Fijian Academic Cites Racial Bias as Reason for resignation

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
Thu Mar 24 14:02:50 UTC 2005

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>From The Chronicle of Higher Education,

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Fijian Academic Cites Racial Bias as Reason for Jumping From Flagship to
Upstart University


The deputy vice chancellor of Fiji's University of the South Pacific
resigned last week, saying that racism had again been a factor in his
second unsuccessful bid to lead the island nation's flagship institution
of higher learning. He also said he was taking a post at an upstart rival

Rajesh Chandra, a professor of geography with more than 30 years of
experience in teaching and administration, including 18 months as acting
chief of the University of the South Pacific until earlier this year, will
head a fledgling private college, the University of Fiji, which opened
last week.

While the attraction of leading a new university was a factor in the
decision, Mr. Chandra said on Wednesday that he could no longer serve at
an institution where "ethnicity rather than competence" played the
deciding role in hiring for the top position.

Mr. Chandra, a Fijian of Indian descent, had twice been shortlisted for
the vice chancellorship, or presidency, of the university, which enrolls
18,000 students and employs some 300 faculty members.

The institution is multinational, serving 12 island nations sprinkled
across the South Pacific, and is jointly sponsored by the governments of
Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand.

But internal dramas during its 37-year history have often taken place
against the backdrop of longstanding domestic tensions between Fiji's
politically dominant indigenous inhabitants and their more economically
successful compatriots who trace their origins back to the Indian
subcontinent. About 43 percent of Fiji's 840,000 inhabitants identify
themselves as Indo-Fijian.

Five years ago, after an independent panel of Australian academics
recommended that Mr. Chandra be chosen as vice chancellor, the appointment
was put on hold by the university's ruling council. Later, his chief rival
for the post, Savenaca Siwatibau, an indigenous Fijian economist, was

According to Mr. Chandra, a similar push-pull process took place during
his 18 months as acting head following the death of Mr. Siwatibau, in
2003. The position was eventually filled this year by Anthony A. Tarr, an
Australian-born academic who was until recently the dean of law at Indiana
University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.

The University of the South Pacific did not return requests for further

In a written statement, Mr. Tarr wished Mr. Chandra well at his new
institution, which was created by a private Hindu organization and expects
to enroll 1,000 undergraduates by 2007 but has yet to receive official
recognition. Mr. Chandra said he intended to hire an ethnically varied
slate of educators for the smaller university.

Copyright  2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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