Vice-Chancellor reinstated after week of drama at U.S.P.

The University of the South Pacific's (U.S.P.) Vice-Chancellor was on Friday night reinstated following an urgently convened meeting of the university's governing council.

The U.S.P. Council overturned a decision made by the university's Executive Council last Monday to suspend Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia and which led to a week of public argument among university executives. 

Media were barred from entry to the meeting on Friday but in a statement issued on Friday evening, the U.S.P. confirmed the suspension of Professor Pal Ahluwalia would be set aside. 

Local media reported that the university's council meeting lasted most of the day, running from 9am to 5pm with coronavirus restrictions requiring several members to dial in remotely. 

The investigation into the Professor was instigated soon after he assumed his role and began to raise issues of improper governance prior to his time at the university by the university's leadership group including Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson.  

The university's Executive Committee held a ten-person closed-door meeting last Monday voted to consider the findings into the investigations and voted to suspend the Vice-Chancellor. 

That led to threats from more than 500 students and staff that industrial action would be taken if he was not reinstated.

But in a statement issued by the university issued on Friday, the full U.S.P. Council was said to have found that the Executive Committee had not followed due process in its decision to suspend Professor Ahluwalia. 

The statement also agreed that proper process as outlined in "An Ordinance to Govern the Discipline of the Vice-Chancellor" be followed in future investigations. The allegations made against the Vice-Chancellor of material misconduct have not been dismissed and will continue to be investigated according to the procedure outlined. 

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. Its headquarters are in Fiji. 

The resolution to reinstate the Vice-Chancellor came after a number of the 12 U.S.P. co-owner countries indicated they did not support the suspension of Professor Ahluwalia.

Those to oppose the suspension included Samoa, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia.

But on Thursday, the Government of the Solomon Islands announced their support for the decision to suspend the Vice-Chancellor Ahluwalia.

Mr. Thompson recused himself from Friday's vote and the earlier vote by the Executive Committee noting that he had a conflict of interest in the matter.

During the Prime Minister’s programme on Thursday, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi advised the Samoan students currently studying in Fiji not to get involved.

“The Samoan students in Fiji have nothing to worry about,” he said.

“That is the reason why we appointed a representative in Fiji in the University whose job is to round up the students and remind them to focus on studying and not to get involved.

“Leave it to the leaders of the Pacific, Samoan students, study for your exams.”

A call to the Deputy Prime Minister for an update on the Council meeting was unsuccessful as she was in a meeting at the time.


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