Half-staffed warm welcome awaits new old boy on campus

Grant Robertson is the University of Otago’s future vice-chancellor. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Grant Robertson is the University of Otago’s future vice-chancellor. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
"Ah, Grant. Welcome. I hope you don’t mind me calling you Grant?

I was a student myself back in the day and I well remember voting for you as president of the students’ association. And what a great job you did. Giving the bureaucrats a hard time and making the vice-chancellor squirm. Great training for what lies ahead of you.

I’m Felicity Fanshawe, by the way, head of Swag, that’s the Staff Welcoming and Greeting Division. We organise functions to make new staff feel at home and it keeps us fairly busy. There used to be 10 of us but with the cutbacks recently there’s only myself and a couple of sandwich makers with some part-time bar staff. Thank goodness we don’t have to put on leaving functions with all these redundancies. We’d be Slag — Staff Leaving and Groaning. You might like to look at boosting my staff numbers. Just a thought.

Of course, we call on half a dozen qualified people to run the mihimihi, powhiri, whakapapa and pepeha side of things. It’s all a bit beyond me but after years in Parliament and marae visits, you’ll be used to them.

Now, first things first. Are you OK for money? The $629,000 a year kicks in when you actually start work, but with only $163,000 in your last job, we realise you may be a bit short. Just let me know and we can tide you over from the student hardship emergency fund. They’ll never know.

Accommodation. I imagine a return to your old Castle St flat is out of the question? It would be handy, but you’d be surrounded by students — the great drawback to university life. And you’d never know when your couch is about to erupt in flames.

Now, I know you are a married man, so something more salubrious suggests itself. We have a nice place at St Leonards only a short drive away. Tons of room for the whole family.

No children? Perhaps an upmarket apartment in town, and we’ll help with the rent. It might be best because there’s a suggestion the St Leonards place could be let to students. We’d get about 50 of them in there at $200 a week. Nice tidy sum. Help to pay your salary! Ha!

You might like to think about having some domestic staff. Chauffeur, cook, valet - that sort of thing. It’s important for the image and I’m sure we can arrange to cover some costs.

Like an upgrade? Grant Robertson, BA. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Like an upgrade? Grant Robertson, BA. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Talking of image, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I’m concerned about your degree. You have only a BA and, as you know, bachelor’s degrees are 10 a penny. Even our gardeners have them.

My plan is to get you an honorary degree after you’ve been in the job for a few weeks. Perhaps doctor of laws? ‘Dr Robertson’ has a certain something, doesn’t it? Even if it means people boring you with their arthritis symptoms at cocktail parties — and throwing those is a vital part of your job.

I had been worried about the graduation ceremonies, picturing you on stage surrounded by academics with gowns and headgear in a blaze of colour and weird designs, looking like an explosion in an interior design shop. Your BA gown would have been buried in that lot, but I’m told all is well. As vice-chancellor, you get to wear a one-off design. Here’s how the university regulations describe it: ‘The vice-chancellor robe is a black gown. The collar and facings are of blue silk or silk-like fabric, trimmed with gold lace bands and shields of the university’s arms and Māori symbols of steps to higher learning (poutama) are embroidered in coloured silk and gold on the front edges of the collar.

The cap is a black trencher with a gold lace band and a gold button and tassel.’ Makes you glad you missed out on being prime minister, eh? But we have to face the facts, I’m afraid, and I would be neglecting my duty if I didn’t lay out right at the beginning the difficulties you face. No amount of fancy dress will disguise the mess we’re in.

What you learned during Covid, Cyclone Gabrielle, the Rugby World Cup and other disasters may stand you in good stead.

The university is broke and it’s something you must take the blame for. As finance minister, you had the chance to slip us a billion or two and you didn’t. The present government is unlikely to heed any call for extra funding from a man with your history.

In the meantime, you can expect to be of practical use. We’ve pencilled you in as a tutor for first-year students of politics. You may well put them off politics forever and that, surely, is something you would be proud of."

- Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.