New group to represent academics after professor's letter

Dr Olivier Jutel
Dr Olivier Jutel
The University of Otago has confirmed it has given more power to academics in response to their concerns about the way the institution was run.

It comes in the wake of staff discontent about the university’s response to its financial situation.

The discontent culminated in more than 120 professors signing a letter to the chancellor and acting vice-chancellor expressing their concern about the restructuring processes at the university.

Several sources contacted the Otago Daily Times last week to say that there had been developments.

At a forum this week, acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson confirmed a special group had been established.

"There will be 15 people appointed to the group representing professors, students, early career academics, kaimahi Māori, Pacific and professional.

"While this group is being established, we have set up an interim professors’ advisory group," Prof Nicholson said in a statement.

She said alongside this new initiative, the university’s academic body, the senate, would also be reinvigorated.

Medicine and human nutrition professor Jim Mann said the new group sounded like a "great initiative".

"We’ll have to wait and see the details, but every professor at the university has been involved in the discussion in some way," he said.

Protect Otago Action Group spokesman Dr Olivier Jutel said he was pleased with the announcement.

"Academics are at the heart of this institution and we need to ensure their voice is heard by the senior leadership team.

"We have heard of some nightmare scenarios from other universities, so it’s encouraging that the university is taking this approach."

Dr Jutel said there still needed to be reform of the university council to make it more representative of academics.

"That’s another discussion we need to have," he said.

The announcement of the new advisory group comes at a turbulent time for the university.

It has been attempting to find $60million in savings to its operating budget.

It has already cut more than 120 jobs over the past year through voluntary redundancies and restructuring, with further departmental reviews to occur.

When vice-chancellor Prof David Murdoch stepped down in June, Prof Nicholson took over as acting vice-chancellor.

The university has embarked on an international hunt for a new vice-chancellor.