UPNG warns students planned protest ballot ‘bordering on contempt’

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The UPNG logo statue at the entrance to the university. Image: UPNG

Management of the University of Papua New Guinea today appealed to protesting students to resume classes with seminar exams only three weeks away, warning that a ballot over a classes boycott borders on contempt of court.

A statement from UPNG said senior management at the university had made every attempt to resolve the current student impasse and urged students to return to classes.

The management has held several meetings with Student Representative Council (SRC) leaders and students, explaining its role in enabling the student body to exercise democratic rights within UPNG’s SRC constitution and governing  rules and procedures.

The University Senate has made several resolutions about the semester 1 academic programmes, while “taking into account the rights of students” to continue their education and return to classes, and also the rights of staff members.

“The academic issues of the University are presided over by the school boards, the University Senate, and the University Council,” Vice-Chancellor Albert Mellam said.

“The management is tasked to carry out the directives of those latter two bodies.”

The SRC has approached the Electoral Commission to conduct a referendum to determine whether the majority of students wish to resume classes and those who wish to continue the boycott, the UPNG statement said.

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Contempt of court
The Vice-Chancellor had already made it clear to all parties that for the university’s management to facilitate such a ballot would border on contempt of court, the statement said.

“Should the Office of the Electoral Commissioner agree to the SRC’s request for a referendum, it can, at best, do so only on the issue of return to classes. In such a case, only registered students would be allowed to vote, as vetted by the Registrar, with the outcome to be decided by a two-thirds majority, as set down in the SRC Constitution,” the UPNG statement said.

The university’s management would have no direct involvement in such a referendum, other than to monitor the registered students.

The Minister for Higher Education, Malakai Tabar, had already made it clear to the student body that semester 1 examinations were only three weeks away and that the deadline for the withdrawal from studies had now lapsed, the statement said.

“This means that those students who consciously choose to boycott classes will fail the courses for which they have enrolled. Failing four to five courses automatically amounts to exclusion for more than two Semesters,” the minister said.

Acting on the resolutions of the University Senate, the minister’s request for students to resume classes, the UPNG management has requested the student body to “work collaboratively” with it to bring normalcy to the university.

This semester’s exams are due to start on May 30.

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