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Continuing academic censorship at USP and “Fijian writers” (13/7/2018)

13/07/2018

Continuing academic censorship at USP and “Fijian” writers (13 July 2018)
Professor Wadan Narsey

Recently launched in Fiji with great praise by Chief Guest Unaisi Baba (Professor of Education at Fiji National University) is a  book titled Writing and Publishing in Fiji: Narratives from Fijian Writers, edited by Prashneel Gounder of Fiji National University (FNU) and Vinesh Maharaj, the Acting Manager of The University of the South Pacific Press (Fiji Times, 9th July 2018).

This would normally be a praiseworthy academic collaboration between by two enterprising young editors employed by the two universities, attempting to encourage young authors to write and publish. They had the support of well-known Professor Subramani and Professor Satendra Nandan, whose writings and views are included in the book as well as those of many budding young authors.  But this book raises serious questions about the ongoing censorship by USP and FNU.

No one reading the book and in particular my chapter in it “The trials and tribulations of publishing in Fiji” would think that it is a blatant example of academically dishonest censorship being practiced by USP Press in collaboration with an academic from FNU. This censorship is not minor as it emanates from a co-editor who is the Acting Manager of USP Press and possibly also with the hidden hand of USP’s higher management. It not only distorts the truth about the recent repressive nature of USP and its lack of progress in publishing output, but also attempts to hide the fact of censorship that has existed in Fiji after the 2006 military coup, and continues today in many subtle ways.

The ramifications of this  apparently minor incident also indicates the many  challenges ahead for the incoming Vice Chancellor of USP (Professor Pal Ahluwalia) should he be inclined to restore academic freedoms and critical thinking at USP that existed a decade ago, before VC Professor Rajesh Chandra decided otherwise in the interests of the Bainimarama/Khaiyum  Government and his continued contract.

The contents of this book and this article are also a warning that Fiji’s “intellectual space”, with the collaboration of some senior Indo-Fijian academics and administrators, is slowly but surely being distorted and effectively denied to indigenous Fijian writers by supporters of the Bainimarama/Khaiyum Government  and its continuing mantra that “we are all Fijians”.  It is surprising that two senior indigenous Fijian academics associated with this book launching (see photo in Fiji Times article of 9/7/2018) do not call it out the ethnic biases in this book which claims to be a record of narratives by “Fijian” writers.

My contribution: “Trials and Tribulations of Publishing in Fiji”

In August 2017, I received an invitation from FNU’s Prashneel Gounder stating that “it would be an honour” if I were to contribute a chapter to a book  ‘Writing and Publishing in Fiji: Narratives from Fijian Writers’.  He stated that the themes included “the challenges for Fiji writers… appreciation of local writers… determinants to encourage writing and publishing in Fiji”. From me in particular, he was seeking “perspectives which other authors  would not have, a reflection of your publication journey and the struggles as we need to encourage writers to continue to publish and write in Fiji” (email 13/12/2017).

Despite being strapped for time with my ongoing publishing work, I was willing to support such a worthy initiative.  When I asked whether anyone was doing a quantitative analysis of what has been published over the years, on what topics, and by which publishers, co-editor Gounder replied (11/12/2017)  “presently there isn’t anyone doing that so you might like to do that”.

I wrote back that to be more useful to budding authors and publishers, I would also write about the “mistakes I have made over the years in not optimizing my opportunities, the institutional weaknesses in not providing the support (professional services and finance) that authors need, the critical importance of personal choices as to what to publish, the critical importance of the appropriate balance between “local” community interests and that of the wider academic world, and the importance of sympathetic retail outlets for books”.  I was encouraged when co-editor Gounder replied approvingly (email 19/12/2017) “Those are certainly very useful points which will not only add to the diversity of the chapters in the book but provide valuable insights for all”.

After I sent my chapter, Gounder wrote back “Thanks for the brilliant chapter which addresses key issues with an excellent narrative approach that makes it easy for the readers to follow. Its an exceptional guide to budding writers.”  Later he wrote (2/1/2018) “Many thanks for the submission of your chapter, I will be going through the typos and will consult you if there are any changes to it.”  But later Gounder wrote (20/3/2018) “The book is with Vinesh (USP Press), he is doing the final changes and we hope to have it published soon.”

When I finally saw the soft copy of the book and read my chapter, I noted to my horror that a large number of sentences, paragraphs and even sections had been crudely deleted, significantly changing the substance of the article. Despite Gounder’s assurance that “I will consult you if there are any changes to it” there was no consultation and I certainly did not agree to any changes that were made unilaterally which undermined the very objectives which Gounder had agreed to at the beginning.

When I asked the co-editors who had edited my article, the initial response was that Gounder and Maharaj had jointly edited my chapter. After further prompting from me and from Gounder himself, Vinesh Maharaj (Acting Manager of USP Press, not an academic and certainly not a professional editor) replied wrote

It [my chapter] had to be aligned to theme of the book and anything outside this was edited/deleted by both of us. The whole idea of the book was to promote, encourage and attract new writers and reflect the collaboration between  the three tertiary institutions. So any arguments and or criticisms were totally reviewed and deleted by me… kindly note that USP funded the cost for all production.”  How astonishing.

