University of Otago cancels graduation ceremonies due to 'security threat'

The University of Otago has cancelled Wednesday's graduation ceremonies due to a "security threat".

In a statement, the university announced it had made the "difficult decision" to cancel the ceremonies, scheduled for 1pm and 4pm, after receiving a threat electronically earlier this week.

"The safety of everyone who is planning to attend the ceremonies and the wider Dunedin community is at the heart of this difficult decision," vice chancellor Harlene Hayne said.

"We realise this will be incredibly distressing to everyone who was planning to take part in the ceremonies in person."

The parent of a would-be graduate told Newshub they'd been asked to stay away from the university but weren't told what the threat was.

Student Ben Shine said he was disappointed.

"It's pretty annoying to have the whānau down and have to disappoint but you know, better to be safe than sorry," he told RNZ.

Southern District Commander Supt Paul Basham said the threats were specifically aimed at the graduation ceremonies.

"We have increased the police presence at the campus, through the CBD and the high street," he told a news briefing. "We have extra visible patrols out there and we have other specialist squads contingencies in place."

He declined to dicuss specifics but said police were acting "with urgency".

"The number one concern that we have is for people's safety - the threat is, at this stage, specific to the graduation ceremonies.

"Now, while we need to take that with a grain of salt, there is nothing to suggest that the threat is any wider than that at the moment." 

The university will continue working with the police and other agencies to investigate the threat, Prof Hayne said.

"For many, this was the replacement ceremony because of previous cancellations due to COVID-19. We share your disappointment."

Prof Hayne said ceremonies planned for Saturday and next week are still scheduled to go ahead.