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University of Saskatchewan students protest TransformUS

SASKATOON – Tensions remain high at the University of Saskatchewan campus as students rallied to show their staunch disapproval of the TransformUS cost-cutting program on Tuesday.

More than 500 people attended the protest and many showed up hoisting signs in protest.

The school became shrouded in further controversy with the firing of Dr. Robert Buckingham, the former dean of the school of public health.

An emergency meeting of the board of governors was held over the weekend.

On Monday evening, a release was issued revealing the resignation of Provost and Vice President Academic Brett Fairbairn.

“I think the provost stepping down is excellent news,” said Chelsea Davis, one of the organizers of the student-led rally.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the solution to the problem. I think there are other members of administration – including the president of this university – that need to be held accountable for what happened here on campus in the last couple of weeks.”

That sentiment is being widely echoed across campus, with students at Tuesday’s afternoon rally grasping signs that take specific aim at President Ilene Busch-Vishniac.

“Certainly academic freedom and freedom to speak out is a right we all have and universities should be the bastion of that proponent,” Buckingham told Global News during an interview.

Buckingham was stripped of his leadership role at the university after criticizing the TransformUS plan.

The story generated worldwide interest. Boston-native Buckingham said while he is surprised by the attention he has received, he hopes it will shed light on the role of the dean in the university structure.

He also offers students hope in the midst of what appears to be chaos and uncertainty in academia.

Buckingham says does not hold any ill will towards the school or any senior level officials, including the now resigned Fairbairn.

If anything, he expressed sympathy for the former provost and says he believes the school can and will move forward.

Fairbairn’s departure is a significant one. He was not only a former student at the university, he was also president of the student’s union.

In an article obtained by Global News with the assistance of the University of Saskatchewan archives and campus publication The Sheaf, a slender, youthful Fairbairn is pictured as a candidate in the running for presidency.

The piece dates back to October 1978 when Fairbairn was a second year arts and sciences student.

He not only won that election; he was re-elected in 1979.

Flash forward 35 years and leadership at the school is not only an issue that concerns the students, it has left staff members seeking answers and the political community doing likewise.

“The reputational damage – and it is deepening – it must be addressed and I think that connects to some of the leadership questions that linger,” said Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris.

“It’s something that I am deeply concerned about.”

“I’ve heard from academic leaders across the country,” Norris told Global News.

“And it’s in some of those conversations that I’ve heard about some faculty members at the University of Saskatchewan actually looking to go elsewhere – and this is deeply disturbing.”

A replacement for Fairbairn has not been named.

University of Saskatchewan students protest TransformUS | Globalnews.ca (external - login to view)