University of Saskatchewan board fires president Ilene Busch-Vishniac

Ilene Busch-Vishniac has been terminated without cause as president of the University of Saskatchewan.

Gordon Barnhart, former lieutenant-governor, appointed interim president

University of Saskatchewan board fires president

9 years ago
Duration 1:55
Earlier this week, Ilene Busch-Vishniac said she had no plans to resign. She was terminated, without cause, by the board on Wednesday

Ilene Busch-Vishniac has been terminated without cause as president of the University of Saskatchewan.

The board of governors said Busch-Vishniac will continue in a teaching capacity at the university.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall used his Twitter account to congratulate Gordon Barnhart, who had been appointed interim president. Barnhart, a long-time academic, is the former lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan.

The move to let Busch-Vishniac go comes after a flurry of criticism surrounding a decision to dismiss and end the tenure of a professor who openly criticized the university's leadership. That professor, Robert Buckingham, was returned to his teaching duties after Busch-Vishniac conceded the move was a "blunder".

Gordon Barnhart, pictured in 2011, is now the interim president of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. (Roy Antal/CP)
Although his tenure was restored, Buckingham was not continued in his administrative job as dean of the School of Public Health.

Just days later, prior to an emergency meeting of the Board of Governors of the university, a senior official, Provost Brett Fairbairn, tendered his resignation saying he accepted responsibility for the botched dismissal of Buckingham.

"The board feels strongly that the university’s ongoing operations and its reputational rebuilding efforts will be more effective with new leadership," the board said in a statement Wednesday night.

Busch-Vishniac's dismissal was described as taking effect "immediately".

The board noted the controversy surrounding Buckingham's dismissal had been troubling.

Who is Gordon Barnhart?

A well-known historian, Gordon 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.

Barnhart was the twentieth Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan, a post to which he was appointed in August 2006.  Prior to that, Barnhart served in a range of provincial and federal government positions, including Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly and Clerk of the Senate.

- Source: University of Saskatchewan

"It was a painful week for the University of Saskatchewan," the statement said. "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."

At the centre of the controversy is TransformUS, an initiative underway at the university to restructure programs with a goal to reduce costs. Buckingham's criticism of the initiative set off the chain of events that led to the board's move.

While the board was unhappy with the moves against Buckingham's tenure, the body continued to support the TransformUS initiative.

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

Busch-Vishniac was just approaching the two-year mark of her five-year term as president.

Before her 2012 appointment to the U of S, she was provost at McMaster University in Hamilton for five years.

The board said her teaching duties, if she takes them, would be in the university's college of engineering.