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A Tribute to Professor Theodore MacDonald (1933-2011)


Soon after I started teaching at USP in 1973, I enrolled for a Masters Degree in mathematics with Professor Theodore McDonald, then the Head of Mathematics and also Education. He was a magnificent teacher, but also a radical educator and social activist.

During Theo’s tenure at USP, leaflets were thrown around Suva protesting that a prominent politician in his hurry to get to Nausori airport, had mowed down a pedestrian and driven on, leaving the victim to die. No charges were ever laid against the politician but the Fiji Government was incensed at the pamphlets clearly originating from USP.

When Professor McDonald went to Australia with his sick child, he was banned by the Fiji Government from re-entering Fiji, without any protest from the USP management and the first Vice Chancellor (Colin Aikman).  A few rebellious young academics spoke at the protest meeting organized around the USP Swimming Pool by the USP Students Association (Jone Dakuvula, Pramod Rae, Padma Narsey Lal and Brij Lal will remember the event).

The USP Vice Chancellor refused to protest to the Fiji Government on the grounds that expatriate academics were banned by their visa conditions from “political activity”.   Professor McDonald could never come back; he was forced to sell his possessions and give away most of his books in Fiji; and my Masters in Mathematics stopped there and then.

But from Professor Theo McDonald, I inherited not only some solid redwood book-shelves (still with me today), and beautiful books on famous mathematicians (now residing at the library of Fiji National University), but also a life-long commitment to social ideals and academic activism.

When writing this post, I found out that Theo had sadly passed away in 2011, after a distinguished career at Harvard University, continuing the kind of work that he had encouraged in us young academics in Fiji. Bless his soul.

Historical Post-script

Professor Theo McDonald obtained his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Illinois-Urbana.  My latest academic benefactor, Professor Larry Neal, is Professor Emeritus at this same university. What a coincidence.


More on Professor Theo MacDonald

You can read from here:


“At Harvard Theodore Macdonald is a Lecturer in Social Studies, a Faculty Affiliate at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and was an Affiliate of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies. He received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Illinois-Urbana. From 1979-1994 he was Projects Director for the international human rights NGO Cultural Survival at Harvard’s Peabody Museum and then Associate Director of the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs until 2005.

His research and teaching focus on human rights, ethnicity and conflict, Latin America, indigenous peoples and the State, common property, land/natural resource disputes, and individual/collective property and citizenship rights. He co-edited, with David Maybury-Lewis, Manifest Destinies and Indigenous Peoples (DRCLAS/Harvard U. Press, 2009) and is currently preparing a study of natural resource conflicts in Latin America.

From 1983-1987 Macdonald was an official observer during negotiations surrounding the armed conflict between Nicaragua’s Miskito Indian organizations and Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. He has worked directly on several, high-profile, indigenous/oil disputes in the Upper Amazon and, from 1996-2002, he directed the tripartite (indigenous organizations-environmental NGOs-oil corporations) Harvard Dialogues on Oil in Fragile Environments.

In 1997 he undertook the ethnographic research and subsequently served as witness for the community in the precedent-setting 2001 indigenous land and natural resource rights case, Awas Tingni vs. Nicaragua, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

While teaching at Harvard he has received the following distinctions

  • Hoopes Prize for Academic Excellence- 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010
  • Certificate of Distinction in Teaching -Fall 2007, Fall 2008
  • Knowles Scholar (for Small-Group Instruction) 2009-2010
  • Nominated for the Marquand Award for Exceptional Advising and Counseling -2010
  • The Barrington Moore Prize for Excellence in Advising, Committee on Degrees in Social Studies–2010.



From this you can read how Professor Theo McDonald was a “fighter for social justice”–frfi-220-aprilmay-2011


“Theo MacDonald was a committed socialist and anti-imperialist, and, throughout his life as a teacher and a doctor, one of the kindest and funniest of men. He inspired those he met not only to understand injustice but also to challenge it in whatever way they could. He taught, lectured, discussed and wrote with a contagious passion and enthusiasm. ‘Be patient and leave lots of room for good humour,’ he advised. Despite his enormous achievements – over his lifetime he published 40 books and 200 research papers – he was one of the most humble people you could meet….. Theo was clear that it is the dictates of capitalism that require two thirds of the world’s population to remain poor and underdeveloped in order to maintain the super-abundance of a privileged minority.
In the last ten years, Theo increasingly turned his attention to the role of the United Nations and its failure, through the World Health Organisation (WHO), to adequately promote health as a basic human right. On the contrary, he wrote, the UN and WHO cooperate with agencies funding loans tied to Structural Adjustment Policies which actually undermine health provision in underdeveloped countries. …
Theo never took a penny from the sale of his books, giving the royalties to Cuba or other international projects. All proceeds of his most recent book are going to a charity for Gaza. In every preface he pays tribute to his wife Chris, who shares his commitment to humanity, and supported him throughout ‘the inevitable domestic chaos’ of his research and writing…..


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