Parents are unwilling to send their children to the University of Otago because of bad publicity, a university executive board member says.

At a university council meeting yesterday, Judge Oke Blaikie, who is also the chairman of the University of Otago's Disciplinary Appeals Board, said ongoing media publicity about student unrest and fires was contributing to a negative perception among parents of potential undergraduates.

"There is a perception among parents, which I have encountered while travelling [New Zealand]. Some are saying to me, I'm not sure I'm happy about sending my son or daughter to Otago,'' he said.

Negative publicity decreased as troublesome events such as the Undie 500 and toga parades had stopped.


They had received nationwide publicity, but there was now ongoing reporting about the increased instances of fires being lit in the student quarter, Judge Blaikie said.

Emergency services responded to outbreaks of bonfires and couch-fires in the student quarter on weekends when the Rugby World Cup final was held, and on consecutive weekends which included Guy Fawkes Day and the end of exams on November 12.

There were no arrests made in relation to the incidents in the student quarter, when fire services extinguished 14 fires last weekend, 31 fires on Guy Fawkes Day, and five fires when the All Blacks won the world cup on Oct 23.

Judge Blaikie said media reports were not following up on the disciplinary processes of students, allegedly involved in such situations, he said.

"In my experience there are very few students who fall within the disciplinary process [of the university] for these incidents,'' he said.

The judge called for more balance reporting from the media, and more focus to be given the outcomes of the disciplinary process, compared with the initial reporting of the alleged fire-lighting incidents.

The Otago Daily Times asked the university if media would be given access to report on disciplinary hearings for students, given Judge Blaikie's comments.

University spokeswoman Megan McPherson media could not attend disciplinary hearings.

"The reason media cannot attend student code of conduct disciplinary hearings is that the regulations state: All hearings before the board shall be in private and its proceedings shall be confidential,'' she said in an emailed statement.

Judge Blaikie could not be contacted after the council meeting, yesterday.