When the Auckland branch of the Tertiary Education Union announced plans to picket an Awards evening organised by the University of Auckland Alumni Society, some critics of the union warned that it was setting itself up for disaster. A picket would, anonymous critics claimed, be seen as 'divisive' and 'destructive', and get a cold reception from the hundreds of people gathering to honour distinguished fellow graduates like long-time Greens MP Jeneatte Fitzsimons and outstanding young scholars like the scientist Claire French.
The union has for months now been opposing McCutcheon's demand that crucial clauses relating to research rights be removed from the contract of academic staff. The disappearance of the clauses would reduce both the quantity and the quality of the research emerging from the University of Auckland, and make the place less attractive to both prospective staff and prospective students.
It seems, though, that University of Auckland alumni have considerbaly more appreciation of the importance of research and free thinking than the university's current vice-chancellor. The thirty or so union members who picketed last Friday's awards ceremony in pouring rain received a warm response from many of those who attended the awards ceremony. Hundreds of leaflets were gratefully accepted, and scores of ceremony attendees chose to wear stickers announcing their support for the Tertiary Education Union. Mayor Len Brown, who studied law at the University of Auckland before beginning his long ascent of the greasy pole of local body politics, stopped and chatted with union delegates and assured them that they had his support. Jeanette Fitzsimons and Keith Locke both stopped to talk and make their support clear.