The head of the Thompson River University Faculty Association wants to have a talk with the university’s new president about academic freedom.
Tom Friedman, president of the faculty union, said he is glad the search committee that recommended Brett Fairbairn for the job looked into his earlier resignation from the University of Saskatchewan, but Friedman said he still wants to “engage him on the issues and the fact academic freedom is a fundamental right.”
Fairbairn, who officially takes over as president and vice-chancellor at TRU in December, resigned from his position as provost at the University of Saskatchewan in May 2014 after he fired tenured professor and former executive director Robert Buckingham of the university’s School of Public Health.
Buckingham was reinstated the following day, but not returned to his job as head of the health school. Shortly after his reinstatement, the university fired its president, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, keeping her on faculty in a teaching position. Busch-Vishniac later filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming more than $8.5 million in damages. She also named the premier and minister of advanced education, along with university board members, in the suit.
Buckingham was one of many at the university who expressed concern it had bought a cost-cutting program, TransformUS, to trim expenses on campus,
He took his concerns public, writing to the provincial government and opposition, writing a six-page essay he called The Silence of the Deans.
Friedman said the goal of TransformUS was to save million of dollars through prioritizing programs, to decide which ones were worth the resources.
“There would be winners and losers,” Friedman said.
TRU issued a statement after the public announcement of Fairbairn’s hiring last week, , saying all the circumstances surrounding his resignation — he returned to faculty a month later as a professor — “were fully explored by the search committee. 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.”
The statement continued to note the search committee was unanimous in its selection of 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.”
Friedman said he hopes Fairbairn “learned from his experience” that academic freedom relates “not just to faculty, but to academic administration.”
An email to TRU staff on Friday from Jim Thomson, chair of the board of governors, reiterated the circumstances surrounding the resignation “were fully explored” and that the committee and board were satisfied with the answers they received.
Friedman noted that while faculty and staff were represented on the hiring committee, the union itself was not.
Five faculty members — Lyn Baldwin, Judy Duchscher, David Hill, Wendy Hulko and Marion Oke — were part of the hiring committee. Other members included Peter Fairman, the university’s biosafety officer, Evan Choy, a business and economics student, and administrators Christine Adam (dean of students), Baihua Chadwick (association vice-president international and CEO Global Operations TRU World), Matt Milovick (vice-president administration and finance), Don Poirier (interim associate vice-president open learning) and elder Estella Patrick Moller. The board appointed Thomson, Rick Heney of Fulton and Co. LLP and Barbara Berger, the city’s arts, culture and heritage manager.