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TRU looks to University of Saskatchewan for next president

Brett Fairbairn has been hired as the next president of Thompson Rivers University

Thompson Rivers University conducted a worldwide search for a new president — and found him just two provinces away.

Brett Fairbairn of the University of Saskatchewan will take over the roles of president and vice-chancellor in December, replacing Alan Shaver, who has held the positions for 7.5 years.

Shaver plans to leave at the end of August and current provost Christine Bovis-Cnossen will be interim president until Fairbairn arrives.

At a public announcement on Thursday in the Grand Hall on campus, Fairbairn said he was attracted to TRU by its ability to partner and build relationships. His current position is as a professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

His areas of research are in democracy, social movements and co-operative enterprises worldwide.

Fairbairn said he was especially impressed by TRU’s ability to engage with its community and encourage participatory discussion.

He told the gathering the only reason someone would want to take on the job of a university president is because they “love universities” and are focused on ensuring the students get the best education possible.

TRU board of governors chair Jim Thomson described the search for a new president as arduous and time-consuming, but ultimately worth it.

Thomson said Fairbairn has a depth of experience in academics, strategic leadership, relationship development.

“And a strong value system of integrity, respect and accountability, added with a good measure of passion,” he said, noting those were key characteristics the 16-member search committee identified when it started its hunt for a new president last fall.

Thomson praised Shaver as someone responsible for the growth of TRU in recent years, noting construction of new buildings and expansion of programs all come from “seeds planted by Alan when he got here and are coming to fruition now.”

Fairbairn has taught and conducted research at the University of Saskatchewan for more than 30 years.

He is a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and has held numerous grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

He has served in voluntary leadership roles, including as chair of the Saskatchewan Academic Health Sciences Network and chair of the Saskatchewan Archives Board.

For his university and public contributions, Fairbairn was awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. He holds a BA from the U of S, a BA (first-class honours) and a doctorate from the University of Oxford, and a doctorate also from Oxford, which he attended on a Rhodes scholarship.

Fairbairn does not come to TRU without past controversy.

In May 2014, he resigned from his position as provost at the University of Saskatchewan after firing a tenured professor and former executive director of the university’s School of Public Health after the professor wrote a letter to the provincial government and Opposition, criticizing a controversial cost-cutting plan at the university.

Politicians, students, faculty, alumni and the Canadian Association of University Teachers accused Fairbairn of suppressing the professor’s right to academic freedom.

The firing was overturned by the university president the day after Fairbairn resigned.

A month later, Fairbairn returned to the university as a professor.

"The circumstances regarding Dr. Fairbairn’s resignation in 2014 from the University of Saskatchewan were fully explored by the search committee," Thomson said. "We were satisfied with the information gathered and the numerous conversations that we had with individuals, former and current colleagues only solidified the great strength of character and integrity that we have found with this candidate. It’s important first to be clear that the search committee was unanimous in its selection of Dr. Fairbairn. This is a strong vote of confidence in a candidate and from a committee of 16 people who were all uniquely different, and chosen for this reason, that they would represent a broad spectrum of interests from our university community."