom is so hopelessly misunderstood," she said. "Academic freedom is there for you to be able to speak about things you absolutely are an expert on. We're talking about free speech, here."
Earlier this week, the University of Saskatchewan's Board of Governors met to discuss how to get the TransformUS restructuring plan back on track. Some faculty members and students are calling the process flawed, and want to see the plan scrapped.