The Omega sits down with TRU’s new president

Listening to the community to be a top priority for new president Brett Fairbairn

Before coming to TRU, Brett Fairbairn had taught and conducted research at the University of Saskatchewan for over thirty years. He also served as UoS’s provost from 2008 to 2014. (Wade Tomko/The Omega)

TRU’s new president, Brett Fairbairn, almost became a journalist. If becoming an academic didn’t work out, Fairbairn was prepared to join his many family members already in media fields. However, becoming an academic did work out and Fairbairn worked his way up from a history major at the University of Saskatchewan to eventually becoming the university’s provost.

Despite leaving the University of Saskatchewan after a controversial spat involving the firing of Robert Buckingham, a professor who wrote a critical academic report on the university’s cost-cutting measures, Fairbairn looks forward to his term as TRU’s president with hopeful ambition.

Now in the driver’s seat, The Omega’s over an hour long interview produced some interesting pieces of information, ranging from Fairbairn’s thoughts on TRU’s regional centres and the relationship he’d like to maintain with other on-campus organizations to CUPE and academic freedom.

Yet most importantly, Fairbairn wants to assure the TRU community that his top priority in his first few months as president will be to listen.

“My priority in my first months at TRU is really about listening to people,” Fairbairn said. “Listening to people inside the university and listening to friends and supporters in the community and I’m interested in learning more about what makes TRU special.”

On top of his commitment to listening to the community, Fairbairn also added he can see the furthering of TRU’s Indigenization and internationalization efforts, two areas he believes the university to be a leader in.

“To some extent, I’m predicting what people might suggest and how I might respond to their suggestions. It certainly would surprise me that giving more substance to Indigenization isn’t on the agenda for TRU,” he said. “Internationalization is another area that TRU is a leader in. I have seen first hand how TRU’s recruitment efforts are first class in other countries.”

When asked about the relationship he’d like to maintain between TRU’s administration and other on-campus organizations such as TRUSU and TRUFA, Fairbairn responded by saying cooperation and a mutual understanding between the three groups will be critical to the success of TRU as a whole.

“You have to remember that we have different interests in different jobs,” Fairbairn said. “I want to respect their role and what they do but that’s not identical with my responsibilities. We share an interest in the success of the university and that’s kind of the common point.”

When it came to re-negotiating CUPE contracts later this March and the possibility of striking staff members, Fairbairn noted that B.C. negotiates contracts quite differently when compared to the rest of Canada.

“It’s different in B.C. than any other province in Canada,” he said. “There’s things that are special about B.C. that I’m still learning. These contracts are considered public sector bargaining and are covered by provincial mandates that are very different from basically everywhere in Canada and that does influence the amount of scope a president can have to do things differently in those negotiations.”

Fairbairn couldn’t recall if he met with CUPE local president Lois Rugg but added that he has met with all the major players on campus that were available for meeting.

When asked if he had visited any of TRU’s regional centres, Fairbairn said that the Williams Lake campus is the only one he has visited so far. Fairbairn even went on to question the usefulness of the regional centre model, citing changes in technology and the use of Open Learning.

“This university has a large Open Learning mandate and thinking of how that’s delivered and who is accessing it to me that’s a different model for geographic access than having regional centres. One of my questions is what’s the take-up? What better meets the needs? What’s the role of both?” Fairbairn said. “There is a lot of changes resulting from technology and I think it’s kind of exciting that an institution with those digital methods of delivering courses could connect to the regional centers. I’d be interested to look more into that.”

The Omega also had the chance to ask TRU’s new president about his thoughts on professors using academia to criticize their universities. However, in regards to his time as provost at UoS and the firing of Buckingham, Fairbairn said that he “didn’t want to talk about University of Saskatchewan examples.”

Yet when it came to the Derek Pyne situation here at TRU, Fairbairn said that he has learnt many things over the years and that academic freedom will remain a priority but he doesn’t believe Pyne’s case to be solely an issue of academic freedom.

“What has been described to me are matters that might come up in any place of employment, not academic freedom. That has been the university’s position,” he said. “When it comes to Canadian Association of University Teachers, they’re an outside body, we don’t share confidential information with outside bodies. They have no particular role to be involved between TRU and our Faculty Association. I don’t consider it a priority to cooperate with them.”

In respect to predatory publications, Fairbairn said that the quality of journals has always been an issue. To him, the most predatory part of these publications is their solicitation via email where they request academics to send them their manuscripts.

“The part that feels predatory to me is that if I publish an article in one place, in a respectable journal with good circulation and quality peer review other people see that and I start getting bombarded by emails from journals I’ve never heard of who’s quality I know nothing about,” Fairbairn said. “That sort of pressure, “Send your manuscript to us.” That feels predatory.”

Specifically, in response to pay-to-publish journals, Fairbairn noted that page charges were the norm in many fields.

“The nature of peer-review is an issue and hiring committees and faculty needs to think about where they are publishing their papers,” Fairbairn added.