Massey scientists spent years advising on a new multi-million dollar innovation centre at Albany - but now fear they'll lose their jobs before it opens.
Five years ago, when Massey's then-vice chancellor Steve Maharey announced the four-level centre – the centrepiece of a $120m innovation hub – he spoke of it as north Auckland's answer to California's famed Silicon Valley.
As recently as June last year, Massey touted it as a "science innovation and research centre" that would house teaching and research laboratories and collaborative working spaces, to link the university with industry and the local community.
Yet scientists now wonder what role their subject could have within the complex if they no longer have jobs, with Massey proposing to stop offering science degrees from Albany from the end of the year.
Professor Dianne Brunton, who is head of Albany's School of Natural and Computational Sciences, said staff had spent two years meeting with designers and offering specialist input.
"It was a complicated process because a lot of things had to be considered, right down to ducting," she said.
"We were having meetings every couple of weeks, sometimes more, and there was a lot of staff involvement."
Draft design documents from late 2017 set out how sciences - currently based on the campus' Ōtehā Rohe site, which has been sold and will soon be vacated - would be accommodated in the centre.
The third floor took in chemistry research labs, food science research labs and secure physical containment labs, while the first floor included a marine lab and areas for storage.
Brunton said the building - being constructed over the next few years - was to host about 3000 sq m of lab space, along with a mix of small office pods and open-plan areas.
In line with university targets, it would achieve a space efficiency of one person per 12 sq m.
"That is tiny, but we've tried to be as efficient as we can with this," she said, adding that care had been taken to avoid unnecessary double-ups in resources.
"We've seen this complex as an enormous way forward for growth on this campus. One of the key points is that this building actually sends a huge signal to our local community that we are going to be doing state-of-the-art science here."
She compared the building's importance to Massey's innovative College of Creative Arts building in Wellington, or its distinctive veterinary tower in Palmerston North, now being replaced.
"It's a symbol. We are looking at growth in our teaching, and in our university's income."
Brunton said it was that projected growth that had left her colleagues confused and dismayed that the university proposed centralising sciences from Palmerston North, as part of the roll-out of a new strategy focused on online studying.
She said her colleagues were further discouraged at messaging from Massey leadership that only mentioned engineering and information science when discussing the complex.
"We took that as a very clear signal that this is not a discussion document, but something pre-determined."
Albany scientists have also raised questions over the university's building investments, including new builds and refurbishments and amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, and why the university was advertising new Palmerston North science jobs, while they were bracing for redundancies.
Albany staff have told the Herald they fear 50 Auckland science jobs could go – with implications for hundreds of students based in the city.
The Herald last week asked Massey about the scientists' concerns around the complex and the university's building investments, but has yet to receive a response to those questions.
A list of FAQs sent out to staff however said that, as no final decisions had been made, the building of the centre would continue as planned.
"Should any of the plans in the discussion document [outlying the proposed changes] progress, the facilities within the Innovation Centre would have to reflect those changes."
It comes as a petition to keep science at Albany, drawing 10,000 signatures so far, has been presented to National's tertiary education and science spokespersons Shane Reti and Parmjeet Parmar, and East Coast Bays MP Erica Stanford.
Parmar has called on the Government to intervene - describing the situation as "shameful" – but Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Education Minister Chris Hipkins have yet to make any comment on the matter.
Acting Education Minister Tracey Martin has said Massey is committed to ensuring all students and staff are consulted and supported throughout the process.
Massey has told the Herald that it wouldn't be commenting on potential outcomes while its consultation process was underway and no decisions had been made.
All students would be supported to complete their qualification and if any changes occur, they would start at beginning of next year at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Tertiary Education Union is planning to hold a two-hour stop-work meeting across all three of Massey's campuses on Thursday.
Organiser Heather Warren said there was a sense of anger at the proposals - some scientists have directly hit out at vice-chancellor Professor Jan Thomas - and a feeling that much had been predetermined by a "small group of senior leaders".
The radical changes for science aren't the only ones being proposed by Massey.
A discussion document for the College of Health would see four subjects - health science, health promotion, mental health and environmental health – only offered online to undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Social work, currently split across the Auckland and Manawatu campuses, would be based from Palmerston North, while occupational health and safety would shift from Manawatu to Albany.
Some offerings out of Massey's Business School have also been earmarked for closure, while decisions and proposals were still to come for others.
Massey's science shake-up
• A discussion document said the university's costs had risen more than its revenue and it needed to cut spending by $18.1m a year – and proposed slashing staff costs in the College of Sciences by $11.7m, or 15 per cent.
• As part of a restructure and a new online-focused strategy, science degrees would no longer be offered at Albany, but at Palmerston North majoring in chemistry, earth science, ecology, environmental science, maths, microbiology, molecular genetics and biochemistry, statistics and zoology.
• Majors in physics, plant science, integrative biology and marine biology would be abandoned completely.