“Never stop learning”
Most of us have heard this adage more than a few times. This timeless wisdom is uttered parents, grandparents, friends, Instagram GIFs, memes, and so on. It reminds us that there will always be more to explore, more to discover. Whether you’re a third-grader or a Graduate, you haven’t seen, heard, or read everything. And there’s always room for improvement. Every day in our lives can teach us something new.
The administrators at the University of Saskatchewan learned something new about Public Relations, Ethics, and “Freedom of Speech 101” this week. Hooray for learning things, right? Not really. Seeing as they are, you know, University Administrators, one would hope that they learned this particular lesson a while ago.
Prof. Robert Buckingham, then-executive director of the U of S school of public health, was fired on Wednesday for speaking out against the school’s controversial TransformUS plan. The plan, whose official aim is to reduce the University’s debt by making painful cuts to educational positions, drew the ire of many this past month. The plan’s opponents claim, among other concerns, that the administration is leaving academics out of the discussion on the project. Protesters and a recent demonstration also asserted that those behind the TransformUS have misrepresented past deficits to justify the project, however this particular accusation has yet to be verified.
It all came to a head when Prof. Buckingham released a letter criticizing TransformUS and the way it was being handled by the President of the University. Interestingly enough, Buckingham starts off his letter by slamming the President for downright threatening members of the Universities Deans and Vice-Deans if they spoke out . Only after this morbid introduction does Buckingham actually launch into his critique of TransformUS.
The next day, Prof. Buckingham showed up at work only to find out that the President does not make idle threats. The tenured professor was notified by campus security that he had been released from his position.
To recap: a University administration is first criticized for excluding academics from their unpopular TransformUS plan. Its President is then accused by one academic executive of using threats to silence the opposition. That executive is then fired, for his remarks. You’ve got to hand it to the administration: they’re consistent and they stick to their threats! You don’t see that much backbone among most politicians these days. Who could have thought that such a move would stir up such a massive storm?
Everyone, that’s who. When you’re running an institution dubbed “the marketplace of ideas”, it doesn’t bode too well when you fire teachers for expressing their opinions. If the University is like a body, then this administrations actions are comparable to steroid-infused arms trying to chop off the legs for some cheap protein. In the end, you’re only hurting yourself.
The University of Saskatchewan recently issued a statement on the issue after outrage reached the provincial legislature. The statement attempts to clarify Prof. Buckingham’s fate while simultaneously justifying his firing. Academic freedom, they say, does not extend beyond the borders of the professor’s position as executive director. The administration seems to believe that as soon as he walks into the President’s office, Prof. Buckingham must check his proverbial Professor Hat and don his executive director blindfold and ear plugs. As a professor, you can say whatever you want. As an executive, you need to be quiet, and agree with everything your overlords say.
Perhaps the leadership at U of S must expect tenured professors who also happen to be Deans to put on some two-faced show à la Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Seeing as the administration is stacked with Hydes, I’d say an overhaul in that department is sorely needed.