When I requested that before launching the book the editors paste a line at the top of my chapter stating that “The contents of this chapter have been edited by the editors” Maharaj replied that they would consider that for the “next print run”, my request effectively declined for the books now in circulation- hence my writing this article.

But further examining the actual content of the deletions revealed all too clearly  how  academic censorship is being silently and unethically practiced by USP Press. The “editing” by Maharaj and Gounder had deleted any text that reflected negatively on a raft of USP management policies towards the writings and publications by USP academic staff, despite the fact that the deleted items were all relevant to a book that was supposed to encourage writing and publishing by budding “Fijian authors and publishers”.  The nature of at least one deletion (to do with a quality USP/UNFPA book) suggested clearly that the USP Vice Chancellor was probably involved in the censoring.

More later on the editors’ political use of the term “Fijian”.

Deletion 1

In my section on the extent of publishing in Fiji and regionally, I had this paragraph which was totally deleted by the authors:

Perhaps I can start by making a personal assertion (which only the facts can substantiate or contradict) that no Fiji tertiary academic institution can seriously claim that they have a solid record of publishing academic books.  Why they don’t may be better understood by examining one moderately successful experience in the past- the Institute of Pacific Studies (IPS) at the University of the South Pacific (USP).

The editors left in my brief outline of the success of Professor Ron Crocombe and the IPS in encouraging and publishing Pacific Islanders and thankfully also left in the seven important lessons I had distilled from the Crocombe success, which were the following: senior recognized academics who have the willingness and the time to assist and guide young authors in publishing; qualified editors to help attain minimum quality in the text;  qualified book designers who can add great value to any book through proper indexes, book covers; qualified typesetters to ensure a quality “print-ready” output to go to the printers;  the required financial assistance from the institutions; a systematic program to publish authors covering comprehensively areas of development that are necessary for  Fiji’s development, with honest reports on their progress (or lack of it); adequate academic  and financial reward by their employing institutions for publishing quality material. I repeat them here because of the undoubted relevance of some of them to the very book edited by Gounder and Maharaj and future books of the kind suggested by Professor Unaisi Baba (see below).

But what I found horrendous was that these editors totally deleted the following section in entirety which explained what USP’s institutional weaknesses in not encouraging their academics to write and publish (footnotes were also deleted):

I doubt if any of our academic tertiary institutions can confidently answer in the positive to all of the above and the USP record is worth examining.

USP’s record

It is a pity that even the premier and well established academic institutions like USP has lost the recognized senior academics and qualified editors who are vital for a substantial publications program. It seems that university management has little concern for publishing quality material, and academic publishing KPIs are rarely mentioned or documented in their Strategic Plans or proactively monitored; and there is no comprehensive university wide plan for publishing by subject matter that is important for Fiji’s development, although the Strategic Plans do list a range of important subject matter.

            Readers can draw their own conclusions from this table on “Research Output by Publication Type” and the following data for the years from 2012 to 2016, presented in USP’s 2016 Annual Report (page 24):

Table

Even without any analysis of the quality of these books or book chapters this is hardly a great record of improving excellence in international academic output, despite the existence of “USP Press”. In that same 2016 Annual Report, USP’s data on output by discipline areas is utterly mixed up and bears little relation to what USP claims it wishes to achieve in its Strategic Plan for 2013 to 2018.  USP has given little priority, or simply has not been able to appoint the necessary quality staff who could publish successfully.

            It may also seem to negate commonsense that USP management’s criteria for academic reward for decades did  not include publishing through USP channels, such as its through its flagship Journal of Pacific Studies.  [Footnote removed: I remember being on a USP Appeals Committee which with great difficulty managed to reverse USP management’s negative treatment of excellent academic USP publications by Dr. TK Jayaraman.] International journal publications were always given greater weight even though the natural consequence was that authors preferred to publish internationally, and hence local USP publications even received less recognition- a vicious race to the bottom. The budding authors can ask themselves: do their tertiary institutions adequately recognize and reward their academics for local publications?

            One  symptom of the failure of USP to address their academics’ publishing needs was the success of a competing but privately funded medium of publishing Fiji Institute of Advanced Studies and its journal Fijian Studies. [Footnote removed: The catalyst for this was Dr. Ganesh Chand, assisted by his academic friends and colleagues at USP and abroad.]

            I am of course assuming that there are potential authors who have the ability to produce work of sufficient quality that can be published by regional institutions.  The tragedy is that good local academics, as soon as they establish their reputations, are attracted away to employment in Australia and NZ.  They do not usually return even for professorial positions.

            The outflow of quality academics will never be damned, for obvious reasons. Salaries and perks are at least three times more than at USP, FNU or UniFiji; research and publications support is considerably higher; family members and children have access to quality education, health and other facilities not available in Fiji; and employment in Australia and NZ is understandably seen to have far greater status than in Fiji.        With the continued emigration of good academics, Fiji tertiary institutions will keep facing a paucity of quality authors, although a few committed and dedicated ones will remain, as a few have done in the past and still do today.

Note that in this deleted section was a table of basic factual statistics facts drawn from USP’s own Annual Report, also deleted despite quantitative analysis being specifically requested of me by editor Gounder.

No doubt, this section was deleted precisely because it reflected negatively on USP’s claim to be encouraging quality academic output and did so with facts, not my subjective judgement. That table also undermined Vinesh Maharaj’s claim (as on the back cover of the book) of his own “successful leadership” of USP Press and alleged excellent output in the last few years.

