IT IS TIME TO DRAIN THE SWAMP AT USP AND MAKE USP GREAT AGAIN
Professor Rajesh Chandra's hatchet man - Professor ARVIND PATEL. This man, a close aide and confidant, does all the dirty spade work for Chandra. Patel is accused of lacking the moral character required for a person to hold a top administrative position. He is also accused of misappropriate behaviour with his students and uses abusive language while talking to staff/students. Furthermore, as per USP rule, staff owning property in Suva are not allowed to stay on campus. Patel owns property all over Suva, including in areas which are at walking distance from USP. In spite of that he stays on campus. He is the Head of Accounting and Finance at USP. He is also currently a member on the USP Council. He is accused of shielding Professor Rajesh Chandra. We will be publishing more on Patel with documents
Also, coming soon - Putting the Knife Into Chand: How Rajesh Chandra and Education Minister Mahendra Reddy allegedly conspired at the Tiri Restaurant to get rid of Dr Ganesh Chand as Vice Chancellor of the Fiji National University, and for what reasons!
"It is a fact though, that the VC’s residence was brightly lit by generator during and after devastating Tropical Cyclone Winston, presumably while neither he nor his family were even in the country. In contrast, the rest of the campus was pitch-dark. There is nothing legally wrong with either one of these instances. However, leadership is about perceptions and messages. What kind of message did this very well lit house surrounded by complete darkness send to the students, staff and the public during this devastating storm and its aftermath? Meanwhile students did not even have access to food or water due to the imposed curfew, till the VPA made arrangements for it with his own personal funds and initiative. What effect did this have on the morale of the students, faculty, and staff who were within sight and earshot of the residence? Social media posts during the period are quite telling. Are these USP values? When a public university leader shows such extravagance and disregard for other people’s feelings, it puts into question the University’s commitment to its staff and students. University leaders should be seen as embodiment of self-sacrifice, not self-benefit."
"This document is written with the intent to present specific problems to the Council to consider and remediate. This document is not written with the intent to disparage the University, the VCP, other leaders or anyone else at USP. It would be counter-productive to either disregard everything in this document by labelling it as musings of an ex-employee or blaming the VCP for everything. It would be prudent for Council to dig deeper and determine for itself the facts and what it wants to do about them as the governing body because the stakes are very high when you consider how lives and futures are affected. Council, of course, is free to seek additional information, specifics, or discard any and all of the issues presented in this document." - Dr Dilawar Grewal
A. Impact on USP Culture and Atmosphere
The words and actions of any leader of USP have a profound impact on people, as everyone reads meaning into these actions and words. These affect the morale of staff, how they start acting, what they find acceptable, the dynamic between staff, and even retention and recruitment of new staff.
i. Culture of Fear and Silence – There is a significant increase in self-imposed censorship at this seat of learning called USP. People read a message in removal of senior people at the University and the revolving door positions. They read a message when conditions of your continued employment at USP include who you can and cannot talk to. People get afraid. They stop talking.
The culture of USP is changing, and not for the better. The messages people are receiving, whether deliberately intended or otherwise, are a major contributor to this culture change. Loss of trust, loss of comfort, and perception of unknown restrictions or threats at personal and professional levels can only result in the deterioration of the quality of staff, the reputation of the university, and its potential to hire well qualified and hard to recruit staff.
ii. Culture of Favoritism – Look at the minutes of the Senate, Council meetings, even USP Beats, and public speeches given during, say, Open Day etc., and you will find that at USP repeatedly one or two people and departments are highlighted for credit, even when clearly the credit must be shared with others or even belong to others. Contributions and accomplishments of others may be diminished or absolutely ignored for acknowledgement citing it is not about personal accolades in the Pacific. In the least, this creates a perception of favoritism and privileged few.
iii. Censorship of academic freedoms, stifling and disregarding of differing opinions, emphasizes position authority to ensure compliance to personal agendas, not institutional positions - What is the quality of USP administration work environment when the following words are heard from one of the leaders:
“No more discussion, the **** (insert the name of the position that person holds) has spoken.” Or “I am friends with the Director of Immigration. You don’t know the Pacific. I can get any expat deported overnight.” The first example has been heard in more than one meeting and the second is a paraphrase of something said at a specific meeting on May 24th, 2016 by one of the leaders of USP. Any person holding a leadership position at the University, is just that – a leader; not the owner of USP or its staff. At leadership levels the combined voices of colleagues and peers is in some cases more important and valuable than that of a single leader. What does it say when one refers to themselves in third person to shut up any discourse with colleagues? Is this acceptable to USP? This affects USP’s reputation when enough people have witnessed it.
