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tigtog (aka Viv) is the founder of this blog. She lives in Sydney, Australia: husband, 2 kids, cat, house, garden, just enough wine-racks and (sigh) far too few bookshelves.

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57 responses to “Toxic culture in university colleges”

  1. Li

    I’m amused that George Pell, whose credentials in handling institutional violence are clearly stellar, is being called in.

    Personally, my preferred solution includes a controlled implosion and a brand new community garden, but sadly those in charge seem to have their own ideas.

  2. tigtog

    Cardinal Pell has made one of his typical having his cake and eating it too statements: he wants to reform the college but legislation limites his control and he wants Rector Bongers and the council to fix things but fails to mention that the council is actively hostile to Bongers and the executive is hamstringing every reform Bongers has tried to make.

  3. Mary

    The Herald article strongly implied that the governing council of St John’s is about to fire Bongers, in fact, as early as today. If that’s so, then Pell is being even more disingenuous than that sounds.

    The dysfunction that the Herald article talks about makes me wonder who would take on the job. Even if one was sympathetic to retaining aspects of the college’s abusive culture, surely one wouldn’t want to be in the situation the Herald paints, where a group of the men residents are able to appeal to the council to overthrow any of the rector’s decisions they don’t like! That seems to be untenable for almost anyone.

    If I had to guess, and this is based on very very loose understanding and no inside information whatsoever, I would guess that part of the Council is still hoping/planning to remove the Jets (the women residents) entirely. The decision to admit women was, I believe, both made for financial reasons rather than due to an ideological commitment to co-education, and very very contentious.

  4. Mindy

    One would be tempted, if one had the power, to turn it into a ladies only college and really fix their little red wagon.

  5. Liam

    I’m glad to see that in my comment my aggressive contempt towards the Colleges has been constant over time.

    I’ve been thinking about this since the Herald-Sun story. Really, short of compulsory acquisition and remodelling as teaching space, this is in the State Government’s court, rather than the VC or the college administration who’re powerless in the face of the Old Boys. I’d like to see the University of Sydney Act amended to give the university some kind of formal responsibility for the safety of residential students, and even better, formal disciplinary power over the colleges (which they don’t have at all).

  6. Mortisha

    Gawd and the grooming of the new generation of grubby old boy CEOs, politicians and ‘community leaders’ continues.

    Saw it when I was working at a uni, drinking culture is pretty typical of many campuses, but every so often you will get a cohort come through that has a particular sadistic and mean stench to it. What in previous years was just drunken silliness is converted into something much darker & menacing.

    There will be one or more manipulative little weasels that are fuelling it. Not surprising there are establishment old boys who are happy to protect and embolden them.

  7. Coco

    Cardinal Pell’s hands off approach while referring to appalling behaviour sound familiar? Same tactic he uses with pedo priests. Next thing he will call his cabal in and suddenly announce the student ring leaders have been awarded a Rhodes scholarship, a grant to study overseas or some other plum “reward” to buy their gratitude and indebtedness for the rest of their life. Not calling the Police to charge criminals with crimes or investigate crimes? Again – Pell a past master. Talking about masters – the St John College Board hire a naive, olde worlde new head, TELL him he has a mandate to clean up the cess pit but he new guy fails to notice the crossed fingers behind their backs. What they wanted was for Bongers to give the public IMPRESSION he was a hard liner cleaning the joint up, whilst simultaneously protecting the college traditions but more importantly, the reputations of those off spring of the old boys who actually run the place. The Board wanted the hypocritical solution, but Bongers was literal enough to take Board at their word. Within weeks of Bongers arriving and putting his foot down about vandalism of college property, he was over ruled. Then it happened again and again. The hiring of a Head with explicit instructions to clean the place up then actively under mining him when he does sends a crystal clear message to the feral residents ” go harder.” Has anyone read Lord of the Flies?

  8. orlando

    There’s a Change.org petition if anyone is interested, but it only calls for Pell to intervene, so I don’t think it is aiming for enough.

    Of course, these are the young men who then grow up to be the barristers who argue that a woman can’t be raped if she was wearing tight jeans, and the judges who release wife beaters on the grounds that they are of good character, and the police commissioners who decide not to prosecute officers who beat Aboriginal men to death. Institutions focused on keeping power in the hands of the over-indulged and under-empathetic, where it’s always been.

