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“Fiji academics at USP attacked viciously, 1985 to 1986”

27/07/2016

Fiji academics at USP attacked viciously (1985-86)

[Note to students: I have posted the original letters and articles here, simply because I do not have the time to extract the relevant text for a comprehensive article. There is nothing to stop any student (or journalist) using the material here (and any other relevant stuff) to write up a good project paper.]

Started in 1968, The University of the South Pacific (USP), was owned and managed by more than a dozen South Pacific countries (PICs), joined later by a few northern former United States territories.

      The early decades of USP provided an exhilarating atmosphere because of a fantastic mixtures of international expatriate staff and locals, and many PIC students from PICs, who were not just school leavers, but also older generations who before 1968, never had the opportunity to study in Australia or NZ (this would make a good paper for an education student). Many of these students went on to the highest leadership positions in their respective countries.

      Many of the expatriate (and some local) staff lived in “staff quarters” on USP properties, which also facilitated close (some thought too close) social interactions, among staff and with students. Over the years I recollect, in addition to the used local staff, great expatriate teaching colleagues and friends from both mathematics and economics, such as Ross Renner, Neal Rush, Len Raj, Akuila Talasasa, Sitiveni Halapua, David Forsyth, and David Williams, to just name a few. There were many others in the School of Education (now FALE) and the School of Natural Resources (now SPAS).

      However, an utter tragedy during the early decades, was that Fiji staff used to suffer periodic attacks by just a few expatriates (some married to Pacific Islanders) and Pacific Islanders, led by Professor Ron Crocombe, who felt aggrieved that USP was far too dominated by Fiji staff and Indo-Fijians in particular, who they excluded from their definition of “Pacific Islanders”.  This group, who were incredibly influential with all vice chancellors, argued that Fiji staff ought not to be appointed or promoted into positions of seniority, with places to be reserved for Pacific Islanders.

      The reality was that few Pacific Islanders were willing to work at USP because salary scales and social status were too low compared to what was offered by other tax-free CROP organizations and their governments, with much more work, and lower upward mobility. In economics, the few who joined, such as Sitiveni Halapua and Siliga Kofe, soon left for greener pastures. In practice therefore, the Crocombe groups in management would appoint or promote expatriates rather than Fiji academics, who they suppressed at every opportunity. In the mid 1980s, Fiji staff became frustrated and angered enough to public confront Crocombe and his group.

      The sad aspect of it all was that Crocombe made a very valuable contribution to USP in its early years by encouraging the writings and publication of many Pacific Islanders through the Institute of Pacific Studies (IPS).  It was a tragedy when the IPS was closed down and supposedly replaced by USP Press. No one would call this move a success.

      But it is quite telling that IPS seldom published any work by an Indo-Fijian with the exception of Dr Ahmed Ali, who was a senior academic with very powerful connections with Ratu Mara and the Alliance Government. IPS would not even publish work on other Pacific Islands, such as my solid Report on the Financing of Education in Vanuatu (done for the Vanuatu Government and World Bank), which an expatriate IPS editor informed was “not the kind of stuff” published by IPS.

      While the Crocombe Group tried to focus their attack on Indo-Fijian academics, often using racist arguments, the following Open Letter by some 33 Fiji staff (scans A1 to A6), indicate clearly that there was widespread unhappiness with the Crocombe Group, with even expatriate academics signing (read the list of name on A5).

A1

A2

A3

A4

A5

A6

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The Crocombe Group arguments included the following racist arguments such as:

      “how can Asian academics properly teach Pacific Islanders?”

      “academic standards at USP are being diluted by appointing too many Fiji academics?” (but apparently not staff who were “Pacific Islanders” or white expatriates).

      “better to send PIC students to NZ and Australia” (of course, some good post-graduate students especially, might develop more in good large departments abroad).

      “too many Indo-Fijian students at USP” (was it that their fault if they qualified or were willing to pay private fees to enter USP?)

Of course, it is accepted that Australian and NZ universities then offered much better quality and range of courses than USP and probably today as well. But what did you expect from a small under-funded university less than twenty years old, in comparison to those in Australia, NZ and UK, built up over a hundred years?

[Crocombe became well know a couple of decades later by warning about the dangers of “Chinese imperalism” in the Pacific, choosing to ignore the white imperialism that had existed for more than a century, totally dispossessing Australian aboriginals, NZ maoris, and most Pacific Islanders.]

      Unfortunately, the Crocombe Group, including some senior Pacific Islanders (with rare exceptions such as the late Professor Epeli Haufa), was extremely influential with all of USP’s first vice chancellors (from NZ, Trinidad and Britain). Naturally, these vice chancellors also received public support from many expatriate staff who had a vested interest in not seeing too many “uppity” locals get appointed and promoted. But equally, there were quite a few expatriates (such as Sri Lankan Dr H.M. Gunasekara and British the late John Gibbons) who supported the local staff.

