Prof Richard Blaikie
The University of Otago was not given warning about the
decision to slash Invermay jobs and AgResearch declined a
request to discuss restructuring plans before announcing them
Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show
the university had little knowledge of the extent of
AgResearch's Future Footprint Plan before its announcement on
July 31 last year.
The documents also revealed AgResearch was considering
shutting ''one or more'' of its campuses before announcing
its restructuring plan, which involved retaining reduced
capability at its Invermay and Ruakura campuses.
In an August 2 email to AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom
Richardson, research and enterprise deputy vice-chancellor
Prof Richard Blaikie said: ''I have to say it surprised me to
hear of the scale of the change, given your previously
announced commitment to your four campus locations.''
In his reply, Dr Richardson said its announcement in April
that its proposal was to retain all four of its campuses
''was not a given''.
''In fact as far back as 2010/2011 I have shared the
possibility that we may completely close one or more
campuses. So, perhaps your surprise is that 'commitment to
four campus locations' inferred to you 'in a comparable state
to today', which has never been our expectation nor,
communications,'' Dr Richardson said.
Speaking to the Otago Daily Times, Prof Blaikie said
the university had ''similar information to everyone else''
before AgResearch's announcement.
The university was aware of a ''campus review'' at
AgResearch, but AgResearch declined a request from the
university to discuss its plans in detail.
''They were very clear that they wanted to go through their
internal processes first and inform their staff ... and we
respected that view.''
Prof Blaikie declined to comment on whether this disappointed
the university, given AgResearch discussed its plans with
Otago University did receive correspondence from AgResearch
in April, which mentioned a $100 million investment
programme, but made no mention of cuts at Invermay.
In the same August 2 email, Prof Blaikie also questioned the
merits of moving ''omics'' staff to Lincoln, given the
strength of genetics at Otago University.
The university's genetics teaching programme was
''best-in-class'' internationally and ''streets ahead of any
other like programme in New Zealand'' when it came to
Performance-Based Research Funding.
''I know that the interactions around genetics and genomics
have changed through the period of your last restructure
(before your time and before my time) but I see better
opportunities in strengthening this area of your operation in
Dunedin/Invermay rather than moving people and adding to your
build costs at your Lincoln campus,'' he said.
Speaking to the ODT, Prof Blaikie, said he was
expressing his views, rather than the university's views, on
the decision to shift genomics staff from Invermay.
The emails also showed the two organisations were
enthusiastic about discussions over potential future
collaborations, which had taken place following AgResearch's
''Like you, we are also encouraged by recent discussions that
point to more collaborative opportunities for interactions
across all campus locations of both organisations,''
vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said in an email to Dr
Richardson last month.
Responding to questions with a statement, Dr Richardson said
before staff consultation began, AgResearch discussed
''aspects of our high-level thinking with all those who
wished to engage with us''.
''Since staff consultation was completed, we have been able
to have more detailed discussions with the University of
Otago and other stakeholders,'' he said.
He did not respond to a question asking if Invermay was one
of the campuses AgResearch was considering closing, only
saying: ''The Invermay campus is not closing, and we will
continue to have a core group of scientists based there to
work with collaborators, farmers and other regional
Discussions with the university had ''already identified
multiple areas for further collaboration''.
''We will comment further on these with the University of
Otago at the appropriate time,'' he said.