iv. Suitcase staff/expendable expats – International competition is hard on USP. Recruiting is tough, yet USP is hardly doing anything to support long term stays of expat staff or supporting their families to retain staff for longer periods. In fact, the constant threats by administration create an environment where people are not certain how long their job will last, so they do not feel comfortable bringing their families here. The everything-in-a suitcase, expendable-expat expectation is the message people are receiving regarding USP job offers and treatment.
This is significantly detrimental to USP reputation and ability to hire accomplished staff on a long term basis. USP needs expat staff more than expat staff need USP. Leaders at USP should be projecting the image of USP as a welcoming place, rather than a two year stint between jobs for qualified people. Leaders should also follow through on the commitments they make when hiring expat staff, or any staff for that matter, and not make offers that they have no intention of fulfilling. A single well placed article in, say, the Chronicles of Higher Education, on the experience of expats at USP could have a profound effect on whether expats prefer to come to USP or avoid USP for employment. Honor is still a valuable commodity in the world, especially for educational institutions.
Another issue with hiring expats from the view point of expendable people on a two year cycle is that the University will become limited to hiring only people who have either already retired from elsewhere or are in transition and not willing to bring their families with them. Short term stay staff affect stability and performance of programs. The University needs long term leaders of programs, research initiatives and development areas. The University also needs younger leaders for their energy, enthusiasm and outlook. Retired personnel bring experience and contacts, but their priorities in life are different at that stage of their lives. Post retirement employment is not the same as mid-life career moves.
v. Leadership issue specifically with the current VCP – It is mentioned in certain circles that the VCP has spent over $200,000 renovating his own residence over the last two years. Not a word was spoken about this, while the focus was maintained on the renovation of the accommodation for the VPA instead, which was a contractual obligation that was fulfilled for less than 30 days at the end of a two year period. Whether the talk about the amount spent on the VC residence is true or not or even matters is something for Council to look at. It is a fact though, that the VC’s residence was brightly lit by generator during and after devastating Tropical Cyclone Winston, presumably while neither he nor his family were even in the country. In contrast, the rest of the campus was pitch-dark.
There is nothing legally wrong with either one of these instances. However, leadership is about perceptions and messages. What kind of message did this very well lit house surrounded by complete darkness send to the students, staff and the public during this devastating storm and its aftermath? Meanwhile students did not even have access to food or water due to the imposed curfew, till the VPA made arrangements for it with his own personal funds and initiative. What effect did this have on the morale of the students, faculty, and staff who were within sight and earshot of the residence? Social media posts during the period are quite telling. Are these USP values? When a public university leader shows such extravagance and disregard for other people’s feelings, it puts into question the University’s commitment to its staff and students. University leaders should be seen as embodiment of self-sacrifice, not self-benefit.
vi. Relationships with the staff unions, especially USPSU, have been very tenuous for years. Why? How did it get better and why is it going downhill again? These questions are important and have implications for the University.
B. Impact on USP Reputation.
Things that significantly affect the reputation of the University that Council needs to be aware of:
i. Withholding or delaying payments to vendors and staff - Finance reports to the VCP through the EDF.
There is a long list of vendors and people who have not been paid for very significant lengths of time, even in violation of contracts and the law sometimes. On whose instructions does this happen? Even if no direct instructions were issued, who is responsible when it affects the reputation of the University? USP is not above the laws of the country. USP is a member of the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation, and as such has pledged to uphold the ILO principles to eliminate forced and compulsory labor.
And yet, there are numerous examples of USP not paying staff their final pay in a timely fashion as directed by law, payment of repatriation costs, consultant bills etc.; all of which have a direct negative effect on the reputation of USP. An extreme interpretation of the University not paying staff their contractually required passage home on time is that it is a direct violation of Fiji’s Immigration law and could even border on being considered as human trafficking.