Those at USP will know that quality academic editors of USP Press and at USP Information Office have not had their contracts renewed and replacements not appointed for long periods of time. Indeed there is a sad story of how IPS Press was gutted and the replacement USP Press never adequately funded or staffed ever since its inception. USP Press has not produced the quality outputs it could have, even given the declining quality of academics at USP. The clear counter examples were the previous IPS experience under Professor Ron Crocombe, and the success of the privately published journal Fijian Studies under the leadership of Dr. Ganesh Chand and, ironically, his academic friends at USP like Professor Biman Prasad and Dr. Sunil Kumar (text also deleted).

Deletion 2: Lack of recognition of Fiji academics

Every good academic at USP and FNU will readily acknowledge that they face the depressing problem of lack of recognition of their quality work by overseas academics, who nevertheless assiduously use the locals’ work without fair referencing, and some even blatantly plagiarize.  Why would the editors delete this following section which our local academics would agree with and like publicized even if they themselves would be reluctant to do so:

The third curse of publishing in small states: lack of recognition

Fiji academics publishing locally with their university publications such as at USP, FNU or UniFiji face another “curse of publishing in small states”: lack of international recognition. Fiji academic institutions and academics, whatever their managements’ claims of international accreditation, simply do not have status in the regional universities of Australia and NZ, either of their own personal positions or their publications.

It is unfortunately the case that some internationally successful former Fiji academics do not hold in high regard even the most senior academic positions in Fiji, whether at USP, FNU or UniFiji. A typical response of such academics established abroad when informed of professorial vacancies at USP was that they preferred to be mere lecturers at any Australian or NZ university rather than a professor at USP. While that might be expected given that USP professors earned less than university lecturers in Australia or NZ, it was demoralizing for those who remained in Fiji because of their commitment and not because they could not obtain more lucrative overseas posts.

Another negative of staying local is that the publications of the “recognized” academics abroad, even those of former Fiji citizens, all too easily leave out the many writings of the local academics whose works  may be even assiduously mined by the international academics.  This can be incredibly galling and even depressing for local academics for several reasons: local academics are working at the “coal face” and especially if they are authors critical of government policy, perpetually run the risk of government censure. Some Fiji academics have experienced this all too often after every military coup, but especially after the 2006 coup when media censorship (including self-censorship) was endemic. Almost always, the local academics’ work is avidly and carefully read by the recognized regional academics before they write up their own sanitized versions, often from the safety and security of their comfortable tenures in Canberra, Wellington or other metropolitan center where they are very profitably employed, compared to the poorly paid and stressed out Fiji academics.

Quite often the academics publishing from the metropoles deliberately exclude the local authors from their list of references, thereby presenting to the world the illusion that the relevant “experts” are only those referenced in the metropolitan publications, including themselves who are usually more than amply referred to. International academia also unfortunately has “imperialist” or “colonizing” dimensions where local academics are marginalized or removed from the metropolitan bodies of knowledge about the very local political economy which the metropolitan authors are writing about, or making their living from.[1]  I have too many personal examples of such demoralizing treatment by Australian and NZ academics (some former Fiji citizens) to write about here.  [Deleted footnote: Two examples I can give are of an editor of a prominent ANU academic publication (Pacific Economic Bulletin) and an editor of a NZ university publication (Pacific Scoop), both of  whom refused to reference my article they had themselves gladly published in their own journals, on the themes they were later writing about.]

There is also unfortunately the workings of “normal science”, a concept popularized by Kuhn, whereby the “in-group” decide who are the experts to be cited, what topics are to be researched, what methodology is be used, what qualifies as answers, and where they may be published.

Why would editors Gounder and Maharaj delete the above section which clearly outlines some of the key challenges faced by budding local authors and publishers, apart from the fact that  USP management would not be pleased with these honest sentiments. The question remains whether Maharaj did the deletions personally or someone higher up in USP management.

Deletion 3:  The use of conferences to foster writers and publishers

In my chapter I had pointed out the critical importance of bringing together solid academics and their writings in order to produce a quality publication, even if a local institution did not itself have a sufficient number of quality academics and their writings. Gounder and Maharaj themselves recognized this in their current book, in trying to draw on not only on current and former academics at USP, FNU and FU, but also writers at large.

Bringing good authors together can be extremely difficult at the best of times, especially if the topic of the planned book is narrow and specialized. I therefore explained how a regional or international conference, organized at the local institution, could assist local authors and academics to be part of a much larger effort which was  more likely to deliver a quality publication.

I honestly wrote about one of my own personal failures three decades ago to maximize the output from a regional conference on “Industrialization in the Pacific” funded by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.  I found it dismaying that the Gounder and Maharaj completely deleted the section on my failure to produce a book out of the industrialization conference to which we had received papers and presentations not just from USP academics, but also academics in Australia, New Zealand and PNG, as well regional organizations:

USP has hosted many such conferences, some of which have not resulted in any solid publication for a variety of reasons and some which have, both types being experienced by me personally.  In 1988 for instance, I was Co-Chairman with Dr. Rajesh Chandra of a regional conference on industrialization organized by the then School of Social and Economic Development, now the Faculty of Business and Economics. It was well attended and the papers were supposed to be published as a book, that never eventuated. That was a good opportunity missed.

