Oysters and wagyu on uni bosses’ menu
Elite staff get to enjoy exclusive club amid cutbacks. Kelly Dennett and Harrison Christian report.
As frontline academic staff and librarians face job cuts, the University of Auckland has defended spending thousands on exclusive Northern Club memberships for its top executives.
Since 2014 the university has spent more than $33,000 to give eight senior staff members entry to the central Auckland club, once notorious for excluding women and Ma¯ori.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon said he used the club, adjacent to the university campus, as a function centre to host international guests and manage important relationships. ‘‘The people who have the memberships are people who are heads of the faculties, or deputy vicechancellors, and they are engaged in fundraising activity and managing relationships,’’ he said.
But the spending comes as student enrolments drop at a number of tertiary institutions, especially in the big cities where living costs are highest.
The biggest polytech, Unitec, this week reported a $31 million deficit after a 7 per cent drop in student numbers. And the biggest university, Auckland, has blamed falling enrolments for proposed lay-offs in the education, social work, and arts faculties.
The university is consulting staff around job cuts. More than 40 jobs are on the line.
Jessica Palairet, a fifth-year law and arts student and vice-president of the students’ association, said the spending was ‘‘indefensible’’.
‘‘It’s absolutely not appropriate, in my view, at a time where the university is quoting tight financial constraints as a justification for cutting entire language programmes, cutting libraries, seriously reducing the size of our specialist librarian staff and other staff.
‘‘It’s kind of shocking that you have to, in order to keep up your international business relations, spend almost $40,000 so that the vice-chancellor can go across the road to have a meeting rather than have it in his office. That makes no sense to me at all.’’
In the members’ dining room at the Northern Club, McCutcheon and his fellow executives can enjoy oysters or wagyu carpaccio for entrees, and 12-hour pork shoulder or seared eye fillet for their mains.
But McCutcheon insisted the club memberships were justifiable.
‘‘If you want to put it in context . . . in those last four years, we would have raised $200 million in philanthropic funding for the university. None of that funding benefits the people who are on the list of memberships.
‘‘If it’s six or seven thousand a year, last year we raised $64m in donor funding. All of that funding goes to support student scholarships for research activities, to support new staff, or people who are being hired into the university.’’
He rejected any suggestion the memberships could be seen as extravagant. ‘‘I think any suggestion of that nature would be a nonsense. I’m afraid there’s no scandal.’’
Northern Club memberships were purchased on a yearly basis for McCutcheon as well as the deputy vice-chancellor of strategic engagement, the deans of faculty science, law, engineering and medical health sciences; and the directors of education initiatives, and alumni relations and development.
The club’s website says membership opens doors to ‘‘interesting events and exclusive opportunities’’, including ‘‘luxury Champagne tastings’’ and ‘‘master cheese classes’’.
Auckland University law student Jessica Palairet outside the Northern Club. She says the university’s spending there is ‘‘indefensible’’.