The ODT has highlighted how Otago University’s reputation was damaged by a story broken in early October about students biting the legs off live ducks. This story was broken, of course, by the ODT themselves, who remain the only organisation privy to any sort of evidence that this ever actually happened.
Their most recent update, published November 30 behind a paywall, included internal communications, aghast testimony from staff and members of the public, and speculation about the University’s long-term reputation. Not included in the ODT’s story, however, was the fact that four separate investigations have failed to find any evidence of the headlining event. There has been “complete radio silence” on campus, said the Proctor, in a quote the ODT chose not to include.
The University of Otago, OUSA, Police, and the Department of Conservation have been unable to corroborate the claims of duck-biting, according to a University spokesperson. Neither have we. And for what it’s worth, in our experience, students are usually incredibly keen to tell you about the depraved antics they’ve gotten up to, in vivid detail. The only ducks we heard of were apparently released unharmed.
As previously reported, the ODT would not show us their evidence of the incident, nor would they tell us what type of evidence they have, though they have referenced a photo in the past.
Despite this, they continue to highlight the distressing “allegations” that students bit the legs off live ducks as part of a hazing ritual. One student Critic Te Ārohi spoke to chided that while the ODT speaks of this story in terms of “allegations”, he wanted to remind them that “my brother in Christ, you are the ones making the allegation”.
Critic Te Ārohi has seen a 67-page document released under the OIA (Official Information Act), which included all communication between the University’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and Proctor relating to the ODT’s duck story between the 6th of October and 1st of November 2023. Much is redacted, but the general gist is that the university comms team was quickly flooded by distressed members of the public who were demanding an investigation into the incident. One said they were crying as they wrote their letter, another cited legal breaches of the Animal Welfare Act, but most just wanted to know that the university would be holding someone accountable.
One writer asked the university to “put their big pants on” and deal with the problem, and another said they would not be leaving Otago any money in their will. Devastating - how will we fill that $60 million hole now? On October 11, a staff member got involved, and emailed the SLT to request that clarifications about the allegations be made within staff channels, as “gossip and speculation are rife”.
On the 13th, David Thompson, the Director of the Uni’s Strategy, Analytics and Reporting Office, said in an email, “I don’t believe that there’s any substance at all to the story about ducks, and nor does anyone I know in our student community!”
On the 25th of October, a redacted individual wrote to the Proctor asking for updates. They explained, “From what I have seen… to have no evidence with this degree of spotlight, and when the allegation [was] reported as fact, is unheard of.”
The Proctor responded that “there has been absolute silence” in the community about the event. “Complete radio silence”, in his words, which is “incredibly telling – someone would have heard something and reported it if the ODT story was true.”
The ODT have stuck with their story throughout this process, remaining the only organisation to claim to have evidence of the event. As evidenced by the 67 pages of communications, the story has clearly impacted public perception of the University and the students who call it home.
As always, we welcome any evidence of the incident.