Legal threat calls off meeting

By John Maslin

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The suggestion of possible legal action has stymied any effort to get UCOL's principal to sit down with Wanganui's mayor to discuss proposed course changes at the Wanganui campus.

Mayor Annette Main hoped to meet with Paul McElroy last Friday at a meeting he was having with Whanganui MP Chester Borrows.

But Mr McElroy said on legal advice he was given, he would not meet with Ms Main.

That advice was based on the decision by Wanganui Dis-trict Council to seek a judicial review of UCOL's decision to defer any first year student intake on fine arts and glass courses in 2013.

Ms Main said she drove back from Wellington early last Friday for the meeting only to learn when she got there that Mr McElroy would not meet with her.

"He was happy to meet with Chester Borrows but not with me present. And that was because of the perceived threat of legal action by the council," she said.

Last month, UCOL announced it was dropping a course; cutting six-and-a-half full-time positions, removing three senior management roles and putting a temporary halt on student intakes for fine arts or glass courses. It cited a $2.6 million cut in government funding as the reason.

Soon after, the council met in an extraordinary session and passed a series of resolutions.

The one that irks the UCOL head called for an in-house legal opinion on UCOL's "duty of care" to the Wanganui Glass School and the institute's charter, and whether UCOL's decision could be subject to a judicial review.

"I'm very disappointed that he is using that as a reason not to be involved in discussions with me," Ms Main said.

She said the positive aspect of Friday's meeting was that Mr Borrows remained fully supportive of the council's position and that he was taking it up directly with the Minister of Tertiary Education and the ministry as well.

"Like our council, Chester knows that retaining the first year intake to the fine arts and glass school at Whanganui UCOL is vital for both the campus and the community," Ms Main said.

And she said she did not believe that such a draconian measure was the intent of the Government when it reviewed finances available to tertiary institutions such as Whanganui UCOL.

She said despite Mr McElroy refusing to meet with her, there was work continuing at an officer level between council and UCOL in Palmerston North.

"We'll be given an update at the full council meeting next Monday."

She said the taskforce that council and UCOL agreed to set up was still a work in progress but she said its make-up would probably need to go beyond just council and UCOL.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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