University of Saskatchewan deals with damaged reputation

Gerry Klein says the University of Saskatchewan has to take action to foster a more positive image.

Robert Buckingham gets tenured position back, but many question university's handling of the affair

University of Saskatchewan president Ilene Busch-Vishniac issued a public apology to Robert Buckingham. (CBC)

The University of Saskatchewan has given Robert Buckingham a tenured position back, but many people across Canada are questioning whether it's enough to restore the university's damaged reputation.

Buckingham was fired Wednesday morning for criticizing the institution's budget cuts as part of the TransformUS restructuring plan. On Thursday, U of S president Ilene Busch-Vishniac called it a "blunder."

Gerry Klein, a columnist with the StarPhoenix who has spent many years covering university issues, joined Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski to discuss the University of Saskatchewan's reputation on Friday.

Klein said the university has to take action to foster a more positive image because its reputation has been damaged by its handling of the Buckingham affair.

Robert Buckingham was offered a tenured position on Thursday after he was fired on Wednesday. (CBC)

"It was a huge blunder, she's (Busch-Vishniac) absolutely right," Klein said. 

The past few days have not been easy for senior administrators at the U of S, leading to Busch-Vishniac making a public statement on Thursday.

"I have no excuse for what happened," she said. "I will simply tell you that was a blunder. We will, as things calm down, be doing a post-mortem saying how did we get there to make sure it never happens again."

Busch-Vishniac also issued a public apology to Buckingham. However, Klein said a lot more will need to be done to win back confidence. 

"It's difficult to see how they can get TransformUS — which was already poorly received on campus — back on track," Klein said. "An exercise such as that requires the confidence of the community and they don't have that."

Klein said the provincial government's concern on this matter — Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris requested an emergency meeting of the board of governors — adds pressure on the U of S administration.

"The pressure on the board to regain that confidence in the university community will be great," Klein said. "It's hard to see how that can be done under the current structure, under the management."

U of S students concerned

The episode has only intensified concerns about the entire TransformUS process, according to Izabela Vlahu, president of the Graduate Students' Association.

"The whole idea that deans and directors of schools have been told to not publicly disagree with the process TransformUS, even back in December, when in fact the consultation process began, I think that influenced very severely how the whole debate went on," Vlahu said.

She added the university's senior leadership doesn't seem capable of defending the process publicly.

"They do not want any public opposition from other leaders on campus," Vlahu said.

Such concerns were echoed by other students, including Mitchell Corbett.

"I think it's just putting more holes in the whole TransformUS process," he said, when online approval rates were already "reasonably low".

Corbett said it has damaged students' trust in the university administration.

Emily Rogal called Buckingham's treatment an overreaction.

"If they were trying to save face on the TransformUS movement, I don't think it was probably a good way to go about it," Rogal said. Now the university will have to do some "serious cleanup," she added.

Celeste Wagner said students are expressing a lot of anger on Facebook, a reaction she finds both unsurprising and surprising.

"It does seem a little outrageous, the extent they went to with firing him and banning him from campus and everything," Wagner said. "But, yes, because I guess you don't see this every day, like this much outrage over anything, really."


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