USP students protests continue across region

Solidarity action for change continues today in a number of University of the South Pacific campuses around the region, as students throw their weight behind the call for “good governance” within the institution’s highest management echelons.

Today has been designated “Green Monday” by the USP Student Association (USPSA) which is leading the “solidarity in silence” protest against last week’s controversial suspension of Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia by an executive committee of the USP Council.

The action provoked widespread concerns over the state of affairs at the university and prompted vigorous calls for the USP Council to meet and look into the matter.

“Support for the USP Council Meeting has been made official and very soon we’re expecting a communication from the USP Secretariat regarding an update of the meeting.  We’re just waiting for the logistics to be finalised so that we know the details. Basically that is what the students wanted, that is what the student body wanted, which is if Vice Chancellor Pal is appointed by the full Council (USP Council), then any decision to suspend him or remove him should come from the full Council,” said Aneet Kumar, spokesperson for USPSA Federal, the umbrella management body for USPSA branches in USP’s 14 campuses in the region. 

“That was the stand we took, it’s the cause that we’re fighting for and we’re glad that our activism has worked.  The students are showing their continuous solidarity across the campuses and we’re putting our trust in the USP Council that it will make the right call, the right decision and as usual, it will act in the best interest of the students, the staff and the future of the organisation,” Kumar said. 

While solidarity support activities were organised by students last week in Samoa, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Marshalls Islands and Niue, students in its Laucala Bay campus had to resort to coloured dress codes to show support for their cause, as they have been informed by Fiji Police that they cannot organise a protest without a permit.

Last Friday, the presence of plainclothed Police officers on campus drew criticism from the student body.

“Staff and students are questioning the approval by the Pro-Chancellor (9th June) and the Acting Vice-Chancellor (12th June) for Police presence on Campus when we have a competent Security team. There is no criminal activity to justify this. Clearly, this approval is not to protect the students and staff but to intimidate. We have not and will not be intimidated,” USPSA said in a statement.

Kumar said police presence was not required as no protest had been organised at the Laucala campus since Monday last week when they were told of the need for a permit.

“Our message was clear, there was no protest and we didn’t encourage any protest.  All that the students were saying is that it’s a solidarity support where we’re showing support, we’re standing up for good governance, we’re standing up for Vice-Chancellor Pal,” he said.

While Fiji-based students are unable to protest, USP students’ support has been overwhelming and according to Kumar, and there has been an outpouring of telephone calls and messages of support from Fiji and across the Pacific region.

“They’re all joining our cause. Samoa is leading the way and today we have seen EMALUS and we’re also seeing support from Solomon Islands campus students. The same has been from Cook Islands, Marshalls Islands, Niue, all across.  So we can say that the response has been very good,” he said.

“What the students are doing is part of their learning process, part of their activism, part of their good governance that they’re standing for and we’re not holding anyone back from expressing their opinions, for standing up for what they believe in because we are the collective voice of the students so whatever they believe in, whatever they stand for, we voice that out.  So here the voice gets stronger because USPSA as a whole represents all students from the entire Pacific region,” Kumar said. 

The special meeting of the USP Council is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.