HANDS OFF UNIVERSITY FREEDOM, 53 ACADEMICS TELL PNG PM

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By Phil-Peers Yombon

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (March 24, 1999 - The National/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Fifty-three University of Papua New Guinea academics have written to Prime Minister Bill Skate urging him not to "abrogate" the autonomy of the University Council and interfere with the academic freedom of the university, the National reports.

In an open letter to Mr. Skate dated March 18, the 53 academics said: "We are most concerned that it now appears that the Government is intent on interfering with this autonomy."

The letter came two days after Mr. .Skate met with "a small coterie of students, purporting to represent the student body" and what appeared to be an undertaking by Mr. Skate to postpone the university restructure plan, which is currently the subject of a court case.

"In short, it would precipitate disastrous consequences to the morale and well-being of the staff and hence the students. It must be made clear to you that the autonomy and freedom to determine the academic organization, curricula, and teaching arrangements are of paramount importance to all universities and are jealously guarded," the academics said.

They said they had "worked extremely hard revising" the program structure, developing new courses, and making other arrangements necessary for this academic year, and "it is simply not possible to reverse the restructure by fiat."

They said that the restructure was a result of a working committee established by former Vice Chancellor Joseph Sukwianomb.

The committee members were predominantly national academics with years of experience teaching in universities within PNG and abroad.

The academics said that much of the current debate on the restructure had been confused or clouded by the decisions the University Council was forced to make "upon the disastrous budget allocation the university received at the end of last year."

Because of this, the Council was left with no alternative but to implement vertical cuts to the structure as "the only way to maintain some semblance of quality in some of our programs," they said.

The academics also said they believed the majority of the student community supported the changes and were concerned that a minority "had seen fit to hijack the silent majority of students, abrogate their constitution by not having a formal referendum before enforcing a boycott of classes by intimidation and harassment."

"Basically, this sort of behavior is unacceptable to the university community. That it should lead you to consider postponing the restructure now in place and in effect abrogating the autonomy of the University Council is of far greater concern," they said.

Title -- 2007 EDUCATION: Hands off UPNG freedom, academics tell PM Date -- 24 March 1999 Byline -- Phil-Peers Yombon Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- The National (PNG), 24/3/99 Copyright -- The National Status -- Unabridged

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