Any wise person would acknowledge that often the best lessons are learnt not just from past successes but also from past failures. So why was this example deleted? Was it because it implicitly also reflected negatively also on the Co-Chairman of the Industrialization conference?

Even stranger was the deletion to do with one of the great successes our Economics Department and Faculty of Business and Economics had with hosting a regional conference on Population and Development, together with UNFPA. That FBE effort resulted in an excellent quality book that any editor would be proud of in the region or internationally, and would like to hold it up to budding local authors and publishers, especially as some $400 thousand dollars had been devoted to it by a reputable international organization, UNFPA, and brought great credit to USP as the VC himself recognized . But Gounder and Maharaj (supposedly) deleted this section:

There was a major improvement in 2009 however, when the United National Fund for Population Development (UNFPA) provided some $400 thousand dollars to USP to co-host a regional conference on population and development. The Planning Committee comprised both senior USP and UNFPA staff and an extremely successful conference was held between 23rd to 25th November, 2009 with solid, policy oriented papers delivered by dozens of experts. A solid publication was put together, edited by Wadan Narsey, Annette Sachs Robertson, Biman Prasad, Kesaia Seniloli and Eduard Jongstra. Technical editing assistance and typesetting services was also funded by UNFPA and an excellent quality publication and teaching and learning resource was produced: Population and Development in the Pacific Islands: accelerating the ICPD Programme of Action at 15. (UNFPA and USP, 2009).

Deleted footnotes:

  1. The Planning Committee was chaired by Professor Wadan Narsey. Also from USP were Professor Biman Prasad, and Kesaia Seniloli, UNFPA members were Dr. Annette Robertson and Eduard Jongstra.
  1. The company WordWorks was hired, with inputs from editors Seona Smiles and Barbara Hauofa.

The quality of the book and its usefulness for students, teachers, governments, regional policy makers, and donors, may be gauged from Vice Chancellor Rajesh Chandra’s own glowing speech at the launching on 20 April 2011 as written up in the USP Newsletter (I quote here):

https://www.usp.ac.fj/news/story.php?id=774

“The book is anticipated to be a comprehensive and useful resource for Pacific population and development issues for policy makers, academics, students, development partners and the general public. The 400-page publication was edited by a team led by Professor Waden Narsey from the School of Economics at USP which included the Dean of USP’s Faculty of Business and Economics, Professor Biman Chand Prasad, USP academic, Dr Kesaia Seniloli, and UNFPA representatives, Dr Annette Robertson and Dr Eduard Jongstra.

     The Vice-Chancellor and President of USP, Professor Rajesh Chandra described the publication as a “landmark resource” for academics and practitioners in the fields of population and development in the Pacific region. “The Pacific Islands face unique development challenges in the wake of the global economic crisis and the threat of adverse impact of the global environmental change, all combined with the obvious problems posed by relatively high population growth in some Pacific countries,” he explained.

     The book is a record of plenary presentations and discussions of the regional symposium on population and development issues in the Pacific which was organised by USP in November 2009. Professor Chandra highlighted the importance of the symposium as it brought together relevant stakeholders like policy makers, civil society representatives and academics from all over the Pacific. He added that the publication was a very good example of an output which will maximize the benefits of that conference.

     He stated that the Population and Development Organising Committee was able to achieve considerable savings through tight budgeting which has been allocated by UNFPA to Population and Demography and Official Statistics programmes being offered at USP. As the premier tertiary institute in the region, Professor Chandra said that USP promotes better collaboration and cooperation with all its member countries and its development partners in conducting relevant research and consultancies.

     Professor Chandra acknowledged UNFPA’s support to the University’s work in the area of Population Studies and Official Statistics and added that the continuing partnership with UNFPA shows the University’s commitment to building long-term sustainable partnerships with all its development partners.”

 

The Director and Representative of UNFPA Pacific, Mr Dirk Jena said it is an “honor” to be associated with USP in officially launching the book. He added that the publication reflects the stimulating review of the latest research in the fields of population and development for the region. Mr Jena commented that UNFPA was very pleased with USP’s efforts in this area especially in hosting the regional symposium in 2009. “This publication is a testimony of the hard work and innovative thinking that happened at the symposium,” he mentioned.”

The book launch was attended by representatives from regional and international organisations including UNFPA, members of the media, USP staff and students and invited guests.

I suggest that not just Gounder and Maharaj but all the authors who have contributed to the their book should examine this book (cover given here) which is available at the USP Library and can be downloaded here:

http://repository.usp.ac.fj/4639/1/Population_and_Development_in_the_Pacific_Islands.pdf

Examine the Contents pages which list the quality authors and in-depth papers on a wide variety of topics related to Population and Development presented not only by USP academics (Professor Biman Prasad, Dr. Ganesh Chand, Rup Singh, and Professor Narsey) but also excellent academics from Australia and NZ, and extremely senior and capable regional civil servants. This is indeed a book which is of great use for tertiary students and lecturers in the topics on population and development.

