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Prof who spoke out about University of Saskatchewan cuts fired, loses tenure

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SASKATOON - A University of Saskatchewan professor who complained faculty are being told to keep quiet about cuts has been fired, stripped of tenure and escorted off campus by police.

The Opposition New Democrats say Robert Buckingham, executive director at the School of Public Health, has told them that he was called into a meeting Wednesday morning and banned for life from campus.

"In publicly challenging the direction given to you by both the president of the university and the provost, you have demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination and have destroyed your relationship with the senior leadership team of the university," reads a termination letter addressed to Buckingham and signed by provost Brett Fairbairn.

The letter was released by the NDP.

"You have damaged the reputation of the university, the president and the school and have damaged the university's relationship with key stakeholders and partners, including the public, government and your university colleagues."

Buckingham spoke out Tuesday about an overhaul at the university known as TransformUS. He said university president Ilene Busch-Vishniac told senior leaders not to publicly disagree with the overhaul.

"Her remarks were to the point: she expected her senior leaders to not 'publicly disagree with the process or findings of TransformUS'; she added that if we did our 'tenure would be short,'" Buckingham wrote in a letter to the provincial government and the NDP.

Buckingham said never in 40 years of academic life has he seen faculty being told that they could not speak out or debate issues.

The Saskatoon-based university released a plan last month that includes cutting jobs, reorganizing the administration and dissolving some programs to try to save about $25 million. The cuts are part of a bigger goal to address a projected $44.5-million deficit in the university's operating budget by 2016.

The plan calls for the School of Public Health to be rolled into the College of Medicine, but Buckingham worries that could jeopardize the college's recently earned international accreditation.

"Much of what has been built over the last five years is threatened by the TransformUS plan to place the School of Public Health under the College of Medicine," he wrote.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris says administration issues are "the purview" of the university. Norris has said professors should not be told to keep quiet, but that different rules may apply to those in administrative roles.

"I'll go back and I'll just reiterate, traditionally there are a couple of pillars that the academic community works on. First and foremost, there has to be a freedom of expression on campus," he said Wednesday, after learning about the firing on Twitter.

Norris says he is concerned.

"You know, it caught me off guard. It caught me off guard," he added.

NDP Leader Cam Broten says the provincial government needs to find out what is happening at the university.

"I don't think that's inappropriately meddling in the university affairs because this is a question about what our universities are, what should be happening there and to me, it's about freedom of thought, freedom of expression and creating a culture where people actually want to come forward and contribute," said Broten.

_ With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina

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