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About 400 people, some carrying signs, gathered in steady rain at the Dunedin campus to show their opposition to proposed staff cuts in the anthropology and archaeology, English and linguistics, history, languages and cultures, and music departments.
Earlier this month, University of Otago humanities division pro-vice-chancellor Prof Tony Ballantyne told staff in the departments a redundancy process would begin ''in the coming weeks''.
The cuts were necessary because of a steady decline in the division's roll since 2010.
University of Otago staff and students, from within and outside the humanities division, spoke at the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) protest.
Otago University Students Association (OUSA) vice-president Jarred Griffiths said the association opposed the cuts.
''OUSA has a proud history of opposing terrible policies by the university and the Government.''
Pointing to nearby construction work, Mr Griffiths challenged the crowd to consider where the institution's priorities lay.
''Do they stand with supporting and adequately funding a department that would serve the interests as the critic and conscience of society for the future of all of us, or for the beauty of our campus?
''It's not a priority.''
He was disappointed there was no representative from the university at the protest.
Tertiary Education Union national president Sandra Grey said threats to humanities were the result of government underfunding.
''This is not just about your boss, this is not just about your vice-chancellor, this is about Steven Joyce and the National Party.''
Protesters signed a petition opposing the cuts and cheered when Dr Grey said the union would take further action.
Prof Ballantyne said no university representative attended the protest because ''no official representation was sought or expected''.
Prof Ballantyne said discussions he had with OUSA president Laura Harris about the proposed cuts had been ''positive''.
''The vast majority of students I have spoken to understand that we are adjusting to shifting enrolment patterns.
''Even with these changes we will be offering over 120 first-year papers in the Division of Humanities next year.''
Cuts were likely to take effect by November, Prof Ballantyne said.