ALBERT SCHRAM | Life Is a Journey of Learning | Extract
“Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it; those who strive to build a protective wall around it, and those who wish to pull it down; those who seek to mould it and those committed to breaking it up; those who aim to open our eyes, to make us see the light and look to tomorrow [...] and those who wish to lull us into closing our eyes” - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
In Memoriam - Mairen Manub, UNITECH student, 2012-2015
These words are dedicated to Mairen Manub who passed away on 8 August 2019 after a short battle with cancer in Port Moresby General hospital, which did not carry the principal medicines he needed. From 2012, he was one of the legendary 'little helpers', fighting tirelessly from for access to better education, and accountable and transparent university governance. There are so many stories about him, which we keep telling. We will never forget his wonderful personality, energy and intelligence but most of all his ability to bridge old and new, non-western and western worlds, based on shared humanity. We must find a way together to keep his memory alive.
VERONA - My start as a Papua New Guinea vice-chancellor in 2012 was far from auspicious. Due to political conflict in 2013 and my ban on re-entering the country, I spent a year in exile in Australia.
A few UNITECH Council member perceived their personal interests would be affected by my leadership and started a politically motivated persecution, apparently not concerned with the long-term reputation of the university and the country, and with total disregard for logic or their own dignity.
For some people, actively undermining authority is their favourite pastime.
As a consequence, in 2013, the government instituted an official investigation led by a former supreme court judge - the Sevua Report - which lasted over six months and confirmed the legality of my appointment and fully exonerated me of any wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, two boycotts of lectures lasting several weeks in 2013 and 2014 and a massive student movement were required to assure a new university Council was instituted and to assure my return as vice-chancellor.
In a country like PNG, with more than 80% of people living in rural areas and barely educated, the students feel they must act as the "conscience of the nation" whenever grand corruption and bad government occurs.
Oddly, and totally unexpectedly, this same political witch-hunt resumed some years later - in 2018.
At the end of my second term in 2017, the new chancellor Jean Kekedo and several Council members decided to publish a series of false allegations about me, which they had copied literally from the initial trumped up charges made in 2012.
They did not even have the imagination to make up new ones.
As a consequence, when returning to PNG by now as a tourist, I was charged and arrested for false pretences, supposedly for having presented a false doctorate. In reality, my doctorate is recognised in all European Union countries, Costa Rica and also in the United States.
My current job is with a US-based university on army bases, and the authorities carried out rigorous checks of my background and academic achievements.
Anybody who still believes this whole saga had anything to do with my academic credentials or my achievements as vice-chancellor and that "Schram should prove his innocence" should familiarise themselves with the facts.
When this ludicrous charge was finally dismissed by the PNG courts in January 2019 for lack of any evidence, no apologies were issued to me nor were the false allegations published on internet pages taken down.
For this reason, and although I do not like to assess other people's behaviour, I do not feel I need to hold back when describing the behaviour of my former colleagues, and neither shall I take their delicate sensibilities into account.
Not after they have shown so much incompetence, spite and greed.
Knowing exactly what these people did will be helpful for the younger generations to learn how politics should be about purpose, not who has position and access to money and resources.
They will understand why institution building in PNG is so painfully slow. The small politics of over-inflated egos and greed is what brought about the demise of UNITECH. As to their motives, I leave it to the reader to decide.
Meanwhile, my life has moved on, while my former colleagues have no career and will never work anywhere else.
I went back home to Italy to exercise my old trade and currently, work as a professor at the University of Maryland University College in Europe, teaching history and management on US army bases in Northern Italy.
Any vice-chancellor can state their university is contributing to nation building, but if its graduates do not have the expected competencies, you are not really doing this, are you?
Universities should at the very least produce employable graduates, otherwise they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Graduates might look good on paper but, in the end, international companies hire just as many graduates straight from high school. The labour market teaches us that PNG universities add little, or maybe even negative, value.
As institutions, PNG universities in 2014 failed to comply with the 13 quality criteria of the National Quality Framework, and are not even monitoring progress towards this goal.
In particular, the 10th criterion regarding security and wellness of students requires major attention.