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Tribute to the late Professor David Harrison (Fiji Times, 10 April 2021)

14/07/2021

[Article contributed by Professor Vijay Naidu, Professor Biman Prasad, Professor Stephen Pratt, Dr Morgan Tuimaleali’ifano, Elizabeth Fong and Professor Wadan Narsey].

Professor David Harrison passed away on the morning of 6 April, 2021 in a London hospice with Senimili Kamikamica, his loving wife at his side.  He courageously fought a debilitating cancer for a number of years.

He is remembered with respect, admiration and fondness as a great scholar, teacher, mentor and thesis supervisor. He is known for his independent and critical thinking. He made most useful contributions in seminars and in giving clear directions for research and publications. He was a social anthropologist and sociologist with strong interest in development theories and their application to tourism studies.

Professor Harrison wrote several books, journal articles and book chapters on Modernisation and Development and tourism. He undertook field research in Trinidad, St Vincent and other Caribbean islands, in Fiji and other Pacific Islands, in Africa, Bulgaria and Europe.

Writing on his academic career his former PhD student, Professor Kevin Yelvington stated in an article published in the International Journal of Tourism in 2020:

“After a research fellowship on tourism in the Caribbean at University College, Swansea, with the then-Overseas Development Administration of the British Government, Harrison took up an appointment in Sociology at the University of Sussex in 1976, remaining at Sussex until 1996 with a year at then-Bendel State University in Nigeria. From 1996 until 1998 he helped develop a programme in tourism studies at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. From 1998–2008, he was Professor of Tourism, Culture and Development at London Metropolitan University. Then, from 2008 until 2014, he was back in Fiji, this time as Professor of Tourism and Head of School. At present he is Professor of Tourism, Middlesex University, and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Geography, King’s College London, and a Visiting Professor of Tourism at the University of Surrey.”

Professor David Harrison joined USP as the Coordinator of Tourism Studies in 1996 and over 3 years built the profile of the programme in very significant ways. Besides bringing academic rigour to the courses and programmes of study, he recruited and mentored a group of talented younger academics. He also ensured that the funds provided by the European Union via the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) were well used in building up a world class stock of books and journals on tourism at the USP Library.

Some colleagues joked about Professor Harrison’s ‘second coming’ when he returned to USP in 2008 after ten years as Chair of Tourism, Culture and Development at the London Metropolitan University. He served as Professor and Head of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at USP.

It was during this time that a more hands-on component of tourism hospitality began to be provided to students. He worked closely with the tourism industry to ensure that students were well equipped to serve tourism in Fiji and the region.

He willingly joined a group of senior USP staff including Professors Biman Prasad, Wadan Narsey, Jim McMaster and Vijay Naidu in engaging with governments, senior civil servants and reserve banks of member states in development policy dialogue. Fruitful discussions were held in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati.  Professor Harrison took the opportunity to advise officials on enhancing tourism sector prospects for their countries and tourism has indeed been a buoyant component of most Pacific Island countries’ economic growth.

David also had a keen historical interest in the history of Fiji and was proud of his personal collection of Fiji’s early 20th Century postcards, a topic on which he published

Besides providing excellent academic leadership in his own school, David Harrison actively engaged in the Faculty of Business and Economics as well as the University Senate and Council.  He was a respected senior member of the USP Staff Association (AUSPS) for his critical contribution to debates on academic freedom when were they were threatened at Laucala campus His critical views regarding the lack of collegiality in decision making and the top-top directions under the then university administration brought him into conflict with the Vice Chancellor and his team, who David was not afraid to take on. 

Former University Librarian (USP) Sin Joan Yee remembers that Professor David Harrison bravely and at possible cost to his own tenure at USP, demanded in Senate that the VC explain why USP Management was forcing Professor Wadan Narsey to resign. David spoke at length on the vital need for academic freedom at universities. When he was cut short by the VC who gave his own long winded obfuscating explanation, David ostentatiously placed his watch on the table and timed the VC’s own reply, humorously informing him when he had exceeded David’s contribution. The VC was forced to retort that he was the VC and could speak as long as he liked, clearly driving home the message to all present that under him, USP was not to be a regional academic crucible of equal intellectuals but a dictatorship of one manager. This might also explain some of the problems inherited by the next vice chancellor.

He was a jovial person who always socialised with great humour at all faculty gatherings with staff of all levels, nationalities and ethnicities as the photos indicate. He was never an aloof academic in some ivory tower as some expatriate or even some regional senior academics tend to be. He was not hesitant about criticising colleagues, but he always did it in an amicable way.

He fittingly found a lovely life partner at USP, in Senimili Kamikamica and his wedding was a joyous gathering at the Suva Travelodge (now Holiday Inn).

Professor David Harrison’s invaluable contributions to USP and his love for the university and the region will be long remembered and cherished by all his colleagues and students, leaving an enviable legacy at USP.

Professor Stephen Pratt shares a profile of David as a pioneer of tourism studies in the following link https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13032917.2016.1158224

Rest in Peace David

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