Graduate Jackie Gibson is sheltered under an umbrella by
her brother Nigel Rook during a wet University of Otago
graduation parade along George St on Saturday. Photo by
During difficult times for tertiary institutions, the
values "at the heart of the best universities" needed to be
preserved and commended, writer Owen Marshall said at the
It was natural and healthy that universities were "always in
a state of evolution", the Timaru novelist and short-story
writer told graduates at a University of Otago graduation
ceremony in Dunedin on Saturday.
But Mr Marshall warned if the university as a whole "ever
loses that essential love of knowledge for its own sake, that
scholastic enthusiasm and tolerance, then the spark will be
The university was then likely to be "a place of formal,
empty pedantry, meal-ticket mentality, or a debased,
bums-on-seats democracy", he told about 310 graduates, mainly
in education, teaching and pharmacy, at the Regent Theatre.
Though not an Otago graduate, he had links with the
university, especially through his "good fortune" of holding
Otago's Robert Burns Fellowship in 1992.
"Everyone seems to be an expert on education, and a good deal
of vehement and often ignorant criticism is advanced, for
always there are people who are eager to find fault in the
performance of others, yet unwilling or incapable of taking
"Of course we need accountability, efficiency and a response
to modern youth and modern society.
"We also need to preserve and commend those values that are
at the heart of the best universities - scrupulous
scholarship, academic enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity, a
fellowship of the heart and mind, and a desire to pass on
He emphasised the need for gratitude, which was "not much in
fashion these days".
"We hear much of rights, accountability, consumers,
performance and delivery, all in a mechanistic way, but not
much about gratitude, and not much about dedication."
Graduates owed gratitude not only to family and friends but
also to Otago University itself.
And he thanked Otago staff who had "persevered through the
squalls of restructuring and the doldrums of educational
policy, to maintain a vision of senior study that upholds
opportunity based on talent, an openness to intellectual
possibility, the value of reason and knowledge of life
During difficult times for tertiary institutions, finance was
"a constant concern".
People were the "heart of a successful institution" - people
who were "fascinated by their subjects, whether it be
teaching practice, educational theory, or the alleviation of
illness through pharmaceuticals."
"We make play with the stereotype of the absent-minded
professor, but it reflects the concentration and dedication
of the true academic," Mr Marshall said.