The University of Otago has come under attack from its
own staff for its decision to sponsor the Highlanders and for
sharing a space on the team's jersey with an alcohol company.
The backlash came after the university on Monday announced a
two-year sponsorship agreement with the Highlanders, becoming
New Zealand's first university to back a Super Rugby
Vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne yesterday defended the decision
in the wake of attacks from staff and Alcohol Action NZ,
saying the university, like all others in New Zealand, spent
money on advertising and sponsoring the Highlanders was a
good way of getting global exposure.
Tertiary Education Union organiser Shaun Scott said he had
taken calls from staff members upset about what he called a
''very contentious'' decision on how best to spend ''public
''It's something that does evoke reaction from staff at a
time when they are having to cut back on costs and in some
instances staff,'' Mr Scott said.
Staff also questioned whether the move was the best way to
''The university attracts students due to the high-quality
teaching, research and supporting activities undertaken by
high-quality staff, and should focus on this rather than
associating itself with a sports team.''
Some union members also felt the agreement went against
assurances given by the previous vice-chancellor.
Mr Scott said Sir David Skegg had said university
investment in the stadium - through the University Plaza
building - was related to its operations and ''not a blade of
grass nor a single seat'' would be funded by the university.
''To now directly fund the rugby team that is the prime user
of the stadium makes a mockery of these assurances in the
eyes of many.''
The union hoped to discuss the decision with Prof Hayne and
wanted it brought up at the next university council meeting.
Alcohol Action NZ medical spokesman Doug Sellman, of Otago
University's Christchurch-based National Addiction Centre,
took issue with the university backing a sports team also
sponsored by Speight's.
''Alcohol Action NZ view this co-sponsorship deal with a
booze company to fund the Highlanders rugby team as
compromising the stand the university has previously taken
about non-association with ammunitions, tobacco and alcohol
companies,'' Prof Sellman said.
The deal undermined the ''excellent work the university'' had
done to try to curb the damage alcohol was causing students
in Dunedin, which included banning all alcohol advertising on
campus, he said.
Prof Hayne said in a statement that it, like all New Zealand
universities, spent money on marketing, and sponsorship was
''recognised as a marketing tool'' for gaining brand
''This approach, in turn, yields the income that is necessary
to fund the salaries of the staff who work at those
universities, build the buildings they work in, and fund some
of the research they conduct,'' Prof Hayne said.
She recognised some staff might be unhappy about the deal.
''The university is a very broad church. It will never be
possible to establish a sponsorship arrangement that is
supported by everyone.
''My job as the vice-chancellor is to establish effective
sponsorship arrangements [to] provide the best and broadest
exposure for the University of Otago both from within New
Zealand and from overseas.''
She said the sponsorship contract was with the Highlanders,
''We will carry on with our good work to reduce the damage
caused by alcohol to students in Dunedin and the alcohol on
campus policy remains.
''We consider the stadium to be a safe and fun place for
students to go and socialise and enjoy a good night out.''
The sponsorship deal came from the existing marketing budget
and would not result in less money being spent in other
The deal split Otago Daily Times readers who commented
on the story online, with some hailing it a sound marketing
decision and others calling it a waste of taxpayer money.
A poll on the ODT website yesterday afternoon showed
53% were in favour of the deal and 47% opposed.
Otago University Students Association president Ruby
Sycamore-Smith said it did not have a problem with the deal.
''It's an innovative way of marketing for the university,
which also shows they're supportive of the greater Otago
community which students and staff are a massive part of,''
Ms Sycamore-Smith said.