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USP Chief Warns Campus Over Race, Politics

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SUVA: Vice-Chancellor Esekia Solofa has warned staff and students of the University of the South Pacific they risk being suspended for any ethnic or political offence "likely to damage trust" between campus communities.

"This includes provocative comments or criticisms made within or outside the community, leaflets, graffiti and any kind of personal intimidation or harassment," he said.

"Persons guilty of such actions show that they do not belong in our university community and will be removed.

"Our task is teaching and learning, and we must take action to preserve our freedom to get on with it."

Last month, university authorities fined USP Students Association president Veresi Bainivualiku $150 for "manhandling" an Indo-Fijian student in an incident which stunned the campus for more than a week.

Association of University of the South Pacific Staff president Dr Biman Prasad said the student leader needed to do some "serious soul-searching'' after the fine.

Dr Prasad added that student leaders and associations should participate in more fundamental activities like human rights instead of petty issues which had racial overtones.

Writing in a memorandum dated September 22, Vice-Chancellor Solofa said there had been "certain trends" which were worrying the university since Fiji's political crisis began on May 19.

He said that the regional university in general could be proud of its record in promoting understanding on racial, national, religious and political issues.

The university community had often set a "shining example" - notably at Fiji's Laucala campus where "large numbers of Fijians, Indians, other Pacific Island and international students, Christians, Hindus, Muslims" lived, worked and shared together.

"However, as we have faced a renewed challenge from outside events in the last few months, I have sensed some deterioration in these relationships and tensions and suspicions among the members of our community," Solofa said.

"It is time for each of us to do what we can to reduce them and restore the peaceful atmosphere needed.

"Threats and counter-threats by members of different groups against others which put at risk the university's special mission cannot be tolerated."

Solofa also reminded heads of schools, institute directors and other senior staff to refrain from all public political activity.

He reminded staff not to use university facilities for political purposes.

In June, at the height of the political crisis, Solofa circulated a memo to USP staff and students which was widely interpreted as a "gag" on public comment on the coup and its aftermath. The journalism training website, Pacific Journalism Online, was also closed for a month.


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