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

Strange happenings at university council

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Vision 2025 rescinded despite objections from motion’s original proponents

Ernie Barber discussed the university’s future post-TransformUS.

University Council convened Sept. 18 in the Neatby-Timlin Theatre to discuss the state of university finances, hear addresses from interim President Gordon Barnhart and interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Ernie Barber and — perhaps most contentiously — to deliberate on whether to keep the Vision 2025 document as the mission statement for the university. 

With TransformUS on its way out from administrative discussions, the phrase Vision 2025 remained as one of the distinctive and highly controversial trademarks of previous president Ilene Busch-Vischniac’s term.

The eight page document Vision 2025: From Spirit to Action was originally intended as a statement of values and priorities for the University of Saskatchewan. However, numerous groups on campus have protested the document since its inception due to its focus on research-intensiveness at the university, the stated goal of integrating Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal programs — such as the Indian Teacher Education Program — and a point indicating that the university should not “gratuitously duplicate” programs found at other post-secondary institutions within the province.

Many in the university also felt that the document was written by bureaucrats with little input from the wider campus community.

With a motion on the floor to rescind the document, created by John Rigby and seconded by Lisa Kalnychuk, many faculty had come to council to express their opinions. But in a surprising twist, instead of supporting their motion both Rigby and Kalnychuk urged council members to vote against it and support the acceptance of Vision 2025.

“My reason for introducing the motion in the first place was quite narrow and specific,” Rigby said in his speech to the council. “I felt that the motion represented the leadership of a president who, a few weeks after council approved the statement, lost the confidence of the institution and was removed from her position by the Board of Governors. And it did not seem reasonable to me that we would bind the institution and acting future president to the previous president’s statement.”

Both Rigby and Kalnychuk felt that their motion had been overtaken by a narrative that they did not support — namely one blaming the previous administration for unpopular austerity measures.

Most faculty members who spoke after Rigby and Kalnychuk did not support this view, however.

Member after member rose to slam Vision 2025 for being undemocratic, questionably worded and prioritized as well as uninspiring.

Perhaps the most troubling comment was brought forward by  Jim Waldram, an elected member of council and recipient this year of Canada’s prestigious Royal  Society Fellowship. 

“Reflecting back on my last year, which was my first year in council,” Waldram said. “I would say that [the creation and acceptance of Vision 2025] happened at least in part due to I guess what some people would refer to as a culture of fear that has existed on campus for the last few years, and I think has crept into the workings of the University Council unfortunately.

“I have had, in the past year, three different members of council ask me to raise questions on their behalf because they were afraid to do so. And in one instance, the member indicated very clearly that they had been told by a superior that they should not say anything at council,” Waldram continued.

He went on to observe that, aside from the president, all members of University Council have other members who are their superiors and that this makes it extremely difficult to critically discuss motions implemented top-down.

Out of the 16 faculty members and one student who stood to speak during the debate period, only five supported keeping the document, including Rigby and Kalnychuk.

As chair, Dr. Jay Kalra also presented a petition signed by 364 people calling for Vision 2025 to be rescinded. Ultimately, asked to vote the issue, a sea of blue cards was held in the air as members of the General Assembly voted in favour. The final tally was 37 for and 29 against.

After the motion passed, Barnhart delivered his presidential address. He first thanked the Graduate Students’ Association and U of S Students’ Union for holding a safe Welcome Week, as well as Huskies football coach Brian Towriss for drug-testing his team before moving on to say he attended the Career Expo on Sept. 17 and considered it a rousing success.

Barnhart then spoke of his Sept. 9 address and reaffirmed what he had said then.

“I believe that we at the [U of S] have a good governance model,” Barnhart said. “But some decisions were made that were human errors that will not be repeated.” 

Barnhart also emphasized his respect for academic freedom at the university and spoke about how he would work to regain the trust of donors and alumni that was shaken last spring. He also spoke of what would happen to the process formerly known as TransformUS.

“I want to repeat my message that I gave to the university community and the public last week: that the word itself — TransformUS — is dead as is the method that was used for implementing it,” Barnhart said.

“But I want to say that many of those recommendations were considered by the taskforces, by the committees of council — by many, many people. Hundreds of hours went into it, and there were many strong and needed ideas that were expressed there. But it was a huge chunk all at once being implemented too quickly. I am proposing, as are we all, that we take the best parts of that and implement it. Some of it, in terms of the mergers of several of the colleges, we set aside for now for further consideration. 

“We [will] have further discussion. But rest assured that many of the other parts of what used to be called TransformUS will be implemented, perhaps in a different way.”

Barnhart also said the university was financially healthy and that change could now be initiated without a fear of deficit.

Barber then gave his address, speaking about the process of decision-making at the university and suggesting more powers should be given to the deans in future decisions. Barber said that he and other U of S leaders agreed it was time for TransformUS to be replaced by a smaller set of priority projects, referring to the eight-priority plan the new administration has created.

Vice-president of finances and resources Greg Fowler then gave his operations forecast for the current year. He said the U of S has achieved $32 million in savings as of spring 2014, and that because of that the university is in a better financial situation than it was in 2012, when the projected deficit of $44.5 million was made. Fowler also said that the university expects to remain on budget for the current year.

Desirée Steele, vice-president academic of the USSU, addressed the council on behalf of USSU President Max FineDay and expressed optimism from the student body due to the termination of TransformUS. 

“One of the exciting things about this fall particularly is that there is a fresh mood on campus. There is a palpable difference between what it was last fall and throughout last year and now that the giant cloud called TransformUs has dissipated” said Steele.

“We thank our interim president Gordon and our interim provost Ernie and other administrative members for making the right decision, for acknowledging and trying to rectify this process called TransformUS, and beginning the process of coming back together as a community.”

Photo: Katherine Fedoroff/Photo Editor

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