SASKATOON -- Several faculty at the University if Saskatchewan have written a letter to the president and others expressing concerns about a decision to close the Community Relations and Engagement Office (CRE) at Station 20 West.

Rachel Engler-Stringer, an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology and one of the signatories on the letter, said the closure will be felt by faculty who want to conduct community-engaged research.

She said it will affect trust that has been built between the office and several organizations.

Many community-based organizations work with the university because they know the CRE will be involved and help meet their needs, she told CTV News.

Engler-Stringer also said to her knowledge there was no consultation with faculty or students about the closure.

She said an email was sent about the closure last Thursday.

“As you may be aware, the Office of the Vice-President Research at the University of Saskatchewan has made some program and personnel changes across its portfolio over the past month,” said the email from associate vide-president research Irena Creed.

“These changes are the result of the university’s ongoing efforts to ensure that every part of its operations remains financially sustainable in a time of post-secondary budgetary challenges and COVID-19.

“We have made the difficult decision to close our Community Relations and Engagement (CRE) unit at Station 20 West, effective August 1, 2020, resulting in the elimination of two full-time positions.”

U of S faculty argued in their own letter that since 2012, the office has helped connect the U of S with core communities.

“The office is the bridge when connecting faculty and students with partner organizations for research, teaching and practice purposes, and in building respectful relationships for engagement between people from the university and people from various communities.”

Closing the office will hurt relationships with organizations and goes against the university’s values of becoming a more engaged and accountable institution, the faculty said.

The email announcing the closure said it does not affect the commitment from the U of S to community-engaged research with Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods.

It said the lease at Station 20 West will still be renewed for three years.

“As part of our organizational restructuring, we are re-envisioning our university’s social innovation strategy and community-engaged research model, with the intent of enhancing the impact of our programs and services in this area.”

It said there will be consultations over the coming months with stakeholders and researchers who use to space to determine how to improve community-engaged research and scholarship as well as maintaining a presence on relevant committees.

When asked for comment, the U of S issued a statement saying it aims to continue its commitment to community-engaged research.

“Recognizing the tremendous opportunities for our researchers and students to help address pressing social, health and economic issues, we aim to strengthen our commitment to community-engaged research, both at Station 20 West and across the city and province, while continually reviewing our related strategies, activities and commitments,” said Karen Chad, vice president research.

It adds the work of the Community Relations and Engagement office will continue in other forms.

“These changes and commitments will ensure that the foundational work of our CRE unit at Station 20 West will continue in other ways through our diverse community-engaged research initiatives, including our Research Junction partnership with the City of Saskatoon and major new Indigenous research partnerships that will add more spaces and places to engage and work alongside our community partners.”