Examine the back cover which does not see to flatter the editors but describes the important regional themes in the book.  Even Gounder and Maharaj will surely agree that this USP/UNFPA book is of the highest quality, professionally edited and designed, and worth emulating by budding writers and publishers, who are intended to be encouraged by their own book.  So why would the Acting Manager of USP Press decide to delete the section which expresses the same sentiments as the Vice Chancellor of USP?  The general readers may be forgiven if they cannot see any rational answer at all.  Unfortunately, neither the average reader nor even the co-editors Gounder and Maharaj would have been aware of a reprehensible episode in 2011 regarding the Vice Chancellor’s doubtful presence at the launching of the USP/UNFPA book.

The USP VC, Professor Narsey’s contract renewal, and the UNFPA/USP book launching

Just months prior to that book launch, the USP management had inexplicably attempted to give me only a limited one year renewal of contract alleging spuriously that I did not have “enough international publications”. Upon appeal and supported by eight distinguished referees (Japanese Ambassador, Ausaid Director, UNFPA Head Suva, Professor Mick White, Peter Forau of the Forum Secretariat, Father Kevin Barr of ECREA, Dr. Sunil Kumar Head of Economics and Professor Biman Prasad Dean FBE), the USP Appeal Committee (chaired by Ikbal Janif, later to be Chairman of USP Council) overturned the USP management decision and awarded me a normal three year contract.

This high level committee of USP Council noted “Professor Wadan Narsey’s substantial contributions in teaching, research and publications of regional relevance. … he was an exemplary academic and a teacher of very high caliber”. Mr. Janif’s letter to me looked forward to my “esteemed and valuable contribution to the University”. So how could the Contract Renewal Committee and USP VC, who all knew my academic work for thirty years, decide otherwise?

When I found out the sordid facts, I wrote to the Chair of Council (Hon Fiame Naomi Mata’afa) bringing to her attention all the serious breaches of USP procedures that Vice Chancellor Chandra had allowed at the previous Contract Renewal Committee, including allowing totally false extraneous matters to be introduced by some Senior Management members of that Committee, allegations not written on my staff renewal form as required by USP procedures, and the failure of the USP Secretariat to record fully that extraneous matters that had been brought into the discussion.

Unfortunately my complaint was overtaken by the planned launch of the USP/UNFPA with the USP Vice Chancellor refusing to attend unless I withdrew my a letter of complaint to the Chair of Council.  Given that by UNFPA protocol the regional Head of UNFPA (Dirk Jenna) would then have also not attended, and purely out of respect for my UNFPA colleagues who had worked so hard on the conference and the book, I withdrew my Letter of Complaint. Only then did the USP VC then co-launch the USP/UNFPA book, with the glowing words recorded above.

So the question must be asked again: given that editor Vinesh Maharaj would have had no idea at all about this incident, who then was responsible for censoring the section on the one book published by USP which could genuinely be held up as a model for Fiji writers and publishers, and market USP to international organizations?   When I persisted with asking Vinesh Maharaj who exactly had edited my chapter his reply was

“I assure you that your article was completely edited by me and was not referred to any USP management or anyone. It is my duty to protect the interest of my employer, every stakeholder and every person I engage with.  I am confident,  responsible and capable of handling such matters professionally and in making my decisions of what should  and should not be published. I therefore request you not to misplace my integrity and loyalty.” 

Aaaah.  That word “loyalty” comes up often in the world of the USP Vice Chancellor Rajesh Chandra. I recollect it also being used by a Dean in the USP Senior Management Team who supported the VC to not give me a normal renewal of contract (another Dean told an SMT Member to shut up when she was interrupting the Dean of FBE who was supporting me).  The word “loyalty” even made it into the advertisement as a requirement for a senior position.

Some strange deletions

In my chapter, I had made a comment that it was unfortunate overseas universities (like ANU) often published books when most of the contributions were from local academics. This was deleted: by editors Gounder and Maharaj:

Of course, the ANU publication brings credit and strengthens the reputation of ANU. Yet there is no reason why a Fiji academic institution should not have hosted such special publications, given that there is no shortage of local academics and colleagues abroad.

I had made a comment that the authors writing for community education needed to be encouraged by their academic employers by giving them full credit in staff evaluation rewards. But this was deleted:

It is a pity that many universities (including The University of the South Pacific) do not treat community education writings on par with “academic” articles, even though serving their communities is usually explicitly stated in their Mission and Vision statements.

I had written that authors were not encouraged to publish books for profit because retailers demanded high markups and refused to stock reasonable quantities of their books.  But editors Gounder and Maharaj deleted the following:

Retailers such as Motibhai’s and Tappoos demand an incredibly high markup which can be up to 100 percent. Even USP Book Centre, which has been subject to commercialization pressures from USP management, has around a 40% markup.

This deletion is hardly ethical given that Maharaj is himself the Acting Manager of USP Book Center.

I had argued that authors did not have to be restricted by any of the constraints of publishing in print as the Internet and free platforms such as WordPress were available but that authors needed to publish under own names and not anonymously and be accountable in law. I noted that I began my own personal blog, but the editors deleted the following text in red:

I began my own personal blog, NarseyOnFiji, during that dark period in Fiji’s history (2011 to 2014) when the military government tightened its hold on the media through its control of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA) and its media censorship and intimidation.

So these editors completely removed one major problem of writing and publishing in Fiji recently- that of  government censorship of any criticisms by academics of the failures of their public management.

