International support for scientists

"Distressed and disappointed" international academics are urging the University of Otago to retain staff in its Department of Marine Science, saying failing to support them would be "squandering" New Zealand's leadership in the field of climate change.

Submissions on the management of change proposal in which eight academic jobs would be reviewed and three cut from the department

closed last Friday, following a student rally and petition being delivered to the university.

A decision will be made this month.

A spokeswoman yesterday declined to give the number of submissions received; however environmental groups, academics, international collaborators and students have made submissions protesting the loss of three academic staff.

A group of 20 scientists from the USA, Canada and Australia, copied their submission the Otago Daily Times this week.

In it they protested the loss of 26% of the department's academic staff, the sale of two boats, the transfer of two part-time laboratory positions to the geology department and the loss of another, which would remain empty, saying the proposed changes represented a "dramatic loss" to the totality of the oceanographic and climate research being undertaken.

The scientists were collectively "impressed with the proactive steps New Zealand has taken to be an international leader on climate issues" such as signing the Paris Agreement and initiating a carbon tax and said they would "regret to see New Zealand squander this leadership" by not supporting the excellent research of its climate scientists.

The university was "exhibiting signs of an organisation whose vision is skewed towards what managers deem to yield immediate payoff".

The scientists hailed from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego as well as other institutions in the US, Canada and Australia.

Head of department Prof Steve Dawson said yesterday the support staff had received was the "sweet part of this bitter process" - and it had been "wonderful" to see students turning out at the rally on Friday.

Department staff have set out their own proposal to reduce the department's deficit, in which Prof Dawson has opted to take early retirement.

The proposal set out alternative suggestions to reduce the marine sciences deficit, which is due to reach $4.2million by the end of the year, and the staff proposal was calculated to lead to savings of about $1.7million, the amount the university sought in its plan.

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