University provost quits amid firing flap

By: The Canadian Press

 | May 20, 2014 - 11:19 AM |
SASKATOON - The board of governors at the University of Saskatchewan says it needs more time to consider its leadership following a controversy over a professor who was fired for speaking out about budget cuts.

The school's provost, Brett Fairbairn, resigned shortly before an emergency meeting of the board Monday night.

Board members later left the meeting without making any decisions.

The board is to meet again next week.

Robert Buckingham was removed as executive director of the School of Public Health and escorted off campus last week after writing a letter to the government and Opposition New Democrats about an overhaul at the university.

The school later backtracked and offered Buckingham back his tenure position, although it said he wouldn't be reinstated as director.

Board chair Susan Milburn said in a statement early Tuesday that its members are aware of the public outcry over Buckingham's firing and discussed its leadership "in depth."

"We do not want to act in haste and therefore we have not made any final decisions," she said. "We will conclude our due diligence before a decision is rendered on university leadership."

Fairbairn, who also acted as the university's vice-president academic, had signed Buckingham's termination letter.

A news release about his resignation said he made the decision because of his "genuine interest in the well-being of the University of Saskatchewan."

Fairbairn also noted that he had been student union president at the university from 1978 to 1980 and a faculty member since 1986.

"I believe the work I have done as a student, faculty member, and provost has contributed to the growth of our university's reputation. The same interests lead me to offer stepping aside from the provost role as the best contribution I can now offer under present circumstances," he wrote.

University president Ilene Busch-Vishniac thanked Fairbairn "for his dedication and hard work over the years." She said an interim provost hasn't been appointed yet.

She earlier called the decision to fire Buckingham a "blunder" and said the school is not trying to muzzle its professors.

The university's decision to reinstate Buckingham came after Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he wanted an urgent meeting between the province and the university board. Wall said he spoke with the board and its chairman, but did not insist on Buckingham being reinstated.

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