Professor Subramani and censorship in Fiji

This whitewashing of Fiji’s immediate past history of censorship under the Bainimarama/Khaiyum Government may also be seen in the musings of Professor Subramani, given in the very first chapter by Prashneel Gounder where Subramani correctly notes:  “It is a great disappointment that the tertiary institutions are not moved by ideas. Students seldom attend public lectures. It is a dismaying fact that staffs too do not show genuine interest in seminars and public lectures…. “There are complex reasons why that culture of public debate and dialogue haven’t taken roots in Fiji. In the 1970s there used to be such vigorous debates at the University of the South Pacific on colonialism, multiculturalism, relevant education, regionalism, nuclear free Pacific.”

      I would agree with the above views of Subramani.  But then he muses: “Probably after 1987, free expression has become problematic, and so it doesn’t come easily”. 

     What a horrible and deliberate distortion of the truth. The vigorous debates at USP did not stop in 1987 as Subramani implies but continued with great vigor led by the schools of Economics and Governance with Biman Prasad,  Vijay Naidu, Sandra Tarte, Mahendra Reddy, Wadan Narsey, and others being prominent.  There was solid involvement of numerous USP academics  with NGOs like CCF, ECREA, Transparency International, Parkinson Memorial Lectures to name just a few sponsoring panel discussions and workshops.

Subramani refuses to reveal that the real constraints on critical debates at USP came, as Subramani well knows, after USP Vice Chancellor Chandra became an avid opponent of all public debate that reflected negatively on the Bainimarama Government (I write more on that below).

But accepting the position of Chairman of MIDA soon after the Bainimarama coup 2006, Subramani would have been also well of the enormous pressures put on media to not report freely and may well have led to his resignation, without confronting those who had severely restricted journalists and publishers.

Indeed, after the 2006 military coup in Fiji, local media and universities were subjected to unprecedented  levels of censorship by the military Bainimarama Government, some openly visible to the public, but some very much out of sight. It has continued till today most openly as in the protracted prosecution of the Fiji Times over the contents of a Letter to the Editor written in the Fijian vernacular and published in the Fiji vernacular newspaper, Nai Lalakai. While the presiding judge acquitted them all, the Director of Public Prosecutions has apparently chosen to appeal the case against the publisher of the newspaper.

Subramani is with some legitimacy seen as literary giant and mentor to most of the Indo-Fijian writers in the book edited by Gounder and Maharaj. But while bemoaning the absence of critical thinking and debate at universities, he has never to my knowledge publicly voiced opposition to the horrendous academic and public censorship that has been stifling democracy in Fiji. My recollection is that Subramani’s aversion to confront injustices to fellow colleagues was unfortunately also his approach to our regionalization battles at USP in the nineteen seventies and eighties, something the current generation would be totally unaware of. That does not in any way detract from his contributions to Fiji literature and his praiseworthy mentoring of young writers.

The contested term “Fijian” and Professor Unaisi Baba

When the book chapter invitation had come from Gounder, I had not paid attention to the subtitle of their planned book: “Narratives by Fijian Writer”. When the book came out and I saw the list of authors (which the editors strangely left out of the contents pages), 16 of the 18 chapters were by Indo-Fijian writers, and only one by an indigenous Fijians. The section on vernaculars is all on Fiji Hindi or Indian vernaculars- nothing on the indigenous Fijian vernacular which is genuinely under threat in Fiji. You can examine the content of nearly all the writings in this book, whether by the senior Professors or the junior budding authors, most are geared towards Indian or Indo-Fijian culture and societies.

This bias in the contents and authors in the book edited by Gounder and Majaraj is hinted at indirectly by Professor Unaisi Baba when she commented in her Foreword on the title of the book “Writing and Publishing in Fiji: Narratives from Fijian Writers”:  She said

The topic says it all: the book carries narratives of writers – all Fijians of Indian descent except two, of their own journeys  … The context of the Fijian Indian writer is situated between his historic home –continental India and his home after colonialism – Fiji. The choice by Satendra Nandan for instance to write about Jawaharlal Nehru points to this relative ease to move between one’s mother land and his home Fiji”.

How astonishing is this statement?  After pointing out that nearly all the writers are Indo-Fijians, she then goes on to discuss the “Fijian Indian” writer, while she describes the “motherland” of Nandan, born in Fiji, to be India.

But later in her Foreword Professor Baba suggests to Gounder and Maharaj  “In future, perhaps a similar edited collection could also just focus on writers of other leanings besides literature….  Such re-thinkers have engaged with local and indigenous ideas of epistemology and ontology among other topics example, Ilaitia Sevati Tuwere’s Theology of Place or Ratu Semi Seruvakula’s “Bula Vakavanua” or my own book, “ Knowing and Learning: A Fijian Approach”.

Apart from the fact that Baba ignores that my chapter was not on literature or focused at all on Indo-Fijians, the authors she suggests above all happen to be indigenous Fijians. She could have suggested many others who have published in other fields such as Dr. Bain or Dr Sutherland or Dr. Robbie Robertson or Professor Biman Prasad or Dr. Ganesh Chand.

