STUDENT Representative Council arranged and orchestrated an impressively well-organised demonstration. Around 800 students plus or minus (difficult to gauge - the crowd ranged from Kofi Haus in the north-west, Admin car park in the south, and south-westwards across the road to the fields at Ramu Drive).
Two video cameras, a couple of stray dogs, hundreds of screeching bats and several pygmy eagles also in attendance, respectively focused on the presenters at Duncanson Hall steps, roaming about the crowd, roosting in the massive trees nearby, and wheeling overhead.
Around 30 student representatives, concerned parents, and student-aligned citizens, government and industry reps seated on plastic chairs in the foyer behind the podium microphones.
Order of the day: the Master of Ceremonies introduces SRC and numerous students, each in turn presenting well-rehearsed and off-the-cuff talks. Reasonably equal mix of female and male students, each supremely confident, each giving single voice to the student body's unanimous demand that Dr Schram return. Now!
Extraordinary talkers, each one driving some narrative or other, waning and waxing between come-listen-to-me sensibilities to booming forcefulness. They crowd thought they were magnificent.
I, for one, was chokingly proud of these young PNG men and women, as I'm sure so too all parents and visitors in the crowd. Students had something to say, and they said it extremely well. For around three hours. SRC president Eddie Nagual, was truly magnificent during his pitch-perfect, on-key demands for Dr Schram's immediate return.
The MC gave the floor to parents and concerned citizens at 3:30 or thereabouts. One after another, speakers came to defend and support the students' cause. Each told personal stories about earlier episodes in their lives at Unitech, of the students that they proudly sponsor, and of the rights and needs for all for higher education in this country.
They variously invoked Divine Power and Justice and Quality Education (each audibly capitalised). Parents and citizens were no less magnificent than their children. On and on for 90 minutes, citizens and captains of government and industry gave equally strong voice to the students' cause.
All, like the students, spoke of injustice, tyranny, broken promises and dashed hopes, and their great desire for a better, more servant-like PNG government now or at some soon moment in this country's path. They spoke of government missteps and demanded explanations. They demanded, as the students have the last half year, to see the government-withheld Sevua Enquiry Report.
Toward the end of the concerned citizens' talks, the Director General of the Office of Higher Education, the Secretary HERST Ministry, numerous "technical advisors", the Acting Registrar Unitech, the Acting Pro Vice Chancellor (Admin) Unitech, and the Chief of Lae Metropolitan Police walked in silently, stage right, and seated themselves quietly.
The penultimate concerned citizen speaker forcefully directed much of his feisty but politely gracious speech to the new arrivals. He warmly welcomed each--as much as possible by formal title--to our campus grounds.
That done, he didn't hold back but, without exceeding proprieties, demanded answer to the Prime Minister's recent published assertion the Dr Schram is an "undesirable alien." He hammered this point repeatedly, seeking the same understanding that the Prime Minister holds but which the remaining country is neither privy to nor, clearly, believes.
The final parent, PhD, lecturer, mother, took the microphone as the shadows were becoming large. She spoke as I have never heard anyone speak in this country before. She spoke very simply. She choked. She wept. In their turn, students also choked. Students also wept.
She spoke simply of her dreams for PNG, for our country catching up with the outside world, for the students, and particularly for Justice and Quality Education (in all capitals, with the full force of emotion rather than with volume). She brought the house down, if that might be said of the crowd arrayed on open campus lawns. The bats ceased their screeching when she talked and began again when she left off.
At that, the MC warmly greeted the new arrivals and asked students to do the same--which students did, if not entirely enthusiastically. The first at the microphone from the DG OHE's entourage was personable. He came on to convivify the crowd, and succeeded to an extent.
The thrust of his message was that the Government, Ministry of HERST, OHE and University Admin were more closely aligned to students' wants than students and citizens possibly appreciate. He mentioned not-entirely-well-explained technical difficulties that of necessity will take the Government some time to resolve. He did not mention Dr Schram or touch on student needs. Nevertheless, he made a good showing, leaving students prepared to listen more.
Looking considerably less statuesque than he often does at close quarters, Professor David Kavanamur then took the microphone. He spoke about the University of Technology Act 1986, saying (confusingly) that as it was crafted in the 1960s it, like all old laws, needs revision.
He told students that the O'Neill/Dion Government planned to begin this rewrite immediately. Students were aghast and began mumbling quietly. How, they seemed to be asking, could the Government conceive such a cowardly and underhand strategy? Cries of bullshit, shame, and much else were interjected as students rose from their seats upon the lawns.
Still, the students on their promises of best behaviour allowed the man more room to talk. Kavanamur went on about the Government's difficulties with the former allegedly corrupt University Council suing them for wrongful action in being sacked in 2012 since, under the Act, the Government possessed no legitimate power to do so. To the listening crowd, this was nothing but more foolish Government obfuscation. And they said so. Quite loudly.
The SRC President leapt to quell the disquieted mass. He raised his voice to Kavanamur et al., deriding them for failing to listen to students, directing the DG OHE's attention to his Government's delaying Dr Schram's return was simply no more than a side matter.
The prior Council lawsuit presented no bearing whatsoever on the main issue. That Council's move to dismiss Dr Schram had been shown in court to be frivolous, insubstantive and illegal, and was had therefore been struck down.
Why, Eddie Nagual demanded, doesn't the Government issue Schram his visa, while continuing its legal challenges entirely independently? The two matters are unrelated, and it is disingenuous for the Government to suggest otherwise. The SRC President's words seemed to contain the crowd.
Not defeated, the Government entourage brought on its final speaker. This time, the mediator of the failed talks between Dr Schram and the allegedly corrupt former University Council some two years ago.
Students couldn't work him out. First, he was charming; second, he appeared completely clueless about student demands: Dr Schram's Return, Principles of Good Governance, Justice, and Quality Education; third, students asked, as he had completely failed his first attempt at mediation, what on earth was the Government, HERST and OHE thinking in recalling him now; fourth, just what gave the Government the right to select its own mediator ahead of any jointly chosen with the students; fifth, the students are simply not interested in mediation of the Government's kind because their demands are non-negotiable: "No Schram, No School!".
What clot whether in Government or elsewhere can fail to grasp that singularly simple concept?
And so the day ended with the sun setting, the bats beginning their raucous pilgrimage to feeding fields, the pygmy eagles safely back in their eyries, concerned parents and citizens immensely proud of their new crop, the Chief of Metropolitan Police presumably relieved that everything went so peaceably, and students of a singular mind:
University gates would remain locked, the Administration Building barred, and "No Schram, No School!"