Yesterday, news broke that the University of Saskatchewan had fired Robert Buckingham, Dean of Public Health, for publicly criticizing the administration’s “TransformUS” plan. TransformUS is the result of a controversial program prioritization process at the university, similar to processes underway at several Ontario institutions.
Today, OCUFA President Kate Lawson wrote a letter to University of Saskatchewan condemning the firing as a grievous violation of academic freedom. The text of the letter is reproduced below:
Dear President Busch-Vishniac;
On behalf of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), I am writing to express my deep concern over the firing of Robert Buckingham, Dean of Public Health. To fire a tenured professor for speaking his conscience is a violation of the most cherished principle of the university. To do so in an effort to protect a controversial and flawed program prioritization process sets a dangerous and destructive precedent.
Academic freedom is at the heart of every university, be it in Saskatchewan, Ontario, or anywhere around the globe. It is absolutely essential to professors and academic librarians in order for them to teach and research effectively. If academic freedom means anything, it means the freedom to criticize and comment without fear of reprisal. The actions of the University of Saskatchewan contradict this core value in almost every respect.
We are further concerned at the muzzling of academic opinion given the fact that TransformUS is the product of a program prioritization process. Such processes have received widespread criticism from university professors across Canada for flaws in conception, method, analysis, and outcomes. They are also highly divisive, as your own example illustrates. It is precisely at times like this – when controversial policies have been proposed and serious questions of academic integrity have been raised – that the freedom to speak and criticize freely needs to by guarded, not trodden upon.
OCUFA joins with faculty across Canada in condemning the firing of Robert Buckingham. We urge you to reverse your actions and restore academic freedom at the University of Saskatchewan. I welcome any opportunity to discuss this matter with you further.
President, OCUFA and Associate Professor, University of Waterloo
UPDATE: The Univesity of Saskatchewan has offered to restore Buckingham’s tenured faculty position, but not his Dean position.