  9. Li

    7.30 on ABC1 is covering the issue right now. I’ll find a transcript if I can once one goes up.

  10. kayloulee

    I was living at the Women’s College at the time of the St Paul’s … let’s say utter clusterfuck … and let me tell you, I am *not surprised* at this Johns thing. A couple of ex-Women’s girls and I have been brainstorming ways to unfuck Johns, and none of them are actually workable ideas.

    I actually think the whole “close the college for 4 years to weed out the entire current cohort” idea isn’t without its merits, but the thing is the college Council is stacked to the rafters with old boys who have a vested interest in propagating the toxic culture they’ve got going, and I’m not sure how/if it’s possible to kick council Fellows out of their positions.

    I really want to read a copy of the St John’s College Constitution and the Act of Parliament that incorporated the College and suchlike.

  11. orlando

    Bringing criminal charges might help. Of course, most of them have wall-to-wall lawyers for family, but the threat of not being able to practice in the future could potentially carry some weight.

  12. MrRabbit

    Anyone surprised this was Tony Abbott’s college? Anyone surprised at his chuckling response?

    Also Joe Hockey’s college. Chuckle, chuckle.

    Do you think our future leaders (political, legal, educational, religious, etc.) were bullies before entering this college or did this environment teach them all they needed to know?

  13. Sarah

    I used to be a student at Sancta Sophia College, St John’s sister college in the 80s and was employed at Sancta in the 2000s. Sancta was and still is an all women’s college. Many of my friends were students at St John’s before it became co-ed. I have a lot to say about this. I think it’s important to be nuanced.

    St Johns had in the 80s and in the 2000s a toxic, misogynistic (and yes I do mean that in its strictest sense) culture. Then, and I suspect now, while that was a dominant culture, it was by no means a majority culture. My friends and many like them at St John’s were good, decent blokes, who, like most uni students, got drunk to the point of throwing up once or twice, but did not participate in degrading or misogynistic behaviour. Some of them are now married to my female friends; some of them are now effectively married to each other. Most of my friends, and the majority of the students at St John’s then were from Catholic diocesan high schools in the country (as was I) – none of them were wealthy, most were supported by a combination of scholarships, part-time jobs and parents making significant sacrifices (as was I). I suspect that’s still the case. However, then as now, there was an elite minority who came from the large Sydney private schools – (many of them also originally came from the country as borders). That group was very different.

    Some of my friends experienced horrific abuse at the hands of members of the dominant subculture. In the 80s a friend of mine who was identified by the dominant group as homosexual was horrifically sexually assaulted during fresher initiation rituals. When he took the matter to the then rector of the college, he was told that the reputation of the men responsible should not be tarnished. The assault has had lasting and serious deleterious effects on his life. I have no doubt that this sort of thing is exactly what still goes on. I also have heard enough anecdotes to support the notion of a rape culture among the dominant minority group at St John’s.

    Female students were introduced to St John’s in 2001 for several reasons – partly as an attempt to disrupt the misogynistic culture, partly to deal with falling enrolments and consequent financial pressure. It is significant that female students were introduced against the wishes of many of the alumni, and that it was the financial argument that won the day. Historically Sancta had been the college of choice for Catholic women, but it is a much smaller college, built in the 1920s when far fewer women came to university, and with no land to expand, so it could not meet demand for places, and many women preferred the apparently egalitarian environment of a co-ed college.

    The essential problem with St John’s College is neither the rector nor the Catholic church. Both have attempted to control behaviour and institute reform agendas over the years (though there have been rectors and representatives of the Church who have failed to do either). The problem lies rather with the College Council and the legislative structure under which the College is founded.

    Like all the Colleges at the University of Sydney, St John’s is founded by an Act of New South Wales parliament. Much as I loathe some of the behaviour of George Pell on a personal level, he is quite correct that he has only limited authority to act in this instance. He is the official Visitor to the College (a nebulous role) but the College is an entity unto itself and is not owned by the Catholic Church. Nor is it owned by the University of Sydney, which similarly has very limited ability to intervene. Rather it is in the control of its Council, which has representatives from the University, the Church and the Alumni as well as others. College Councils have enormous power, and are often entrenched, with members serving for decades. This instance of the College Council failing to support a rector that they appointed with a reform agenda is not at all unusual – a former Head of St Andrew’s College has published a memoir detailing similar experiences.

