Uni hopeful Saturday grad ceremonies will go ahead

The University of Otago is hopeful its graduation ceremonies set for Saturday will go ahead, but a final decision will be made tomorrow.

In a statement this afternoon the university said it continued to work closely with police regarding the "security threat to its graduation ceremonies".

Vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said it was hopeful Saturday's events would go ahead and graduands would be told of the university's decision by early tomorrow afternoon.

It comes after Otago Polytechnic announced today it has postponed its graduation ceremony scheduled for tomorrow following a threat which led the University of Otago to abandon its ceremony yesterday.

Professor Hayne said the university acknowledged there would be some graduands and their families who needed to make a decision before noon tomorrow and accepted some changes may have to be made.

"If you decide not to attend the ceremony now, please let us know and we will give you the opportunity to participate in a special ceremony in 2021. 

"This is not fully planned yet, but scheduling details will be known and communicated in due course."

Meanwhile, the Otago Daily Times understands the correspondence that led to the graduations being abandoned included a threat of a shooting, but police this afternoon declined to confirm or deny that.

In a statement it said: "While we understand people want to know the specific nature of the threat, at this stage of our inquiries we cannot provide this detail as it could compromise the outcome of the investigation.

"This is a complex investigation and it's important we have the opportunity to work through it systematically and thoroughly.

"The safety of our community remains our priority and we continue with our two-pronged approach - an active investigation and an increased police presence in the city."

The polytechnic said this morning that following advice from police it had made the "devastating" decision to postpone graduation ceremonies scheduled for tomorrow  and pre-grad ceremonies today and tomorrow.

Earlier this morning a police spokesperson said they had no new information to share on the threat.

More than 600 polytechnic students were due to graduate tomorrow.

Yesterday’s postponement affected about 550 students.

 

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Meanwhile, the Otago University graduation ceremony scheduled for Saturday still remains in doubt.

Otago Polytechnic chief executive Dr Megan Gibbons said it was closely monitoring the situation and were in regular dialogue with police.

"We know how much work, passion, heart and soul goes into study, as well as academic provision and all the various student support services.

"Many, many people are affected, included those who work so hard to organise graduation ceremonies.

"However, the safety of students and staff is Otago Polytechnic’s number one priority," Dr Gibbons said.

Otago Polytechnic would also like to convey its sympathy to the students and staff at the University of Otago, whose ceremonies were also affected. 

In an email to students and staff, Dr Gibbons said they were working on rescheduling events for next year.

Both students and staff were given contact details if they needed support.

Otago Polytechnic Students' Association president Nathan Laurie expressed said the postponement did not diminish the achievements of students in what was a really challenging year.

A University of Otago spokeswoman said it had not made a decision about whether to postpone its graduation ceremony scheduled for Saturday, although that position could change later today.

Police yesterday did not reveal the nature of the security threat or its precise timing, but said it related specifically to university graduation ceremonies.

Southern district commander Superintendent Paul Basham said yesterday officers would continue to work with the university in the coming days.

"We take threats of this nature seriously and acknowledge it is upsetting for those directly affected and our wider community."

Caroline Freeman College warden Chris Addington, carrying a New Zealand flag, and students and...
Caroline Freeman College warden Chris Addington, carrying a New Zealand flag, and students and family walk away after planned University of Otago graduation ceremonies in Dunedin yesterday were postponed. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Police started the investigation on Tuesday afternoon, Supt Basham said.

The university indicated the threat was received electronically.

Police and the university did not say why there seemed to be a lag before the final call was made.

Prof Hayne  yesterday said the situation was distressing for anyone who had planned to be involved in the ceremonies.

"For many, this was the replacement ceremony because of previous cancellations due to Covid-19," she said.

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