24 Aug 2016

Protesters rally in support of Otago Uni humanities

4:21 pm on 24 August 2016

Hundreds of people have held a protest at Otago University against proposed staff cuts in the institution's arts departments.

The university's humanities division has said it is likely to cut about 15 to 20 academic jobs from five departments in response to a 16 percent drop in student numbers over the past five years.

Between 200 and 300 staff and students protested at lunchtime in cold, rainy conditions in Dunedin on the steps opposite the university's clocktower building.

Tertiary Education Union president Dr Sandra Grey

Tertiary Education Union president Dr Sandra Grey Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

They held a large banner reading "Love Humanities", and held placards showing slogans including "Arts Not Cuts" and "Humanity is the Key".

The crowd heard about 10 short speeches, including from Tertiary Education Union national president Sandra Grey.

Dr Grey told the crowd the cuts to the arts were an attack on the heart of the university and its ability to teach people to think, and the institution and the government were letting down society.

The protest showed the depth of feeling, and it was only the first action in a campaign by humanities staff and students, so that the community understood the importance of their place in the university, she said.

After the rally, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Humanities Tony Ballantyne, who has been leading the changes, told RNZ News all the staff in his division loved the humanities and he did too.

"The situation is not about an absence of love. The university is deeply committed to the humanities."

Professor Ballantyne said the university had to respond to sustained and very real changes in student demand.

"We have lost a very significant number of students since 2010, and we need to adjust to that reality," he said.

"We need to change now. If we don't change now, it's likely we will face deeper and more drastic cuts further down the road."

He said the division would be launching proposals for change in some departments in the next week or so, and would work those processes through until November.

Protesters at Otago University rally against staff cuts proposed for the arts departments.

Protesters at Otago University rally against staff cuts proposed for the arts departments. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Protesters at Otago University rally against staff cuts proposed for the arts departments.

Protesters at Otago University rally against staff cuts proposed for the arts departments. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

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