Two white academics—one from Britain and the other from the Netherlands—have been forced to flee for their lives from Papua New Guinea after trying to persuade their employers at two universities that cheating, an inability to do simple math, and the appointment of staff on tribal allegiances rather than merit, was a bad idea.
A graduation ceremony at the PNG University of Technology.
The nearly-comical antics of the two whites—both race-denying liberals who thought they were just “taking up a new job” and who now must surely be baffled at their adventures—came to light after the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported that Professor John Warren, who had “left Wales to take up his new academic role two years ago in Papua New Guinea he believed he had found the job of his dreams.”
“The exotic country, nestling in the southwestern Pacific Ocean just north of Australia, seemed the idyllic location for the plant biologist and his wife, Cathryn, to settle,” the Telegraph continued.
But, as the new vice-Chancellor of country’s University of Natural Resources and Environment “he discovered the perils of trying to rid the institution of cheating.
“And it culminated in him being threatened with jail by a colleague and being told to ‘get out of there’ before flee under cover of the night to fly to Australia.”
According to the report, Professor Warren resigned from his post at Aberystwyth University in Wales two years ago to fly to his new post halfway on the other side of the globe.
But his “attempts to crack down on cheating, improve academic standards and appoint staff based on merit rather than tribal allegiances ruffled the feathers of university staff who took umbrage at his reforms.”
“Most staff didn’t understand that to pass a degree you have to get 50 per cent overall,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“They couldn’t calculate percentages and there were a huge number of errors. There was no standard marking criteria.”
Professor Warren said he established simple procedures, like using spreadsheets to calculate marks. But there were “bells ringing almost instantly” with fellow university staff telling him to “just concentrate on getting money in and we’ll run the university.”
Professor Warren told how “none of the university council really had any genuine interest in students and academic standards. It was all about political power and manoeuvring.”
The fall out came to ahead at a university council meeting last month which he said made his position “untenable”. He was also visited by a high ranking university colleague who appeared to threaten him.
“He said: ‘I’ve only come because I heard rumours that you are telling people I want to be vice-Chancellor.’
“I told him: ‘It’s not true’. He made it very clear that for something as trivial as that he could find people who could stand up in court and back him up.
“What he was doing was saying that ‘I can take you to court and put you in prison any time I like’.”
Professor Warren said this was “not an insignificant threat” because the Papua New Guinea laws are particularly tough on libel.
“Once you have a court order served on you, you can’t leave the country because immigration will stop you,” he said. “Court cases go on for years, however ludicrous.”
He said he asked the British High Commission for advice and was simply told to “just get out of there”.
Professor Warren resigned before his wife smuggled him off the university campus after nightfall. He then spent 48 hours hiding in a friend’s house before flying to Australia and eventually home to Wales.
Professor Warren’s experience “echoed that of Albert Schram, the Dutch vice-Chancellor of Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, whose attempts to root out fraud in the institution led to claims from his colleagues that he faked his doctorate.”
Professor Schram fled the island in May after being released on bail.
According to a report in The Australian, Professor Schram was dismissed by the university’s council in February after being accused of not verifying his PhD credentials.
Professor Schram was arrested shortly after resigning and had his passport confiscated on a trumped-up charge. It took about three weeks, and various court hearings, for the former Vice Chancellor to get his passport back and leave the country.
His case attracted the attention of Australian academics, who said Professor Schram’s doctorate credentials could be seen online.
“Bullying foreign academics seems to be ‘a la mode’ in PNG at the moment,” Professor Schram said this week, referring to Professor Warren’s case.
“My politically motivated and wrongful dismissal . . . was condoned, if not orchestrated, by some members of the government of PNG.”
The exodus of academics from PNG universities would continue, he predicted. A department head at the University of Technology had left the country “hastily”, and other foreign academics also were reported to have left.
- According to all scientific IQ tests, the average IQ in Papua New Guinea is 83. This is in the officially classified “dull” category.