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“Chandra trumped by Tarr for VC job in 2004, but back in 2008”


Chandra trumped by Tarr for VC Head Honcho job in 2004 but back again in 2008

In 2003, the USP Vice Chancellor (Siwatibau) passed away after a short illness and the post of Vice Chancellor was again advertised, and again Professor Rajesh Chandra, who was Acting Vice Chancellor again applied.
Tarr appointment letter      On the USP Council’s Screening Committee there were many of our mutual friends, who kept Rajesh abreast of developments within the Committee’s deliberations.  Chandra then had no problem with the internal USP Screening Committee discussions being “leaked” outside of the Committee (he would have a different view later when he himself became Vice Chancellor).
It seemed to many of us then that the Polynesian mafia (led by the Registrar) was again working against a  good Indo-Fijian candidate, putting up alternative candidates, and encouraging participation at voting times of those in favour of the final alternative candidate left standing, Professor Anthony Tarr.  This “Letter to the Editor” conveys the “suspicions” of the Rajesh Chandra supporters.
Many of the Pacific Island country representatives and apparently even USP students reps apparently backed Tarr, rather than Rajesh Chandra. Crucially, Rajesh Chandra did not receive the backing of the Fiji Minister of Education in the Qarase Government (Ro Temumu Kepa) who was supposed to have supported Tarr. This no doubt had a lasting impact on Rajesh Chandra’s relationship to the Qarase Government and the Bainimarama coup.  But Tarr also had the backing of another very influential Fijian bureaucrat, Isikeli Mataitoga, who had supported not just the 1987 coup, but also ironically the 2006 coup as well. Eventually, Tony Tarr was appointed Vice Chancellor.
By this time I had left USP but attended the end of year AUSPS Union Christmas Party where I made a public statement decrying that a “an experienced and qualified regional candidate” was once more being bypassed by an expatriate who had no experience of the Pacific.
One senior regional staff member, part of Rajesh Chandra’s peer group as a student at USP, angrily admonished me, declaring that I should not criticise the decision of USP Council which she alleged was “sacrosanct”.  Tarr soon received the support of the expatriates at USP and of course the remnants of the Polynesia Mafia.
Rajesh was given leave to become the Vice Chancellor of Fiji University (which had been started by the initiative of Ganesh Chand and the Arya Samaj).  When Chandra went there, he was belatedly informed by Tarr that it was a “conflict of interest” for him to be still on the books of USP and Vice Chancellor of a competing university.  Apparently not receiving any support from his former colleagues in the USP  SMG (now SMT), he resigned from USP (I am not sure whether he was given the choice of staying at USP and resigning the Fiji University job).

What is for sure is that Fiji University was virtually like a rural secondary school and it would have been a terrible shock and a massive come-down for someone who had been the Acting Vice Chancellor of USP.  I suspect that the bitter shock would have stayed in his system for a long long time.
Tarr soon inflated (apparently enormously) the salaries of many of his Senior Management Team and got their unquestioning support, but supposedly went a “trifle too far” with some financial deals he did for USP.
After an independent  financial audit apparently facilitated by the Registrar and required by USP Council (and Ikbal Janif), and , Tarr resigned under a cloud whose details have never been revealed to the taxpayers.

Vice Chancellor Tarr and Academic Freedom

Whatever his faults, soon after the 2006 coup happened, Vice Chancellor Tony Tarr issued the following statement defending the academic rights and freedoms of USP academics and students (in blue).

To: All Staff/ All Students
From: Vice-Chancellor
Date: 24 January 2007
Subject: Academic Freedom

Dear Colleagues:
I have received several emails in recent weeks on the subject of academic freedom from concerned colleagues at USP and elsewhere. This issue was discussed at the senior management group (SMG) meeting today and it was unanimously agreed that I write to you in the following terms:

The SMG re – affirms without qualification that academic freedom is a fundamental value shared by staff and students at USP. The freedom to inquire, to study, to speak, to write and to learn is essential to the operation and very existence of any respectable university.

Accordingly we state that staff and students should follow their own conscience in exercising their academic freedom – especially their freedom of expression.

In doing so we urge staff and students to be scholarly in the exercise of their academic freedom and to adhere to relevant laws governing free speech such as defamation laws. As Lee Bollinger, “ The value and responsibilities of academic freedom”, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 8, 2005 observes: “Within the academy, we … face the impulse to jettison the scholarly ethos and adopt a partisan mentality, which can easily become infectious, especially in times of great controversy. Every faculty member I have known is aware of that impulse and tries to live by the scholarly temperament.”

We state, without qualification, that we will support vigorously and defend any staff member or student whose academic freedom is curtailed or threatened.

 With kind regards

 Anthony A Tarr

What a contrast from the attitude towards “academic freedom of staff and students” that would be taken by the Vice Chancellor who succeeded him.
From what I can gather, Vice Chancellor Tarr was also not a “micro-manager” and virtually gave free rein to the managers under him.  His Senate and other meetings were tightly focused on issues, no one was allowed meander or pontificate,  and all meetings were over in a jiffy, in massive contrast to that under the succeeding Vice Chancellor, whose Senate Meetings were ponderously and laboriously long, with monologues the order of the day.

The Bainimarama Coup and a new USP Vice Chancellor

With Tarr’s departure, the VC post was again advertised and there were several applicants, including Dr Esther Willams who had been Acting Vice Chancellor after Tarr. Also applying was Professor Brij Lal from ANU, who apparently sought and “received the support” of many senior expatriates at USP, while supposedly  backed by Tongans and Samoans.
But critical for Chandra was that soon after the Bainimarama coup, Filipe Bole, who had been employed at Fiji University by Ganesh Chand and Rajesh Chandra,  was appointed Minister for Education by Bainimarama.
With Bole’s full support and that of many of his USP friends (led by Professor Biman Prasad and including myself who was now back again as Professor of Economics at USP) Rajesh Chandra was finally appointed Vice Chancellor, his working life’s ambition
Rajesh welcome  Most of his friends attended his triumphant return to USP with a massive traditional Fijian ceremony of welcome by staff and students, staged at the USP Dining Hall. Some of us were somewhat annoyed when the Registrar (Walter Fraser) gave VC Chandra a parting book gift “Management for Dummies”.  In hindsight, I wonder whether Walter knew Rajesh better than some of us, his close friends for twenty years.
But a new era certainly began, with the honeymoon period being good while it lasted, just about for three years.
The Bainimarama Government then did its second coup in 2009, threw out the 1997 Constitution, and began to express unhappiness with the sustained criticism that some USP academics, and especially one economist, had been making of his military dictatorship and its policies, including the tightening media censorship and non-accountability to the Auditor General’s Office.  That economist’s world was soon to change.


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