    To my mind the only way to effect real change at St John’s and other colleges would be to remove the entire College Council and replace it with one more representative of the broader community, with limited terms, and a limit on the number of alumni who could serve at one time. I would like to see a quota for women members, and a quota for representatives from the University. My understanding is that the only quota at present is for a number of Catholic priests.

    In order to remove the College Council at St John’s, legislation would have to pass through NSW parliament to do it. That’s not impossible – they had to change the Act to allow women students. Though I imagine that there may well be number of Johnsmen in NSW parliament, they may not all be misogynist dinosaurs. If the community wants this to change, then the solution is to lobby an MP to bring a private member’s bill. Ultimately there needs to be a Council who will treat crime as crime and have a policy of calling in the police. Until that happens nothing will change.

    And while we’re on the subject of Johnsmen, I was a student at the same time as Joe Hockey. I remember him as in with the in crowd, but basically a nice enough bloke. Tony Abbott’s smirk on the subject of the behaviour of the current students suggests that he finds it all funny. I don’t.

  14. Medivh

    Criminal charges were my first thought, Orlando. I was thinking of aiming them at the council in charge though. Whatever the legal term for knowingly creating an environment likely to lead to criminal activity is.

    Accessory before the fact?

    Either that, or Mary suggested that the college is only co-ed for funding’s sake. Let the idiots revert to a single sex situation and debt themselves to death? Unfortunately a long term prospect, but a far more certain one – if the kind of fools who serve on the council aren’t the kind of fools to throw money into a pit purely for nostalgia’s sake.

  15. Mindy
  16. tigtog

    Latest news – Fake fresher: St John’s student lied to ABC to protect college’s reputation

    Third-year student and member of the 2012 house committee Georgie Carter misrepresented herself to ABC’s Lateline program as a “fresher” i.e. first-year student, telling them that she had never seen any such problems.

    It is understood it was decided among the senior students at the college that she would front the cameras, pretending to be a “fresher” to give the impression there was nothing wrong inside St John’s.

    Comment was being sought from Lateline, and attempts are being made to contact Ms Carter.

    Wow, they really thought that everybody who knew her would keep their secret and that they’d get away with these lies?

  17. Mary

    The video and transcript of the 7.30 segment that I briefly appeared on is up: Prestigious university college confronts claims of ugly culture. The full episode is also on iView, but I don’t think there’s more St John’s related content on the full episode.

  18. Mary

    Pell is actually pulling hard on the levers now:

    The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, has asked the five remaining priests on the council of St John’s College to end their official roles with the prestigious institution.

    Cardinal Pell said he no longer had “confidence in the capacity” of the council to “reform life at the college” […]

    If the five priests stand down, the Herald understands that the college council will cease to exist, as no meeting or action can be taken without at least one Clerical fellow present. One of the six, Father Walter Fogarty, has already stood down from the council.

    Cardinal Pell said he also wanted the NSW government to draw up new legislation around the governance of the Catholic college.

    “I will also be contacting the NSW government to discuss a review of existing governance arrangements and the need to amend the 19th century Act of Parliament, which is no longer adequate,” he said.

  19. Mary

    Sarah@13: thanks for the great explanation of the legislative context.

    I actually ended up being so put off John’s and their culture while living at Sancta that I eventually silently refused to socialise with any of them: I’m aware this was very likely unfair to resistors within their ranks! I definitely was aware that the other colleges, most of which had systemic hazing and harassment problems when I was living at Sancta, had resistors and opt-outers (most people who hate it just silently leave sooner or later).

    I really hope that any changes at John’s are considered by either the councils of the other colleges or by the NSW government above them: I think that it’s unlikely that John’s in the extreme is exceptionally toxic here (as the 2009 problems at Paul’s, which is even more embedded in Sydney elite culture, show).

  20. tigtog

    That’s actually some very clever politicking from Pell. I’m reluctantly impressed.

