Now in the early days of retirement, I am aghast and angry at the incompetent manner in which the University of Saskatchewan has been governed for the past two years. This year has been particularly eventful with the partial implementation of the highly unpopular TransformUS restructuring process that has resulted in the termination of 250 jobs, with more layoffs expected. In some departments secretaries have been fired by overzealous middle managers, and the creation of a shared administrative commons has been a total failure in the Humanities and Fine Arts division of the College of Arts and Science with which I have been associated.
Many support staff duties have been passed on to faculty, putting added pressure on their primary responsibility to teach and do research. Big departments continue to receive more resources and faculty positions. Smaller departments get further squeezed and are even threatened with elimination or absorption within cockeyed amalgamation schemes for mega units. There is no notion of how such mega units will be helpful to faculty and, more importantly, to students. You cannot throw apples, oranges, pears, and kiwi into one basket, mash them up, and sell this amalgamated produce as “ONE FRUIT.” No one will buy this ”inter-fruitary” FRUIT.
Students are being screwed over at the same time with tuition increases every year, diminution of their program choices, and continued cuts in departmental research and teaching assistance monies. No wonder, then, that they are angry and mobilizing against TransformUS and other pathetic decisions made by an incompetent administration. In my 44 years of teaching at the U of S, I never witnessed such discontent on the part of students.
Things became even more serious in May with the unprecedented firing of professor Robert Buckingham, the resignation of VP-Academic Brett Fairbairn, who had fired Buckingham, and the subsequent firing of university president Ilene Busch-Vishniac by the Board of Governors. The public proclamations made by Fairbairn and Busch-Vishniac have presented a very ugly picture of the university’s administration and governance.
I have to put the blame for the present predicament at the U of S on three parties:
(1) The provincial government of Saskatchewan, which has reduced its funding of the U of S and failed miserably in its intervention during the recent events;
(2) The Board of Governors of the U of S, which is not a transparent entity and pushes its corporate agenda amid secrecy, incompetence, and sluggish decision-making. The Board has been an enemy of academic freedom, giving veto power over faculty tenure decisions to the university president;
(3) The acting interim president Gordon Barnhart. He is a smooth talker who won’t make tough decisions (such as terminating the disgraced TransformUS plan) and who has refused to get a forensic audit of the U of S’s finances. He has also refused to do a proper review of the administrative blunders in May that brought national and international condemnation to the university.
These parties need to make decisive choices. The provincial government needs to increase funding to the U of S and play a more proactive role to ensure that the original mission of the U of S is honoured. The Board of Governors must immediately revoke the veto power on tenure given to the president. The Board must also make minutes of their meetings public. The interim president must: institute a review of administrative decisions made in May and make its findings public; get a forensic audit of the university’s finances; and terminate the TransformUS process immediately.
Only when all of these decisions are made will the reputation of the U of S be restored and its public image enhanced. The hour of urgency is now. Let the students learn. Let faculty teach and conduct research without administrative interference. That’s the way the U of S ought to be.