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U.S.P. Pro Chancellor's future in the balance

The University of the South Pacific’s Pro Chancellor, Winston Thompson’s job may be on the line with another Council meeting being urgently scheduled this week.

Mr. Thompson allegedly does not accept a U.S.P. Council decision to clear Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia of misconduct allegations. The University’s interim Council chair and President of Nauru, Lionel Aingimea, told Mr. Thompson to convene an urgent meeting to “determine his fate” in the next ten days, according to Islands Business. 

Earlier this month, a subcommittee tasked with investigating the allegations recommended that Professor Ahluwalia be cleared of all charges.

But Mr. Thompson and the Chair of the council’s Audit and Risk Committee, Mehmood Khan, do not accept the recommendations despite the rest of the Council unanimously agreeing to them. 

Professor Ahluwalia had been suspended briefly over the allegations, a move which had been met with protests by university staff and students.

In a letter to Mr. Thompson, President Aingimea said the meeting would concern his and Mr. Khan’s future at the University, and should include an election of the Deputy Pro Chancellor role. The meeting should also discuss the university’s dire financial situation and how Professor Ahluwalia plans to solve it. 

According to Islands Business, President Aingimea has the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, New Zealand and Australia behind him, as well as the University senate, staff and student groups. 

 Mr. Thompson’s formal actions to unseat Professor Ahluwalia began when the former had a team investigating 26 allegations of “material misconduct” against the Vice Chancellor. 

When news of the investigations surfaced in March this year, Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, wrote to the University to say that Samoa rejected the inquiry and asked for it to be stopped.

He said if Mr. Thompson does not comply, the Samoan Government as one of the 12 member countries who own the U.S.P., will push for his removal from office.

But despite international auditing firm B.D.O. taking on an investigation and the U.S.P. committee clearing Professor Ahluwalia’s name, Mr. Thompson is not done trying to remove the Canadian academic from the institution. 

Earlier this month, he told media that under the Vice Chancellor, U.S.P. lost money for the first time in a decade, and accused him of ignoring proper processes, according to FBC News

He also tried to schedule an Executive Council meeting in late August to review a colleague’s dismissal, who had been let go following concerns over his academic credentials.

In a letter, President Aingimea told Mr. Thompson to stop interfering in a formal process.

“You sir are muddying the process once again,” he said. 

“Prudence would be the operative word I leave with you.”

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