The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

TransformUS plans stalled for new president, provost

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The cost-cutting program TransformUS has been temporarily delayed following major changes to University of Saskatchewan leadership.

After the controversial firing of the director of the School of Public Health Robert Buckingham, provost and vice-president academic Brett Fairbairn resigned while only days later Ilene Busch-Vishniac was removed from her role as university president. Both Fairbairn and Busch-Vishniac were key actors in the administration of TransformUS since its inception in 2013.

Gordon Barnhart, an adjunct professor from the College of Arts and Science, was announced as acting president on May 21. Ernie Barber, the managing director of the Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S, will be appointed as interim provost and vice-president academic on July 1. 

“The whole situation has changed, the people involved have changed. It’s about having new leadership, making sure they’re informed, consulting with the community and seeing what needs to move forward,” said Greg Fowler, vice-president operations and resources.

In 2012, the U of S announced a projected deficit of $44.5 million for the 2015–16 fiscal year if no action was taken. Subsequently, university administration created TransformUS — a plan to seek out inefficiencies in the institution’s programs and services with a goal of saving upwards of $25 million.

Fowler said that the university will be able to update their records as the 2013–14 fiscal year just came to a close and the 2014–15 operating budget will be released by the end of June.

The TransformUS action plan that was released on April 30 did not include many timelines for its various objectives. Fowler said this flexibility will give university administration the time they need to adjust to recent changes and to make more informed decisions as the plan proceeds.

“Our thinking right now is getting the new president and the provost some time to get up to speed — and to talk to our community, our students, our faculty and especially to the deans as well — and then determine which [plans] are the best ones to move forward on based on that consultation,” Fowler said.

In Barnhart’s first address to the University Council on May 22, he promised those present that he will conduct a full review of the university’s finances before continuing with any actions related to TransformUS.

“I am going to be taking a very close look first at what the deficit is,” Barnhart said. “I also want to see how much have we saved during that period of time, over the last year particularly, and that will give us an idea of what is the gap and how much farther do we have to go.” 

The address also provided faculty, staff and students with Barnhart’s assurance that the university will be keeping them in mind when TransformUS continues moving forward. 

“I’m hopeful that we can find ways of minimizing the hurt to staff and faculty and particularly students,” he said.

Fowler said he would like to remind the campus community that TransformUS is not solely about finding savings but that a key aspect of the plan is to strengthen the university’s programs and services.

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