Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2011

Controversy Mars USask Law Dean Hire

University of Saskatchewan college of law building [Photo: University of Saskatchewan]
University of Saskatchewan college of law building [Photo: University of Saskatchewan]
The choice of a new law dean by top administrators at the University of Saskatchewan has come as a surprise to members of a search committee whose recommendations were overruled in the hiring process.

The university's board of governors voted Nov. 18 to hire University of Alberta law professor Sanjeev Anand, the short-list candidate reportedly favoured by U of S president Peter MacKinnon.

Although the university is not bound by the committee’s hiring recommendations, ignoring its choice violates long-standing convention, and has reportedly dismayed many committee members who put in dozens of volunteer hours researching and interviewing candidates. Those members cannot publicly discuss their recommendations because of privacy concerns.

“I don’t know of this ever happening before at the university,” said U of S faculty association vice-chair Jim Cheesman, who is part of a joint university council/board committee currently refining search and review procedures for senior administrators.

Those refinements are still under consideration by council, and were not used in Anand’s selection. Cheesman anticipates the new guidelines will ultimately be adopted by the board of governors for application in future hiring situations.

He characterizes the existing process as murky and says the joint committee’s recommendations will clarify employment criteria, define the makeup of selection committees, and attempt to promote transparency and accountability without compromising applicants’ rights to privacy.

Hiring recommendations made by search committees are non-binding as mandated by The University of Saskatchewan Act, and will stay that way, Cheesman adds.

However, Cheesman believes that where administrators “can’t live” with a committee’s choice, the search should be declared “failed,” and feedback passed along to the committee before another search begins.

“If you continue to ignore the recommendations of search committees, you’ll create a chilly environment. People will get very cynical about the process,” he warned.

U of S vice-president and provost Brett Fairbairn declined to speak about the details of the search for the new dean of law, but acknowledged that the current review of the hiring process amounts to a “codification of overarching principals,” and as part of a regular updating will provide a “better articulation of appropriate considerations.

“We involve a lot of people in search processes. It’s unique and reflects the academic culture. This results in diverse opinions,” Fairbairn said of the incident.