In any case, it is bad business practice and in some cases violation of law. Specific examples can be provided upon request or in consultations.
ii. Revolving door for senior most positions – Following is a list of senior staff that have left USP in the near past.
a. Munish Malik – Director Finance
b. Susan Kelly – DVC LTSS
c. John Bythell – DVC Research
d. Dilawar Grewal – Vice President Administration
e. Noel Lawlor – Director of Risk and Compliance
f. Heather Stadel – Director HR
g. Franco Gandalfi – Dean FBE
h. Prof Biman Prasad – Dean FBE
i. Prof. Murari Lal – Director PACE-SD
j. Charles Traffey – HoS SoMPA (not a direct report to VCP)
k. Adish Naidu – Director P&F (not a direct report to VCP)
People give all sorts of reasons for leaving in order to not burn bridges with USP, but these are not people who left USP happily. There is a pattern that says something. The pattern continues even after psychometric testing was made a condition of employment of senior staff. Why such a high turnover of senior staff? Any organization would want to get to the bottom of this. It not only costs a lot to hire people at these levels, it affects productivity when positions are vacant, and the pattern sends a message to other people interested in senior positions at USP. Does USP want the reputation that it is not a stable place to work or has a very high turnover? Do the ensuing lawsuits not damage USP’s reputation in the sector?
iii. Future state – Given the decision to divert so much money, effort and attention to developing PTAFE in lieu of the academic and research agendas of USP, what is USP going to be known for in the future? Will it be seen as a “career builder” in Fiji and the Pacific or be recognized as an organization for its accreditation in cooking classes and demolishing the vocational studies infrastructure of Fiji?
iv. Professional Development – Council adopted a clause that says the VCP can take two weeks of all expenses paid Professional Development every year anywhere in the world, even without invitation, and would be paid round the world business class airfares. Compare this to the FJD$6000 per contract period (once every 3-5 years) that is available to academic staff.
What is the message that USP is sending to the staff? Vice Chancellors come to be Vice Chancellors at the top of their careers. Given the USP pleadings for more money from member countries and the laying off of tens of people in the name of saving money by outsourcing, perhaps Council should look at travel expenditures in a different light. Council might be interested in looking at the top three people on the list of travel expenses incurred by USP and ask the question what benefits have these people specifically brought USP that someone else couldn’t have.
C. Behavioral attributes of leaders
a. If you pick up any USP Beats magazine or look at the announcements put out for public consumption, a very telling pattern emerges. Any gracious leader congratulates and highlights his staff. They do not claim credit for other people’s accomplishments and always proclaim and advertise his/her presence.
b. The saying that there is no “I” in team is quite profound. A quick search of university communications will demonstrate the paucity of “we” statements in comparison.
c. How much of the travels of certain people are for self-promotion rather than actually bringing in either additional funds or resources to USP? d. Not sharing credit with subordinates, not bolstering subordinates in their career development, not sharing opportunities, and not mentoring people is not a mark of good supervision and leadership at any level of the University. Leaders nurture and grow institutional assets, including their most valuable asset: their people.
a. Putting down senior managers in meetings, asserting rank, and not valuing the advice of colleagues are all signs of disrespect towards people who have more than a century’s worth of experience between them.
b. Projecting that only certain people know what is best for the University is very disrespectful to others. People do not want to make decisions when they know those could be publicly overturned without discussion or warning.
c. Micro managing – meddling by leaders in decisions at all levels in any department creates a culture of disrespect. As an example: If the VCP takes it upon himself to tell a HoS what he/she can or cannot do, it would not only project disrespect, it would also paralyze the HoS and the Dean as functional administrators. Same logic applies to any senior manager and leader in both academic and administrative areas.
iii. Professionalism of leaders
a. Delaying delivery of or completely withholding contractually obligated benefits from employees may or may not be illegal, but is definitely unethical and unprofessional
b. Ignoring communications and not responding to issues that may be difficult to respond to or possibly point out follies is highly unprofessional for people in leadership positions. Management and leadership is not about comfort and covering up, it is about identifying and fixing issues.
