Students relieved with Sask. university's president firing

Ilene Busch-Vishniac let go Wednesday after funding controversy

SASKATOON — University of Saskatchewan students who called for the Saskatoon school’s president to resign say they’re relieved that she has been fired.

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, who sparked a storm of controversy with planned budget cuts and by firing a tenured professor, was herself let go Wednesday.

Nick Marlatte, who organized a rally earlier this week, says students are pleased to see the university’s board of governors change direction, but he also says there’s not much trust about what comes next.

Marlatte acknowledges that the school has to face its projected $44.5-million deficit.

But he argues that students, staff and faculty haven’t been respected in the budget overhaul and it remains to be seen if that will happen.

University board chairwoman Susan Milburn says the school’s reputation was a key consideration in firing the president.

Milburn says a number of factors went into the decision to let Busch-Vishniac go, but fallout over the recent firing of Prof. Robert Buckingham — who was also executive director of the School of Public Health — didn’t help.

“There was worry about the reputation of the university and so it was a lot of reputational issues and how we could move forward,” Milburn said at a hastily called news conference after Busch-Vishniac’s firing Wednesday night.

“It didn’t end up well for the university. The reputation of the university was tarnished during that period of time.”

Busch-Vishniac was the target of vocal criticism after Buckingham was fired last week for speaking out about budget cuts. The president admitted a few days later that the university had “made a blunder” in its handling of Buckingham.

He was offered back — and accepted — his tenure position, but Busch-Vishniac said he would not be reinstated as head of the School of Public Health. She said leadership at the university is expected to align behind the decisions of the administration.

Uproar over the Buckingham debacle also led to the resignation Monday of Brett Fairbairn, the university’s provost and vice-president academic. Fairbairn had signed Buckingham’s termination letter.

The board said in a statement issued late Wednesday that it “feels strongly that the university’s ongoing operations and its reputational rebuilding efforts will be more effective with new leadership.”

Former lieutenant governor Gordon Barnhart becomes the university’s acting president.

Barnhart said he won’t waste time getting down to work.

“The first order of business will be to be meeting with all the senior administration and obviously with the board and get briefed on where things are at,” he said.

By Jennifer Graham in Regina with files from CKOM

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