USP Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Rajesh Chandra spoke to staff of the university during the USP Staff Forum at Laucala, Suva.
Academic freedom is crucial for universities and USP is no exception, said The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Rajesh Chandra.
He made the comment at the first Staff Forum for the year at the Japan-Pacific ICT Centre in Laucala on 25 April, 2016.
Professor Chandra said academic freedom largely involves the ability of the University to develop its curricular without interference from anyone except for controls such as the relevance and modernity of the programmes and courses offered, and their alignment with the Strategic Plan objectives.
“It means the freedom that each lecturer has to perform the learning, teaching and research activities without interference,” he emphasised.
According to Professor Chandra, academic freedom is also “the ability of staff to make comments publicly, observing the codes relevant to their professions, reflecting their areas of expertise”.
Staff at the USP Staff Forum in Laucala.
“Academic freedom does not give you a license to defame other people or to pursue a biased and personal agenda or to endanger the academic freedom of the vast majority of your colleagues,” he noted.
Professor Chandra also told staff members that USP’s guidelines and provisions relating to academic freedom are similar to those of Australian and New Zealand universities.
Professor Chandra also said the University can only succeed in its goal of transforming itself from good to excellent if staff cohesion is maintained.
He added that universities are places where one can disagree with others, which is the norm of any good university. "I would like to see more emphasis on how staff can work together, how colleagues can be respected and how we can be more professional. We argue different points but when people put their personal agendas above the interest of the university, than those staff have a real problem, ” Professor Chandra added.
Professor Chandra urged staff at all levels to engage with each other.
“I would like to suggest that engagement be an important priority at all levels – including Senior Management, Deans, Heads of Schools, and all supervisors so that we do not have any sense of alienation that can quickly set in, in any situation, especially so when there are a lot of changes going on,” he said.
He assured staff that they had the complete freedom to raise any issues affecting them without fear at the university and urged staff to be professional, observe the relevant codes of ethics of their disciplines, and demonstrate the strength of their academic training and expertise.
Professor Chandra also confirmed that management was engaging with the unions and staff representatives to finalise agreements for the welfare of staff.
One such agreement which is likely to be implemented soon, he said, was the rolling out of five-year contract for staff instead of three years.
“I want to ensure that this happens either towards the end of this year or early next year so we can deal with the inadequacies of three year contracts. We also want to agree on good probation arrangements when we move to longer terms to protect both parties,” he noted.
He said management will work on concluding agreements with the other unions “so that all of us have clear paths to where we are heading”.
Professor Chandra added that he was expecting grand celebrations at USP’s 50th anniversary “to mark the anniversary of this unique institution that really has shaped our region in a way that no university, other than the University of West Indies has been able to do”.
“Staff constitute our main focus because without you we cannot deliver anything. We are together on this inclusive and shared journey,” he said.
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