      Crocombe publicly continued his attacks on Fiji staff and the Fiji Government, while the  USP management colluded with them to suppress the young “trouble makers” by using blatantly unfair rules applied “ex post” to us (see the next post).

      A year later, with USP not responding internally to our complaints, I took the battle to the public with a Fiji Sun article (B1) to which Crocombe responded (B2).  It would be interesting for current USP staff and students to re-assess these arguments, on both sides.

B1 Wadan in Fiji Sun

B2 Reply by Ron

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Soon after, Mrs Marjorie Crocombe took to the media to defend her husband (scan C1), to which  I replied (C2) and a member of the public (Bai) commented on our arguments.  C4 explains why Dr Ken Livingston was forced by senior Pacific Islanders to withdraw his candidature

C1 Marjorie

C2 Wadan on Marjorie

C3 Bai on Majorie

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Not too long after, Dr Ken Livingston, himself an expatriate British citizen, despite being on the top of the short list of the Appointment Committee for the post of Director of Extension Services, , withdrew his candidature, complaining to the Acting USP Vice Chancellor that pressure had been put on him by four senior Pacific Islanders part of the Crocombe Group (scan C4).  Mrs Crocombe was subsequently appointed (without any PhD herself). The USP Council was supposedly notified but the USP community heard no more of the unethical and unprofessional behavior of USP senior management (not for the first time either that USP Council has refused to be publicly accountable to the tax-payers, despite public scandals- more on this later).

C4 Livingston withdraws

***********************************************************************

Many other senior USP staff also complained to the USP management and in the newspapers, but to no avail.  I post the scans of their letters here for readers to see for themselves, rather than quoting selectively:

D1       Dr Uday Raj,  most senior and respected scientist from SNR (SPAS)

D2       Aruna Prasad (from SNR)

D3       Ropate Qalo (PhD student from ANU)

D4       Ganesh Chand (PhD students from New York)

***********************************************************************

D1 Dr Uday raj

D2 SPAS

D3 Qalo from ANU

D4 Ganesh from NY

_________________________________________________________________

E0 to E6          Resignation letter to USP by respected Indian physicist working in SNR (now SPAS), and his explanatory letter to the  Minister of Education (Filipe Bole)

E0

E1 Srivastava to MoE

E2

E3

E4

E5

E6

Part of the regionalisation battles then was also Vijay Naidu (currently a senior Professor at USP) whose hard-hitting letters may be read here (F1 to F6):

F1 VijayF3F2

F4F5

_________________________________________________________________

Then also there was a combined letter from Naidu and Narsey.

F6

F7 Naidu Narsey letter

_________________________________________________________________

Post-script 1

While our academic quality was ridiculed by the Crocombe Group, the following two references I received in 1988 from my PhD supervisors after completing my PhD at Sussex University, suggests that we need not have been so pathetically defensive and cringing about our own academic abilities. I have also published (25 years late) an international “book” that our critics claimed we did not publish, as a sign of our mediocrity. While an international academic thought that I was among the best he had taught at Harvard, Monash and Sussex, the Crocombe Group contemptuously described us as mediocre. There have been many other Indo-Fijian academics at USP who were treated contemptuously at USP by these few racist expatriates and Pacific Islanders, but who rose to great heights in universities abroad.

z7 Evans reference

z6 Harvey reference

_________________________________________________________________

Post-script 2

Students of politics might learn the valuable Machiavellian lesson that some of the regional staff who were later appointed to high places,were nowhere to be seen or heard in our regionalization battles of the 1980s. They well new the personal advantages of waiting at the rear, until the “foot soldiers had fallen and paid the price”, before quietly moving in to enjoy the fruits. My poor friend Dr Ropate Qalo who refused to
kow-tow to those in power for decades, paid the price, with no USP management rewarding him for his decades of service, while other mediocre but “friendly” academics were rewarded with professorships.

Post-script 3

While every academic (at graduation ceremonies) feels uneasy because of the ethnic imbalance in the parade of graduates with Indo-Fijian graduates always dominating, there is no complaint anymore about the domination of Indo-Fijian staff.  Because of scholarships or well-off parents the food regional students (from Fiji and other PICs) still enroll in Australian or NZ universities, rather than come to USP (as I had documented when I was the Director of Planning and Development in 1995. My 2008 recommendation to the current Vice Chancellor to do a current analysis fell on conveniently deaf ears: it would not be good for USP’s allegedly high reputation to find out that USP was only receiving the “second or third tier” secondary school graduates.

Post-script 4

In the last few years, most of us expatriates and regional academics who have remained at USP for the last four decades have reconciled, having found that we shared many common values. What I deeply regret is that we wasted decades of potential friendships and co-operation because of the soured relationships in the 1980s.

To come:    The several struggles for the “Head Honcho” position at USP.

 

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