Urgent U.S.P. Council meeting called

Following a week of bitter infighting, the University of the South Pacific’s (U.S.P.) is preparing for a crisis council meeting of the University governors on Friday.

The urgent meeting was initiated by President of Nauru and incoming Chancellor of U.S.P., Lionel Aingimea, who had called for an end to a power struggle at the University two weeks ago.

The university’s Executive Committee – chaired by  Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson – suspended Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia for alleged misconduct. That action came after Professor Ahluwalia began to expose alleged widespread mismanagement at the university after taking over the job. 

The Vice-Chancellor's ouster has led to protests by students and staff, more than 500 of whom have signed a petition threatening action if he is not reinstated. 

President Aingimea, who is a law graduate from the U.S.P., urged council members of the university to take action after Professor Ahluwalia was suspended over material misconduct allegations.

Writing to Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson, Aingimea confirmed a full council was being proposed so the matter is dealt with at first possible opportunity.

The call has been put off by the Executive Committee of the university using COVID-19 as the reason for not being able to convene a meeting with the university’s governing council.

The executive committee which suspended Professor Ahluwalia included Mr. Thompson; his deputy Aloma Johansson; and the Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee, Mahmood Khan.

Tuvalua’s Prime Minister, Kausea Natano, who is also the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum, issued a statement saying “common sense” must prevail.

“The University of the South Pacific is a highly valued institution for educating the young minds of future leaders of our Blue Pacific,” Natano said.

“As Pacific leaders and custodians of this vital institution of higher learning, we take pride in what the university stands for — a shining example of regionalism, and the benefits from pooling our collective resources for the betterment of our Pacific people.

“USP represents our collective determination to chart our own development course, as Pacific islanders, nations and as one Pacific continent.

“USP is a valued member of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific; it is important that it upholds the principles that bind the Pacific Islands Forum — good governance, respect, transparency, accountability and the rule of law.”

The U.S.P. is co-owned by 12 Pacific Island countries: Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Island, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Similarly, the Cook Islands’ Government, through its Foreign Ministry, issued a statement on the issue saying the nation was expecting a full Council Meeting to cover all aspects affecting the welfare of staff and students, governance and the university’s future.

“The Cook Islands is a proud founding member of USP and in its 50+ years of the University’s existence, we are as steadfast and committed to our University community as ever,” the foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The Cook Islands look forward to meeting with all Council members this month, via a virtual platform where necessary, to find an acceptable solution for all members of Council that preserves the integrity and future of our regional university, strengthens its governance and administration and supports optimally the welfare of staff and students of our U.S.P. community throughout our region.”

The Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor has also thrown her support to Nauru’s calls for the urgent meeting.

“As a council member, I confirm my support for your proposal to convene a special meeting. I will await further advice of the details of the meeting, in due course,” she said.

“Thank you for your astute leadership on this matter.”

Following the suspension of Professor Ahluwalia on Monday, Derreck Armstrong has since been appointed as U.S.P.’s Acting Vice Chancellor.

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