Fears publicity harming varsity

The University of Otago might face a decline similar to Otago's sports teams, as a combination of regional demographics, tertiary underfunding, and ongoing publicity about student unrest hit home, a university council member has predicted.

The comments from Judge Oke Blaikie came out of left field at a university council meeting yesterday during a discussion on the institution's budget for 2012.

Judge Blaikie, who is also chairman of the university's disciplinary appeals board, said ongoing publicity about student unrest and fires was contributing to a negative perception among parents of potential students.

"There is a perception among parents, which I have encountered while travelling. Some are saying to me, 'I'm not sure I'm happy about sending my son or daughter to Otago'," he said.

Negative nationwide publicity about student unrest had decreased, since troublesome events such as the Undie 500 and toga parades had ceased.

But there was ongoing reporting about the increased instances of fires being lit in the student quarter, Judge Blaikie said.

Emergency services responded to reports of bonfires and couch fires in the student quarter on weekends of the Rugby World Cup final, and on consecutive weekends which included Guy Fawkes Day and the end of exams on November 12.

Judge Blaikie said media were not following up on the disciplinary processes of students allegedly involved in such situations.

The judge called for more balanced reporting, and more focus on the outcomes of the disciplinary process, compared with the initial reporting of the alleged fire-lighting incidents.

The Otago Daily Times asked the university if media would be given access to reports on disciplinary hearings for students, given Judge Blaikie's comments.

University spokeswoman Megan McPherson said, in an emailed statement, that regulations prohibit media from attending code-of-conduct disciplinary hearings. They were to be in private and proceedings confidential.

Judge Blaikie could not be contacted after the council meeting yesterday.


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