But having long been associated with indigenous Fijian academics who refuse to confront opposite views directly (with the exception of my old friend Jone Dakuvula) I read between Professor Baba’s lines as  a typical indirect way by an indigenous Fijian academic voicing criticism without asking directly of Gounder and Maharaj: where are the indigenous Fijian authors and voices in your book of narratives by “Fijian writers”?

One can see the relevance of this discussion if we ask ourselves: what would an international reader not knowing the current political disagreements in Fiji about the usage of the word “Fijian” interpret the contents of this book which alleges in the title that these are narratives from “Fijian Writers” when there is no indigenous Fijian voice there at all and almost the entire focus is on “Indian-ness”? Even where Subramani talks about spirituality, he states “the thought came to me that I should do a book on spiritual quest of Fijians. I’m now doing a book on a group of pilgrims from Fiji that travels to India for spiritual nourishment.”

     Professor Nandan also devotes a large part of his chapter on the deaths of three Indian Prime Ministers.  But why on earth would he not even mention write about the need to publish the incredibly large and valuable Report of the Yash Ghai Constitution Commission of which Professor Nandan was a very visible part. Indeed, even though that comprehensive and valuable Report was put together after enormous national consultation and technical assistance, including inputs from USP academics, when the Report was trashed by the Bainimarama Government, Professor Nandan uttered not a word in protest, in contrast to the other local member, the courageous late Penny Moore.

It is extremely disappointing to me that the Indo-Fijian editors and even some of the eminent writers they quote frequently in their  chapters, such as Professor Subramani and Professor Satendra Nandan, have no sensitivity to the reality that the term “Fijian” has been imposed on all citizens of Fiji by military decree, without the consent of the indigenous Fijian people, whose political leaders today such as in SODELPA contest. There is little concern by Indo-Fijian writers that it is not a good signal for the future of the Fijian vernacular if that language is banned from the Fiji Parliament.  Two rare exceptions are MP Professor Biman  Prasad and FNU’s Professor of Meteorology, Dr. Sushil K. Sharma who has had the courage to speak out in Fiji Times. It may no coincidence that USP Press has been publishing the works of Subramani and Nandan.

I repeat that I personally use that term  “Fijian” to describe myself only when I am abroad, but in Fiji I describe myself as an “Indo-Fijian” because for more than a hundred years, the term “Fijian” was used to describe indigenous Fijians, as for instance by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.  But note again, Indo-Fijians, that as in colonial days, the FBS today yet again labels Fiji citizens of Indian descent, as “Indians” , a term that most Fiji academics had previously opposed. I would be very happy to be called a “Fijian” in Fiji if indigenous Fijians collectively made the decision that they would like to make that historic change, while they call themselves iTaukei or whatever else they choose.

USP’s broader censorship and appointments of chamchas

Even if editor  Vinesh Maharaj did not personally agree with the segments he censored from my chapter either  no self-respecting professional academic editor would do that because it implied criticism of his employer or even himself.  Does he not even know the cliche respected in the academic world that “I may disagree with your views, but I will defend to death your right to express them”.  But clearly, not so Vinesh Maharaj, Acting Manager of USP Press and also of the USP Book Centre which demands 40% profit margins on books and will only hold a dozen or so copies. Why would non-academic Maharaj feel that he has some authority to censor because USP funded the publication, moreover without consulting the author as was promised by his co-editor?

To understand this arrogant censorship better, one has to understand the climate of comprehensive censorship that has been created at USP by VC Rajesh Chandra and the Bainimarama Government, by all kinds of methods which I briefly mention here from my own personal experience:

  1. In 2009, the ILO requested (Email from Edward Barnard 9/6/2009) requested I chair a Youth Employment Forum as part of the ILO’s Youth Employment Programme of activities on youth employment in the region. The Dean (FBE) complained to USP Management that ILO had informed him that they had been asked by the regime “ILO to remove Wadan from the programme. It seems that the regime is now determining where we can speak”.  USP did not complain.
  2. In 2010, I was part of a UNDP-USP Planning for a regional conference on globalization to be held in Vanuatu. I was excluded from the USP Team led by the Vice Chancellor (Professor Rajesh Chandra) and replaced by Joeli Veitayaki (a marine scientist) with Chandra explaining that “there were too many Indo-Fijians on the team”. The Bainimarama Government was expected to attend.
  1. I was invited by the USP Journalism Students Association to be the Guest Speaker as part of the World Media Freedom Day celebrations. The USP VC instructed the Head of School (Professor Mishra) and the Dean of FALE (Dr. Akanisi Kendrayate) to have me removed from the program. This was done without any protest.
  1. In 2011, the USP VC forced a Professor of Economics to come back from his sabbatical at Kagoshima University in Japan and informed that the Bainimarama Government would not pay up some $30 million they owed USP unless I departed from USP, despite his already agreed contract. With USP management united in their position, the academic departed.
  2.  In 2014, the USP Vice Chancellor attempted to exclude two former senior professors of Economics (Biman Prasad and Wadan Narsey) from the Board of the Journal of Pacific Studies, who were eventually reinstated.
  3. VC Chandra has cancelled academic panel discussions organized by the Department of Economics, on Government borrowing policies
  4. The VC Chandra has stopped university students from playing a critical role as “society’s conscience and voice” that universities play globally such as stopping USP students protesting against the Indonesian Government’s suppression and genocide of the West Papuan people.
  5. He has pressured senior academics and managers to resign even two Deputy Vice Chancellors (some at great cost never revealed to USP Council) one of whom was told who he should not associate with socially.

