‘Up in arms’ USP staff challenge vice-chancellor’s stay in Samoa

USP's Professor Pal Ahluwalia
USP's Professor Pal Ahluwalia . . . under fire from staff over his Samoa location and reappointment. Image: Samoa Observer/Rashmi Lameta

By Alexander Rheeney in Apia

Disgruntled staff at the University of South Pacific (USP) are demanding the USP Council make a decision on the relocation of the vice-chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, to Fiji from Samoa.

The demands from the USP staff coincide with the university’s two-day 96th council meeting at the Laucala campus’s Japan ICT Building earlier this week.

In an email that was sent to regional media last Friday, including the Samoa Observer, the staff said they were “up in arms” over the decision by the university’s pro-chancellor to block a submission from the staff to the agenda of the council’s meeting.

“The paper is in response to the decision of the May 2023 USP Council (C95) meeting where its attention was drawn to the many unresolved issues faced by the staff over the period 2021 to May 2023 and some earlier, despite meetings of the staff policy committee and SMT/union quarterly meetings which are chaired by VCP [vice-chancellor and president],” read the statement issued by the university staff.

“University management only found it necessary to respond to issues when the Association of USP Staff (AUSPS) filed a log of claims in October 2023. The VCP then appointed the chief operating officer and the executive director people and workforce strategy to engage with the union.”

According to the USP staff, two meetings were held to respond to the decision of the May Council for the university management and the unions to work together to address the issues and to report and update the November (C96) council.

A paper was then submitted for the November 2023 council agenda containing updates on resolved and unresolved issues in response to the council’s decision and new issues that have come to light since C95.

Paper ‘cannot be tabled’
However, the staff said that on November 20 the secretary to the council informed the council staff representative that the pro-chancellor and chair of the council had directed him to inform her that after reviewing the paper, “it cannot be tabled at the 96th council meeting” because “the issues raised therein are not for council to deliberate on”.

University of the South Pacific protesting in black
University of the South Pacific staff protesting in black with placards calling for “fair pay” and for vice-chancellor Professor Ahluwalia to resign. Image: Association of USP Staff (AUSPS)

They added that the pro-chancellor had directed that these be worked on with the USP management.

“She failed to acknowledge that the paper contained responses to May council decision and that there are issues such as the salary adjustment that the management has refused to discuss or negotiate on.

“PC [pro-chancellor] then proceeded to state that the council does not deal with matters of salary adjustment. Precedent has been set where the council has approved salary adjustments.”

Fiji’s national broadcaster FBC on Tuesday reported that the president of AUSPS, Elizabeth Read Fong, had questioned why Professor Ahluwalia continued to live in Samoa despite the Fiji government lifting the ban that the former Fijian government had placed on him.

Fong reportedly said that the logical choice would be for the university’s vice-chancellor and president to return to his office at the main headquarters of the USP in Laucala Bay, Suva, and appealed to the Samoa government to facilitate the release of the vice-chancellor.

She said the regional university continued to spend a lot on Professor Ahluwalia’s travel and accommodation expenses every time he travelled to Suva from Samoa.

The Samoa Observer has contacted the USP vice-chancellor for comment on the concerns that the USP staff members have raised.

Many USP staff dressed in black protested for two days over their grievances with the vice-chancellor.

Alexander Rheeney is editor of the Samoa Observer. Republished with permission.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email