c. Projecting other senior people as being at a lower status in front of others in meetings is absolutely unacceptable behavior of any leader
d. Bringing personal issues and conditions into professional staff assessments is highly unprofessional and unethical
e. Revising meeting minutes significantly to reflect one’s changed views and in contravention of negotiated positions is unprofessional and unethical
f. Sharing confidential HR matters in specific details with uninvolved third parties is not only bad practice, but possibly also illegal in some countries
iv. Manipulation of facts
a. Meeting minutes are essential to recording accurately what transpired in that particular meeting. Amending of meeting minutes is limited to the purposes of correcting errors or typographical mistakes or omission of facts. These have to be agreed upon by people present at the original meeting. Amending of meeting minutes is not for the purposes of recording after the fact transition to a new set of facts as per anyone’s convenience. The risk with this practice is that both people and departments cannot rely upon decisions taken in a meeting or on the process of negotiations within a meeting because it may all change in the next meeting when the meeting minutes are rewritten.
b. Whenever communications and information sharing is strictly controlled within management or between management and governance, accountability and efficiency take a hit. In situations like these singular points of view get projected as collective decisions and distributed leadership and expertise is sacrificed for personal positioning. It actually becomes difficult for peers and subordinates to know what the real situation is around any issue. Combine this with a blame culture and it is a perfect picture of what administrations should not be doing.
c. There is a distinct pattern in meetings with some leaders at USP. For most people accolades are few and far in between. There usually is some sort of an accusation or negative comment, not up for discussion or even substantiated, and then normal conversation. The accolades, unless they are for a handful of people, are rarely recorded in the meeting minutes, and accusations are generally recorded. The pattern is to always keep the other person on the defensive. This kind of approach does not build confidence in the “team” or even between the supervisor and reportee and is counter to best practices in management and leadership.
d. There is almost an art to deflecting responsibility at USP. First, call or tell subordinates to do something, instead of writing it down or sending an email, and have them sign-off on it in order to claim transfer of responsibility and absolving of oneself against all future liability. Whether this actually absolves one of legal obligations and liabilities is suspect at best, but it surely diminishes confidence and trust within the team and the organization.
This document is written with the intent to present specific problems to the Council to consider and remediate. This document is not written with the intent to disparage the University, the VCP, other leaders or anyone else at USP. It would be counter-productive to either disregard everything in this document by labelling it as musings of an ex-employee or blaming the VCP for everything. It would be prudent for Council to dig deeper and determine for itself the facts and what it wants to do about them as the governing body because the stakes are very high when you consider how lives and futures are affected. Council, of course, is free to seek additional information, specifics, or discard any and all of the issues presented in this document.
It may be that there may be simple answers to all the issues raised in this document. However, in that case does it not beg the question that why would members of the senior management team not be privy to the logic and specifics of those answers? A team should have common knowledge and there should be minimal distance between the VCP and the DVCs and VPs. Walls of silence impeding communications between Governance and Management, and between levels of management also are not conducive to building team oriented development of USP. It is not only risky, but also ineffective to let the voice of any one person, in any position including that of the VCP, be the sole voice determining the future of the University.
The infrastructure of USP is diminishing, no matter which way you look at it. Number of programs, full professors, and other markers of a world class university have fallen. Finances are not in good shape even when presented in the best light by the university administration. Processes are ineffective in many areas. The shift from academic and research to investment in vocational studies and training has significant risks associated with it for USP as a university aspiring to be recognized on the world stage. Insistence on absolute control and micro-management of the University by administrative leaders has diminished management at all levels and prevented effective succession planning at many levels. There is high turn-over of senior staff and staff at other levels. All these factors may or may not be of particular concern to Council, but put together, they definitely warrant an in-depth look at the state of affairs of the University.
The University of the South Pacific is a unique institution in the world – not because it is one of the two regional universities in the world, rather because of its role in the region. USP is not just a provider of degrees and certificates, it is an institution that builds hope for future generations in the region, it builds leaders, it builds economic generators, it provides livelihood, and it contributes to national pride, amongst many other things. It is prudent responsibility of the Governance, Management, staff, students, and well-wishers of USP to do everything we can collectively to make this beacon of hope and progress in the Pacific shine even brighter. Personal gain, power, and agendas should have no place in the quest and responsibility to serve the region in the best way possible.
Your time and attention in reading and considering this document is greatly appreciated. The repercussions for speaking up are significant for people. I implore you to open up multiple channels of communications and seek alternate sources of information to draw your own conclusions on the matters mentioned in this document, as well as, matters of equal or greater importance that have not been mentioned here. Hopefully, this will lead to improvements, contributions and actions that make USP even better.