'I have not done anything wrong' former V.C. hits back at Ombudsman's findings

The former Vice Chancellor of the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.), Professor Fui Asofou Soo, has adamantly denied any wrongdoing in a response to an Ombudsman's report that precipitated his resignation.

Cabinet suspended Fui, who worked for the N.U.S. for 31 years, in April as an investigation was carried out by the Office of the Ombudsman. 

In June, shortly after the completion of that report - excerpted in today's Samoa Observer - he had offered his resignation at the request of the University's Council. 

But in a letter to the N.U.S. Council dated two weeks before his resignation became public, the former Vice Chancellor's (V.C.) lays out his objections to the methods and the conclusion of the Ombudsman's investigation.

"I have not done anything wrong in terms of the allegations against me," Fui's response concludes. 

The Ombudsman's report was ordered when, more than three months ago, signs of an unbreakable impasse between three of the university's most senior administrators emerged. Deputy Vice Chancellor, Peseta Desmond Lee Hang, was asked to resign by Fui but refused and protested unlawful dismissal. 

The matter escalated and led to the former Vice Chancellor being suspended pending an investigation while Peseta and another Deputy Vice Chancellor, Maugaoalii Faamanu Mualia, were placed on leave. 

The Ombudsman, in a report on the "power struggle" at the top of N.U.S., found the V.C.'s decision investigate suspected grade-tampering, disguised as "academic research"  wreaked havoc on staff morale and caused a rift at the top of the university. 

But Fui defended the investigation into the students' results database, enrolment and graduation list, saying it was only right to investigate a system that had been the subject of complaints and speculation, as N.U.S.'s had. 

"The most responsible thing would be to consider and address such complaint(s) swiftly to avoid any further negative perception of the University’s systems," he wrote. 

"Secondly to confirm the truth or not of such complaints and to ensure that the students who were on the graduation list were deserving of their graduation certificate or scholarship." 

Referring to the Ombudsman’s Report, Fui said the research was conducted by a team of consultants in a covert manner but for a good reason: 

"The consultancy team wanted to observe the system and its associated process at work in their real context. 

"If the staff involved in the creation, collection and storage of student results were privy to all the details of the ‘research’ at this point, behaviours would change thereby masking any weaknesses and strengths of the system and its processes that needed to be taken into consideration for improvement." 

He noted the point behind using the "analogy" of the "research" was to inform the staff present that work was in progress but the details could not be fully revealed at that stage for reasons already explained. 

Another issue noted by Fui was that three members of the university administration team had the same password  to access the student results database and there were different volumes of data contained in different copies of the results database. 

"Naturally, I became suspicious and wanted to investigate further," he said. 

"To date it has never been fully explained to me in a convincing manner why the databases of the three staff do not have the same volume of data. 

"As understood from the consultancy team, apparently, anyone of the three staff with the password could access the system, alter the results, print out a certificate, then delete all that information and sign out of the database."

Fui argues that much of the evidence to support the Ombudsman's conclusion "came from interviews concerning issues relating to the staff of the University discussed under staff morale." 

He said the strong emphasis given to the views of the staff raised questions including: "[Why] those particular staff [were] selected to be interviewed; and who was responsible for the selection of the said staff and was it a fair representation of the staff to give a balance view." 

Fui argued much of the investigation's conclusions would be determined by investigators' choice of interviewees. 

"For example if it was the disgruntled staff that was selected, it was already a forgone conclusion that the evidence to be presented would be against the V.C," he said. 

"As such the V.C. would already be in a disadvantaged position before the start of the interviews and may not have been a neutral exercise."

The Ombudsman's report also said that Fui deliberately avoided University administration so that cheques could not be signed as an act of protest. 

The former V.C. said there was a logical explanation for why he was not in the office on the day in question:

"This is one of the examples in which there is no consideration of the explanation I had provided to the investigation team, which is disheartening as I had hoped that this will be an impartial investigation. 

"It appears that once the report had made a negative finding against me relating to the attempted removal of [the Deputy Vice Chancellor - Academic and Research] then all the issues raised against me would also be correct then." 

The response also sees the former V.C. indicate, in a letter to the N.U.S. Council, that although he had agreed to resign, he set out conditions for doing so.

"Given that I have not done anything wrong in terms of the allegations against me as per the I.T. T.O.R. (Investigation Team-Term of Reference)," he wrote.  

"My resignation conditions will include my payment of all entitlements in the remaining two years of my contract which expires 18 May, 2021 among others.” 

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