Otago law faculty under ‘inappropriate behaviour’ scrutiny

New Zealand law is under further fire for abuse of power and inappropriate sexual conduct.

It began with attention on Auckland law firm Russell McVeagh in a series of Newsroom articles starting two weeks ago and widened to “growing into a wider condemnation of ‘the legal profession’, with claims the problem ‘is endemic’” – see Sexual misconduct in the legal profession.

All six New Zealand university law faculties cut ties with Russell McVeagh pending the outcome of a review into incidents of sexual misconduct and its culture – All six law schools cut ties with Russell McVeagh:

All six of the country’s university law faculties have now rejected ties with the troubled law firm Russell McVeagh while it conducts an independent review into incidents of sexual misconduct and its culture.

The University of Auckland joined the fray in a powerfully-worded statement saying it had put its relationship with Russell McVeagh on hold for the rest of the year, and that there should have been a strong apology from the firm.

Otago, Canterbury, Waikato, AUT and Victoria universities had already announced they were rejecting any recruitment branding, and Russell McVeagh-related events on their campuses.

Otago University’s Dean of Law Mark Henaghan and Canterbury University’s Ursula Cheer confirmed all the law schools have cut ties with Russell McVeagh.

Henaghan said it made sense to underwrite the competition because while removing branding was one thing, student associations had little money so it made sense for the universities to step in.

“We think it’s important to step aside and make a stance while the firm undertakes their inquiry.”

But Henaghan’s own department at the University of Otago Faculty of Law is now in the spotlight.

ODT: Claims of naked, boozy antics at Otago University law school camp

The University of Otago is under scrutiny amid claims of jelly wrestling and naked drinking games at boozy camps for student lawyers — attended by at least one senior staff member.

The camp for second year students has been held for the last 10 years and this year’s event is due to take place next weekend.

But student organisers have vowed to clampdown on drunkenness and ban “full nudity” — as the university probes a complaint about inappropriate behaviour.

One student told the Herald on Sunday she attended the camp in 2012 and said it rapidly descended into “an American fraternity house, or what you see in those American movies.”

She had not laid a complaint, but yesterday Otago University confirmed one complaint was under investigation.

“We received concerns from a person this afternoon about a law camp from a number of years ago,” a spokeswoman said.

“The concerns outline inappropriate behaviour allegedly witnessed at a law camp. This concern is taken seriously and will be promptly investigated.”

The university said it had also previously received complaints from two parents — one about excessive drinking and another about “nudity during a student performance”.

Professor Tony Ballantyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor of humanities, the concerns were addressed and “it was made clear to those participating in future camps that respectful behaviour is required of them”.

In a statement, the university went on to say that staff members attend the camp.

“Mostly the person who attends is the Dean of the Law Faculty as an invited guest.”

The Dean, Professor Mark Henaghan (63), last week announced he was leaving his role after 19 years to take up a post with Auckland University next year.

Asked if any students had complained about the behaviour of staff, the spokeswoman said: “In light of today’s concerns about a camp held several years ago further inquiries are required about this event. Student safety and welfare at these events is paramount.”

The Society of Otago University Law Students (SOULS), which organises the event said changes had been made in time for next weekend’s camp.

It gets worse. Herald on Sunday – University of Otago’s law faculty described as ‘smorgasbord of young, impressionable women for the men’:

A former University of Otago law student claims members of the law faculty have acted inappropriately towards women for years.

“Otago Law has been a . . . smorgasbord of young, impressionable women for men in the faculty,” said the woman in a message to a third party following a Herald on Sunday report today.

The woman agreed to allowing the Herald to use her comments today, albeit anonymously.

​”Even if relationships weren’t consummated, there were a lot of inappropriate conversations, caresses and carry-ons,” she said.

In one of her first days at the university she recalls a staff member walking behind her and complimenting her physique.

“He once walked up the stairs behind me, whispering in my ear, ‘you have such a lovely bum’.

“Being young … I felt so special because for years I was his favourite,” the woman said.

The Herald on Sunday reported today on claims of drinking and nudity at a camp that second-year law students of Otago attend.

Professor Tony Ballantyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor of humanities at the University of Otago, sent out an email to all Otago Law students today following the story.

“The story focuses upon very serious issues that require careful examination.

“Yesterday some concerns were also raised with me about alleged inappropriate behaviour at a past Law Camp and a process will be initiated this week to look into those issues.

“Any student with concerns about past Law camps or other events should contact me directly,” Ballantyne said in the email.

I’ve seen accusations from an identified person on Twitter against law faculty staff that are serious abuses of power and are behaviourally and sexually and professionally inappropriate. It included allegations of preferential marking for female students.

It sounds like this hasn’t just popped up out of the blue, it appears to have been an abusive culture for years that has not been addressed by the University of Otago. There will be pressure on them to investigate thoroughly and to take appropriate, decisive action. If some careers are affected by holding to account then so be it – something has to be done to stop abusive cultures.

Innocent until proven guilty and all that, but this looks bad for Otago, and it is another bad blemish on the legal profession in New Zealand.

Leave a comment


  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  4th March 2018

    It sounds to me as if the goings-on were by both sexes, and to try to make the ‘women’ into victims is to make them sound as if they were too stupid to know what was happening.

  2. Blazer

     /  4th March 2018

    a law firm having an ‘independent’ inquiry…funny as a..play.

  3. chrism56

     /  5th March 2018

    It has never just been the Law faculty. Remember Sophie Elliott. There have been over the years at all the Universities a number of cases of lecturers sleeping with their students. But it is all deemed acceptable because the lecturers are progressives.
    And Kitty, the women might well be adults and responsible for their own decisions, but the whole thing is dodgy – Doctors can be struck off for having sex with any of their patients, even former ones. Maybe there needs to be something similar for University staff.

    • Blazer

       /  5th March 2018

      I see so lecturers are …’progressives’….and lawyers are …’neanderthals’…Rustle McPrey…

      • chrism56

         /  5th March 2018

        Yes Blazer, the progressive left defend their own. Why was the behavior towards women of people like Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein brushed over?

    • Jonny

       /  5th March 2018

      ANd the Universities wanted Russell McVeagh banned! What about their own house in order first?

  4. Reply

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