Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Honorary degree for former University of Otago Chancellor

Dr Royden Somerville QC, a Dunedin-based barrister and the former Chancellor of the University of Otago, is set to be recognised for his contribution to the institution with the conferring of an Honorary Doctor of Laws.

The honour was announced yesterday ahead of the Saturday, 7 May graduation celebration.

Dr Somerville has served as a member of the University of Otago Council since 2010. He was Pro-Chancellor in 2017 and Chancellor from 2018 until February this year.

He says he is delighted and humbled to receive this special honour from the University with which he has had a long and close association.

“It was a privilege to serve as a member the Council of the University and as a trustee of the University of Otago Foundation Trust.”

He said he was looking forward to the graduation ceremony and congratulating the new graduates.

“The contribution of Otago students and graduates to society throughout their lives, engenders great hope for the future.”

He wished the new Chancellor, Stephen Higgs, and members of the University community, all the very best for the future.

Chancellor Stephen Higgs says the honorary degree reflects the dedication and exemplary service Dr Somerville had given to the University during his tenure.

“Dr Somerville has contributed much to the University as a Council member and Chancellor. In these roles he has made a difference to the growth and development of the University, in particular through the 2019 sesquicentennial celebrations and, more recently, the many challenges arising from COVID-19.”

“His dedication to the University and its interests has been unwavering and reflects the depth of his association with us, as a student, staff member and Councillor.”

Dr Somerville graduated from the University with an LLB in 1971, and an LLM in 1972, followed by a PhD in 2002. As a student, he represented the University in debating and mooting, and was President of the Otago University Debating Society and the New Zealand Universities’ Debating Council. He also served on the executive of the then Otago University Law Faculty Students’ Association.

As an alumnus he served for several years on the Council of Knox College and Salmond College, and is a Fellow of Knox College.

Outside of the University, Dr Somerville is a Queen’s Counsel (appointed in 1998) specialising in public and environmental law. In 2016 he was presented with the Resource Management Law Association’s Judge R J Bollard Lifetime Commemorative Award, recognising his long and distinguished career in Law. He was Chairman of the Ministry for the Environment’s Environmental Legal Assistance Fund for 13 years. He also chaired the Board of Inquiry into the 2011 National Policy Statement for Renewable Electricity Generation.

Dr Somerville has held office in several professional organisations, including the Otago District Law Society, the New Zealand Law Society, the New Zealand Bar Association, the International Bar Association, the New Zealand Resource Management Law Association, the NZ Energy and Natural Resources Law Association, and Lawyers Engaged in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

His community service has included membership of the councils, boards, or executives of: Columba College, the Ngāi Tahu Community Law Centre, the Otago Foundation Trust Board, Government Property Services Limited, Presbyterian Support Otago (of which he is a life member), Presbyterian Support NZ, the Book of Order and Judicial Committee of the PCANZ, and the Presbyterian Property Trustees. He is currently President of the Dunedin Burns Club and the Otago Scottish Heritage Council and is a Past President of the Robert Burns Association of the Pacific Rim.

Dr Somerville’s family has deep ties with Otago. He is of Kai Tahu and Scottish descent. He is the first Kai Tahu to serve as Chancellor of the University, and his great-great-great-grandfather, the Rev Dr Thomas Burns, was the first Chancellor of the University of Otago.

Dr Somerville’s honorary doctorate will be presented at the first of two graduation ceremonies on Saturday, 7 May. The first, at which Dr Somerville will deliver the graduation address, is an acknowledgement ceremony for graduates of the cancelled August and December 2021 graduations. A second ceremony will take place for graduates in Dentistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, and Radiation Therapy.

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