Two University of Otago staff members pulled out of a
presentation campaigning for an end of the university's use of
lignite coal earlier this month after being told not to attend
by their boss.
The two staff were due to speak at a presentation entitled
"Otago University's Dirty Little Secret" where the student
environmental group Generation Zero launched a campaign
against the university's use of lignite coal, but the group
was told a week before the event the staff would not be
A university spokeswoman said university energy manager Hans
Pietsch and environmental sustainability co-ordinator Dr
Hilary Phipps were told by director of property services
Barry MacKay not to attend the presentation.
She said Mr MacKay had not received a formal request for his
staff to attend.
"Given the lack of any notification, and the title of this
event, the director of property services exercised reasonable
caution regarding the participation of his staff," he said.
The university's communications department had earlier warned
Dr Phipps it was possible media would attend the event.
Asked if the university was trying to stifle debate, the
spokeswoman said: "No. In fact, the vice-chancellor and the
chief operating officer have indicated to Generation Zero
that they are happy to meet them to discuss any issues they
Generation Zero spokesman Louis Chambers said the two staff
members, after saying they could not speak at the event,
contacted organisers to say they could. They then sent an
email about a week before the event, saying they could not
He was "surprised" the pair pulled out at such short notice.
"I think the event didn't run as smoothly as we would have
liked, because the speakers were quite central to the kind of
event we had planned," Mr Chambers said.
The group had been in contact with the vice-chancellor, who
told them to obtain head of department approval if they
wanted staff members to speak at future events.
The group was "reasonably confident" it would be able to get
permission for university staff to speak at other events.