It started as a distant rumble which from my vantage point on the top floor of the Law Building at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch New Zealand seemed to run directly towards me like a lit fuse. As the building began to lurch to and fro on its rubber foundations (I was later told that the library had swayed 4 metres in either direction) I remembered the instructions posted everywhere to ‘drop cover and hold’, and scrambled under my desk just in time to avoid my computer crashing down, and reflected that this was turning out to be a rather more exciting sabbatical than I had bargained for.
Having been evacuated to the North Island, to make university accommodation available for rescue crews and for essential staff whose homes had been demolished, we returned to England briefly, before heading back to Christchurch to help the Law Faculty get back on its feet.
Law courses are now being delivered online, in marquees in the university’s playing fields, and in any room that can be scrounged, including a motel restaurant. Lecturers’ responsibilities include deciding when to evacuate students should one of the recurrent strong aftershocks occur. The students have been remarkably resilient, forming volunteer armies to shovel the tonnes of liquefied silt which have leaked through cracks in the ground, creating sinkholes big enough to cause vehicles to vanish.
Everyone here is grateful to the Oxford colleges which have taken in students from Christchurch for Trinity Term, in the best tradition of the global academic community.