9 Numerous Human Resource Managers have been appointed and soon departed, unable to cope with the VC’s unprofessional machinations.

10 Incredibly out of sight is the pathetic loss of management etiquette at senor management levels: many senior USP staff, some with forty years of dedicated service to USP, have been retired without a cup of tea by USP management. But wait for the great fanfare when the current VC leaves.

Censoring by not appointing

But perhaps the most invidious and silent form of censorship which the public never think of and the incoming new Vice Chancellor will no doubt confront, is VC Chandra’s refusal to appoint good senior managers, heads of department and professors, while eliminating or deterring good senior staff who do not play ball with him personally.

Clearly, this failure to appoint good staff and have long periods of “Acting Appointments” must impact negatively on the quality of academic output (which USP’s own data shows is either stagnating or declining) and a failure to ensure smooth succession of regional leadership, while reducing the impact of USP academics on Fiji society and the region.

(a) when regional VCs Solofa and Siwatibau were succeeded by Australian Tarr, Chandra protested and demanded (with our support) that the VC must be regional. But when he himself was appointed he proceeded to appoint mostly expatriates underneath him, of no great repute or performance..

(b) He even pressured capable senior regionals like Professor Biman Prasad (who Rajesh Chandra feared as a competitor for his VC position according to a Council Member) and an expatriate Deputy Vice Chancellor (Dr. Dilawar Grewal), to leave.

(c) Professor Prasad was relieved of responsibility over the “Development Dialogues” which had been held successfully in Solomon Is, Vanuatu, and Tonga and given to Jai Karan. These valuable Development Dialogues soon fizzled out.

(d) Professor Prasad was relieved of the management of the PICPA program for which he and I had successfully obtained some $30 million from AusAID. VC Chandra’s petty refusal to pay adequate salaries in this high level program for the Director (“how can their salaries be higher than the VC’s?” he pleaded) meant PICPA also fizzled out and some $20 million was taken back by AusAID- a scandalous development which was never brought to USP Council’s attention or explained.

(e) VC Chandra has retained mediocre non-dynamic Heads of Faculties, including the FBE where a mediocre Accounting Professor (who has never had a public presence in his field) has not only been Head of Accounting, but also Acting Head of Economics and even but also Acting Dean of FBE.  It is no surprise that that Faculty has stagnated.

(f) Despite VC Chandra’s boasts of taking USP from “good to great”, there are numerous Professorial positions which have not been filled or if filled, the recruits have departed soon after out of frustration.  It is no wonder that the academic output of has stagnated or fallen.

(g) VC Chandra has manipulated academic representation to USP Council to ensure that there is no voice against his machinations within USP.

(h) VC Chandra has manipulated information on the USP Website and USP Newsletters to ensure maximum prominence given to him as no other VC in the history of USP.

(i) Even in the 50th Anniversary information, there is no mention of previous Vice Chancellors (some very good such as Dr James Maraj who really fostered regionalization, or the late Siwatibau or the only other surviving regional VC Esekia Solofa, a Samoan) or very senior staff some of whom have served for more than forty years, including couples with combined services of more than seventy years.

(j) Imagine appointing a singularly ordinary Professor of Accounting as Head of Accounting and Financial Management, Acting Head  of Management and Public Administration, Acting Head of Economics, AND Acting Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economics, despite the fact there are more than enough other academics far more capable than this Professor of Accounting, who has totally failed to make his mark even in his own field of expertise for the last twenty years.

The end result has been that after ten years of Professor Rajesh Chandra being VC, he had singularly failed to groom anyone who could have been a possible regional  successor. Anyone who could have replaced him was driven out of positions of responsibility.

It was almost inevitable that an expatriate (Professor Ahluwalia) has now been appointed as Vice Chancellor, who is now apparently supposed to implement Rajesh Chandra’s “Strategic Plan for 2019 to 2024” even though Chandra’ term was expiring in late 2018 (some might see it as a failed ploy to obtain another renewal of his contract)..

More seriously for USP management of all sections and all levels, including senior management, what are left at USP are what Indo-Fijians call “chamcha” (mindless cogs) whose sole task has been to “sambhalo their unit” (manage the unit) in exactly the way that the VC would like, with no regard to university principles or ethics.

The USP Press therefore is a prime example where VC Chandra has refused to appoint quality staff and editors. It is no surprise that  there is an Acting Manager with no academic experience or editing skills, who financed a book using USP funds, in which he parades as a “co-editor” and professes “loyalty to his employer” in justification for his censoring of all critical views of USP. No prizes for guessing who he has been appointed to be loyal to.

The new Vice Chancellor Professor Ahluwalia has a lot to clean up at all levels of USP, if should he be so way inclined.  But even that cannot be taken for granted given that the USP Council which appointed Ahluwalia, has shown no indication over the last ten years that it has been in any concerned about the censorship at USP of academics and students, the mediocrity of the appointments, and the massively costs of making staff “go away” without explanation to the regional taxpayers who are the ultimate stakeholders of USP. Would they appoint a VC who might come and heaven forbid, restore USP to its genuine glory days that even Professor Subramani allegedly pines for.

 

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