Three People Arrested Protesting Uni “Mismanagement”

Three People Arrested Protesting Uni “Mismanagement”

Protesters barricaded themselves in Business School “Everything Room”

Three people, including one student, were arrested for intentional damage on Tuesday afternoon. The arrests came after a group of mostly students “repurposed” a disused office block on the second floor of the Business School by painting the walls to protest staff cuts and “University mismanagement” of the $60m deficit. This charge - upgraded from the original wilful damage - carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

While building staff have allegedly been calling it "the new art exhibit upstairs", Critic understands that the damages could be in the tens of thousands of dollars: a far cry higher than what might be expected for a new paint job. This may be due to the costs of repairing the doors barricaded by protesters. Someone inside the room told us that when the police “bashed in”, they probably contributed to the damage. But since these were apparently fire doors, drilling a hole in one to mount a barricade would render it immediately unfit for service.

According to a press release, the protest known as “The Everything Room” was aimed to create a space for creative expression to illustrate “student potential”; the press release promised, “There will be music. There will be art. There will be kai. There will be dance.” The protest was driven by the Uni’s “mishandling of funds”, “their profit-driven destruction of student life”, “their closed-off meetings and high salaries”. Simply put, the students were “fucked off over all of it.” The protest was in conjunction with the Stop the Cuts Movement at Victoria University which held a mock funeral for tertiary education on Tuesday. This comes as two students at Massey University were allegedly trespassed for chalking “Stop the Cuts” and other slogans while it was raining. Talk about property damage.

The release continued to say that “this institution should be used to facilitate the creation of a better world, not build larger buildings and fill bulging pockets. The only way to make that happen is to reclaim this university from its (mis)managers.” Over the course of two and a half hours before the police arrived, students painted the walls with colourful messages like, “We love our uni, but our uni doesn’t love us”. The protest was accompanied by disco dance music coming from speakers aimed outside. To help spread the message, two banners reading “This Is Bullshit” and “No Trust” were strung up over windows to be seen from outside. 

After two hours, the Deputy Proctor arrived, offered five minutes to explain what was going on, and called the police. He explained that “damage is damage”, regardless of intent (or artistic ability, apparently). The University of Otago’s Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor
Tony Ballantyne said that "Peaceful protest has a long tradition at the University of Otago. It is important that students and staff are able to express their views and protest within the law.
However, there is no place for vandalism or disorderly actions, particularly when the safety
of others is put at risk. This is against the kaupapa of our community and is not welcome." He said that the Uni is supporting the Police in their investigation.

Further officials expressed frustration that the costs of cleaning up the room aren’t exactly improving the University’s budget. Protestors argued back that “this argument highlights the Uni is a property management company and not interested in what we're actually saying… the people running it are misspending anyway, so it doesn't matter if the government gives them the money back.” They said that if they were fined for damages, “it’s no cost to the Uni anyway. Just them trying to discredit us and fearmonger.” 

“I feel like none of them understood the point of the whole thing”, said one. The three activists are set to appear in the District Court on Tuesday 8th at 9am. 

Disclaimer: Critic Te Ārohi witnessed the protest and arrests strictly in our capacity as journalists. 

This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2023.
Posted 1:53pm Wednesday 2nd August 2023 by Zak Rudin.