10 Jun 2020

Commotion at USP over Vice-Chancellor's suspension

6:22 am on 10 June 2020

Hundreds of staff and students at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji are protesting the suspension of their Vice-Chancellor and President by the USP Council.

USP's Suva campus

USP's Suva campus Photo: wikicommons

The executive committee reportedly suspended Pal Ahluwalia following a row over employment issues.

Ilima Finiasi of the USP Staff Union said they were unhappy with how the council leadership group of Pro-Chancellor (PC) and Chair, Deputy PC, and the Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee have been impeding the work of Professor Ahluwalia who last year "exposed serious governance and management anomalies" at the university.

Mr Finiasi said they are also calling for the removal of Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson, Deputy Chair Aloma Johansson and Mr Mahmood Khan the Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee.

Earlier the Executive Committee of the Council resolved that there should be an independent investigation into alleged material misconduct by Pal Ahluwali.

In a media statement, authorised by the Deputy Pro-Chancellor of the USP Council, Aloma Johansson, the Executive Commitee also resolved that the Vice- Chancellor be suspended from duties on pay, and without withdrawal of privileges.

Professor Derrick Armstrong has been appointed as Acting Vice-Chancellor and President, to manage the affairs of the University.

Meanwhile, Nauru's President and incoming chancellor of the University of the South Pacific has called for an urgent meeting of the full USP Council.

In his third letter issued to university council members in less than a week, President Lionel Aingimea labelled Winston Thompson's convening of the Council's executive committee in Suva on Monday as "appalling".

According to Island Times he said the hostility and lack of duty of care to a Council appointed Vice Chancellor showed that a small group of members, who are not direct members, had hijacked Council processes.

Mr Finiasi is calling on USP stakeholders - the governments and people of the region - to help stop interference by Thompson, Johansson, and Khan.

"The pro-chancellor, the deputy pro-chancellor, the chair of the risks committee - these are the leadership group in the council that are defying all the calls from students, staff, stakeholders and even other leaders in the council - the minister from Tonga, the minister from Samoa, the NZ representative, the incoming chancellor of the university - the president of Nauru.

"Their calls are not being heard by the leadership group of the council. So who will they listen to?"