University of Otago postpones graduations after security threat

A security threat has prompted the University of Otago to postpone today’s graduation ceremonies and associated events.

The university said it had received the threat electronically earlier in the week and made the decision today.

There is little police presence in the area but Otago Daily Times staff outside the university’s dental school were asked by a member of the proctor’s office to leave the area because “they are under threat here”. He would not specify why.

University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne and Police Southern District Commander Superintendent Paul Basham spoke outside the Dunedin Central Police Station at noon but could offer no further detail on the nature of the threat.

“I can’t talk about the detail of when the threats came in or the nature of them specifically,” said Basham. “To do so would undermine the integrity of the investigation.”

However he said they were acting urgently and had a team working on it overnight.

“We are taking the threat very seriously, I have a large team working on it as we speak and we’re confident that we will make progress over the next 24-36 hours.”

Basham encouraged the person or persons who sent the threat to come forward, sayingpeople didn’t deserve to be inconvenienced.

“It’s not too late to come forward and bring this to an end.”

Two graduations were planned to go ahead at 1pm and 4pm today, affecting 553 students.

For many, this was a replacement ceremony for ones earlier in the year that were cancelled due to Covid-19.

Graduands dressed in University of Otago regalia who had gathered at the Dunedin Dental School this morning for the 11.30am graduands’ parade along George St ahead of the 1pm graduation ceremony, had largely dispersed by 11.15am.

Hayne said police had “strongly recommended” that the graduation ceremonies be postponed.

“The safety of everyone who is planning to attend the ceremonies and the wider Dunedin community is at the heart of this difficult decision. The Police have strongly recommended that the graduation ceremonies scheduled for today are postponed and we support their recommendation,” Hayne said.

“We realise this will be incredibly distressing to everyone who was planning to take part in the ceremonies in person. For many, this was the replacement ceremony because of previous cancellations due to Covid-19. We share your disappointment.”

Currently, graduation ceremonies planned for Saturday and next week are scheduled to go ahead.

Asked whether families should travel to Dunedin for Saturday’s ceremonies, Hayne said: “Right now, hang fire. As soon as we know anything, we’ll let everyone know”.

There is no word on whether the Otago Polytechnic’s graduation ceremony on Friday is affected, but Basham said the advice on the threat given to them was the same as that given to the university.

All graduands will receive information from the university as quickly as possible about future plans. Updates for students will be posted on its website

Anyone who has any information on the threats is being asked to call 105 and reference file number 201208/6592. People can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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