March 16, 2018

U of Saskatchewan Dean Fired Over Opposition to Plan That Cuts Libraries

Murray Library U Saskatchewan

image courtesy of University of Saskatchewan

As part of an overhaul of its budgets and strategic priorities, the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada plans to trim its campus library system from seven branches to three, resulting in much of its collection being moved to offsite storage. Library officials spoke of the plan as in line with their vision for the future of the campus libraries. But some faculty members have publicly questioned the moves, leading one dean to be fired in the wake of a letter he penned criticizing the university’s plans. Under the proposal, the US library system could cut its costs by a projected $730,000, or just over 3 percent of its $24 million annual budget. According to acting dean of libraries Ken Ladd, it’s too early to say how much of those savings would come from the elimination of staffers in the four libraries, and he declined to speculate on whether layoffs would result from the changes. In an interview with Library Journal, Ladd described the move from seven branch libraries around the US campus to three full service library locations not as closures, but as “a reconfiguration.” He also noted that while the four libraries will be consolidated into just three spaces—the humanities, science, and health sciences libraries would absorb the collections of what are currently freestanding libraries for the education, engineering, law, and veterinary medicine departments—that didn’t mean those spaces would become offices or classrooms. In the case of the US law library, one of the four spaces on the chopping block under the proposal, Ladd said that both the library and the university “are committed to having those spaces remain student space and user space, though what those spaces will look like remains to be seen.“ While collections may be shipped offsite, the space where they stood will still host educational resources—just not books. “The vision is to free up some of the stack space,” Ladd told LJ, “and repurpose it into new things that are needed to support teaching, learning and research on campus.” Ladd cited 3-D printing facilities and increased study spaces as some options being considered. Just where that offsite storage space is and how long it might take for students and researchers to access materials that are stored there are still up in the air, said Ladd. The changes to the US libraries are scheduled to take effect beginning in the fall of 2017, meaning that the library has only now started the planning process around the consolidations and closures. However, said Ladd, the recently proposed changes are in line with the last ten years of decisions at the US libraries, which included a 2012 analysis of materials that could potentially be moved to offsite storage in the future. Finding and securing a storage space for some of the US collections is one item on the project’s long ‘to-do’ list. The closures are part of the college’s larger TransformUS plan, which has raised controversy in recent days. Yesterday, Robert Buckingham, dean of the US School of Public Health released a letter—entitled “The Silence of the Deans“—in which he claimed that US faculty had been threatened with dismissal by university president Illene Busch-Vishniac if they spoke out against the plan. In response to the letter, US released a statement, attributed to Provost Brett Fairbairn, which read as follows: “The University of Saskatchewan has high expectations of its senior leaders to support the university’s directions and to lead their implementation. Top among current priorities are the university’s TransformUS initiatives. Leaders have opportunities to express personal opinions in leadership discussions. Once decisions are made, all leaders are expected to support the university’s directions.” Today, the CBC reported the Buckingham, who has served as dean since 2009, was terminated by the university and escorted off the US campus by a pair of security officers. Buckingham told CBC that a note provided by the university made clear that his open letter, which was raised in yesterday’s legislative session by members of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), was the reason behind his firing, but declined to comment further until he had retained the services of a lawyer.

UPDATE: Since the initial publication of this article, Buckingham has had his tenure restored and returned to teaching, though he is no longer serving as dean of the School of Public Health. Prior to an emergency meeting of the US Board of Trustees, faibrain resigned as provost, and at that meeting, the board voted to fire university president Ilene Busch-Vishniac. Former Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Gordon Barnhart is now serving as interim president. 

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

The Latest Trends in Library Design
Hosted in partnership with Salt Lake County Library and The City Library—at SLCo’s Viridian Center—the newest installment of our library building and design event will let you dig deep with architects, librarians, and vendors to explore building, renovating, and retrofitting spaces to better engage your community.
Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. I recently spent some time with colleagues at another prairie province library, and they were telling me that Saskatchewan was having some difficult times. I’m sad to see how right they were.