Dan McGarry: Fighting for media freedom & truth in the Pacific
PNG media silent as another vice chancellor is lost

Second expat vice-chancellor goes as PNG universities turn nasty

Professor John Warren
Prof John Warren - forced to leave PNG as threats & lawlessness descend on universities targeting senior expatriate administrators


BARCELONA – A letter from the former vice-chancellor of Papua New Guinea's University of Natural Resources and Environment (UNRE) in Rabaul has said senior staff urged him to leave PNG for his own safety after a scurrilous attempt had been made to level trumped up criminal charges against him.

A member of UNRE staff has provided PNG Attitude with a letter to the university’s council which explains to its members exactly why Professor John Warren left hurriedly and without formal ceremony this month, the experience of former University of Technology vice-chancellor Dr Albert Schram fresh in his mind.

Earlier this year, there were attempts to detain Dr Schram in PNG as an act of vengeance following his identification of corrupt practices at Unitech. Dr Schram was later able to leave the country when he realised a conspiracy against him was beginning to take shape and was able to regain his passport and return to Italy.

In his letter to the university council, Prof Warren says he hopes it will clarify the circumstances surrounding the events that led to his sudden departure which occurred after the UNRE chancellor Kenneth Sumbuk accused him of spreading rumours that he (Sumbuk) wanted to take over the university.

Professor Kenneth Sumbuk
Prof Kenneth Sumbuk - falsely accused vice-chancellor of spreading rumours & then threatned to report him to police

“On five separate occasions he mentioned the possibility of reporting me to the police over this,” Prof Warren wrote.

“Although I was aware of rumours that the chancellor wanted to be vice chancellor, they had not been circulated by me. In fact I considered them trivial gossip.

“However, I was very disturbed by the chancellor’s repeated threats to report me to the police.”

At a hastily-called council meeting on 26 July, Prof Warren’s authority was constantly undermined and normal protocols and procedures ignored and ridiculed by the chancellor. It seems council members themselves also failed to assist resolve or regularise matters.

“By the end of the meeting my job had become untenable, and I submitted my resignation the following day,” Warren wrote.

Prevailed upon to remain for a transition period by PNG higher education secretary Fr Jan Czuba, Prof Warren at first agreed but was then informed by senior UNRE staff that they were concerned about his safety if he remained.

The same afternoon he received news that a court order was about to be served on him and, after consulting the British High Commission and his lawyer, and with the Schram case in mind, he decided that “although the charges were ludicrous, I should leave PNG as quickly and quietly as possible.

“This I did, regrettably without being able to say goodbye to my many close friends and colleagues.

“My decision to accept the position of vice-chancellor at UNRE was not motivated by financial or career reasons,” Prof Warren said. “I took a significant reduction in salary when moving to UNRE and have no ambition to work in academia following this appointment.

“I was motivated purely by a desire to help UNRE improve as an organisation, to enhance the education received by its students, and to promote the sustainable use of natural resources in PNG.”

Since his departure, angry UNRE students have been boycotting classes and demanding an explanation of the events that led to his departure.

But Prof Warren will not be coming back. “Under no circumstances will I be returning to UNRE as vice chancellor,” he said.

In his letter to the university council he accused it of repeatedly overturning decisions it had no authority to make.

“It is extremely poor governance for council to undermine the authority of the vice chancellor unless there is a significant disciplinary issue,” he said.

“If you were unhappy with my performance, you should have said so and I would have been happy to step down. Instead you took over the responsibilities of the CEO.”

Prof Warren said council members should consider their positions.

He did not say this, but I can be observed here, that the chancellor and council should be sacked and the operations of Fr Czuba’s struggling higher education authority put under scrutiny.

But, with PNG rapidly becoming a place where people make up their own rules as the normal functioning of organisations breaks down, none of this will happen,

The prospects of PNG's higher education system recovering and strengthening through the application of qualified, competent and dedicated leadership seem a long way off.


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Albert Schram

Now Dr. Sumbuk is trying to spin the situation by denying the facts. He definitely threatened Prof. John Warren with legal action. We can take John's word for it. Moreover, John is not somebody who is easily scared, and he made an honest commitment to improve UNRE. He had been VC in PNG for over 2 years, and in this period, for example, he submitted himself to a grueling initiation ritual which he knew would make him very sick. The students in PNG are very perceptive, and they know who is genuine, and who is not.

Albert Schram

Interesting comments on the root cause of this. The PNG Universities as they are now, are credential machines serving a small elite only. Their programs are sub-standard, and none has international accreditation.

As a result, over 60% of the graduates are still unemployed six months after graduation. Private sector continues to hire people with real degrees.

Through influences and other means, the elite's graduates however find their way into the state owned enterprises and the public administration for life long job security and perks.

Meanwhile, the talented son or daughter of a small farmer will be frustrated for life, never finding work in the career of choice. The system is stable because the poor have no voice and no power. Anybody trying to change this, is seen as a threat to the stability of the system.

Lindsay F Bond

To speak less terse of wound to nurse
invites more hurts and warrants worse
toward stressed curse of universe
inverts, ignores, decays research
to heard said guess-caused Warren's burst
intrudes those lores that bound prized purse.

Barbara Short

A comment from Facebook.....by one of the UNRE students...
I was there when he tendered his resignation. The students went on strike because they knew that PM was closely associated with Sumbuk and they wanted Dr. Warren to leave so that PM's wantok takeover the VC position. This will make it easier for PMPO to manipulate PIP funds earmarked for the University.
The information was posted by one of the students protesting.

So, if this is the case, then the problem goes back to the PM and his problems with money.

Barbara Short

It is very sad to read about what has happened at UNRE, the old Vudal.

All I can think is that PNG people do not understand the method of government of these institutions of higher learning.

There are so many PNG students in Australian universities these days one can only hope that they will speak out about the way this method of administration should work and the role of the Chancellor and the role of the Vice-Chancellor.

Maybe it goes back to their PNG Big Man concept which is in conflict with the western approach found in the way the western universities are run.

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