Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater says she has asked the Chancellor and University Council to “reconsider” the decision to buy her a house to live in. She is asking the university to sell the house instead to help reduce some of the university’s debt. Freshwater also says the decision to buy the house is currently being reviewed by the Controller and Auditor-General of New Zealand, a public official tasked with investigating public institutions to make sure they are not misspending money.
Earlier this year, the university announced it had purchased a $5 million home in Parnell for Dawn Freshwater to live in. The decision was controversial, with students and the New Zealand Union of Students Associations appearing in news articles to call the decision to purchase the house (which featured a lap pool and manicured gardens) “frivolous”. The university defended the purchase by arguing the house had dual functions: it would provide Freshwater with somewhere to live while she worked, and it would serve as a venue to hold university functions. Freshwater was expected to pay rent while living in the home.
However, in a recent email to staff, Freshwater noted that COVID-19 had “significantly frustrated” any plans to use the house as a function area. Because of this Freshwater has asked the university to consider selling the house. “I consider it beneficial for the capital value of this university property to be returned so that it can reduce our debts,” she wrote.
Freshwater briefly noted in her email that the Controller and Auditor-General of New Zealand was reviewing the university’s decision to buy the house. The Controller and Auditor-General is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse of public money, misspending, misappropriation of funds, and more. The Auditor-General is expected to keep public entities (such as the university) accountable, by auditing their financial statements. The position is currently held by John Ryan.
This is the first Craccum has heard about Ryan investigating the university for the purchase of the house. Craccum was unable to find any information about the Auditor-General’s review on the Auditor-General’s website; we have begun the process of submitting an Official Information Act request to understand more.