05/23/2014 02:53 EDT | Updated 07/23/2014 05:59 EDT

University of Saskatchewan restructuring program under fire

Jim Miller, a former member of the University of Saskatchewan's board of governors, has concerns about the university's TransformUS restructuring program.

Close to 900 programs and support services have been reviewed by the TransformUS process. While some programs have been tagged for more resources, many others, including the Centre for Northern Agroforestry and Afforestation and degree programs in anthropology, drama and women's and gender studies have been tagged for either closure or cuts. 

The proposed cuts are designed to shave between $20 million and $25 million from the university's budget by 2016. It's projected the university could have a $44.5-million deficit if cuts aren't made by then.

However, Miller, a history professor at the U of S, isn't convinced the university's numbers are correct.

"You have to look at how the projected deficit was constructed," he said. "The people who did it said, 'Well, we're going to project increases in spending in the next three or four years of between four and 4½ per cent. And we know we're only going to get two per cent from government.… But would any sane leader or manager do such a thing? Of course not."

Miller said the model TransformUS is based on is flawed. He said the model is being used in several universities, and he isn't impressed with what he's seen so far.

"I know it's been used in other places, I visited Guelph in January," he said. "Guelph is in turmoil. They're in a terrible state, almost as bad as we are. So, I really do have my doubts about it."

The TransformUS model has also come under fire from other academics.

Economics professor Eric Howe resigned from an academic task force on the model last year. In a paper published in January, he wrote, "It had become clear that the biases in [the TransformUS] methodology were not going to be corrected. It would have been professionally unethical for an economist to continue in those circumstances."

Tenure scandal

The TransformUS model is coming under scrutiny because it was linked to this month's tenure scandal at the university.

Prof. Robert Buckingham, head of the School of Public Health, spoke out against plans to combine the school with the College of Medicine and the College of Dentistry.

When he expressed his concern in a public letter, he was fired both as head of the school and as a tenured professor. His academic tenure was later restored.

The move eventually led to the dismissal of the university's president Ilene Busch-Vishniac and the resignation of provost Brett Fairbairn.

For his part, Buckingham hopes that in future the administration does a better job of listening to faculty and students.

"Well, I hope what will happen next will be that this will be a more inclusive process, where we'll look at student input, faculty input as well as administrative deans' input," he said.

New interim president

Interim president Gordon Barnhart said he will be reviewing the TransformUS process.

"I'm not making a statement that [TransformUS] is dead or full-speed ahead," he said. "I want to take a look at it. The board of governors is meeting next Monday and Tuesday and will be having a good discussion about it, I'm sure."

Barnhart also said he wants to take a careful look at university finances.

"I want to have a very good look at where we're at with the projected deficit," he said. "I want to have a look at how much money has been saved already in terms of the measures that have been taken, and then assess the gap of what we have saved to what we need to save."

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