  21. Mary

    I am thinking (again, no inside info) that Pell must have some very non-comforting reports of the college’s culture to hand (perhaps the public info, perhaps additional info) and not much positive to balance them with. He’s used to being unpopular and identifying with culturally conservative and reactionary positions, after all. I therefore wouldn’t think that it’s the public pressure or bad publicity that is getting him to act, but genuine personal (or Catholic hierarchical) disgust.

  22. tigtog

    I wouldn’t discount the possibility that he’s angling strategically for more direct control over the organisation of the college and its finances for hierarchical principles alone, Mary. It must smart to have one of the city’s most prestigious nominally Catholic institutions being almost entirely outside the control of the Archbishopric.

  23. orlando

    Someone on the Destroy the Joint page floated the idea (again, purely speculative) that Pell wants Abbott in government, so would prefer to shut down as quickly as possible anything that perpetuates an association in the public mind of Abbott with elitist, misogynist bullying.

    I’d like to see the media make much more of a connection between St John’s and St Paul’s and St Andrew’s, instead of talking about each college separately whenever one of them is revealed to be appalling in one way or another.

  24. Chris

    Were residential colleges always this bad or is it just a few colleges that have the problems? Both of my parents attended them as overseas university students in the 60s and thought they were a really good experience. And they’re not the type of people to put up with excessive alcohol consumption, hazing rituals etc. I probably would have ended up at one except it simply wasn’t affordable at the time.

  25. Sarah

    I’d agree with tigtog’s assessment of Cardinal Pell’s motivation. I think he’s cleverly protecting the reputation of the Church, by withdrawing support from John’s, and I hadn’t realised how effectively that would hamstring their council – Sancta’s is differently constituted – but I would be surprised if we didn’t see a push for greater diocesan control of both St John’s and Sancta. Sancta’s council has been resisting such pushes for a long time, based to some extent on a reluctance for a women’s college to lose autonomy.

    My views may be somewhat coloured but I wouldn’t be handing Pell any bouquets. I was present in 2003 when some Johnsmen did one of their periodic nude runs in front of Sancta (something the then rector of St John’s didn’t see as particularly problematic). Their antics coincided with the Archbishop’s formal visit to Sancta. There was a bit of tutting, but no condemnation.

    Pell is not exactly a card-carrying feminist, either. When he came to Sancta to say mass, he insisted that no women were to take part in the mass by either doing readings, being part of the offertory procession or as ministers of the eucharist – roles routinely performed by lay men and women in parish churches across Australia. He brought an entourage of priests with him to perform those roles instead, but at St John’s allowed college residents to do so. He’s not my favourite person, but he does possess a certain amount of self-interested cunning. I do hope the University of Sydney is not in a mood to simply wash its hands of the Catholic colleges – I don’t think it will go well for them to fall into the direct power of this very conservative diocese.

  26. tigtog

    Chris, I suspect that back in the 60s a warm countercultural glow may have briefly overwhelmed some of the more traditionally toxic hazing/dominance structures, which have traditionally been worst at the all-male colleges.

    When I was there in the early 80s I lived off-campus but had a few friends in the colleges – one woman at Sancta, one at Women’s, one at co-residential Wesley, one bloke at then all-male Pauls. St Pauls was still notorious at the time for the case of a rape and murder of a woman on their oval a few years earlier, although it was never established whether a resident was the perpetrator, it did lead to improved lighting all over the campus.

    From memory, the women at Women’s, Sancta and Wesley were supposed to be “good sports” about putting up with a lot of bullshit “joking” from the blokes. Not all the blokes, just the blokes who thought that macho bullshit mattered.

    BTW, my friend at Wesley lived across the hall from later-action-film-star Dolph Lundgren, who was finishing his masters degree in chemical engineering at the time and tutoring undergrads at the college as one of the ways he was paying for it (he was also working as a bouncer in the city, which is where he met Grace Jones). He hardly ever spoke a word (we just continually heard his weights clanking as we studied together in her room), but I suspect his very presence in the college was enough to extinguish many a shenanigan while it was still in the planning stages – he just exuded very very strongly his preference for keeping the scholastic surroundings quiet.

  27. tigtog

    Right on cue, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell is singing from Pell’s songsheet.

    Mr O’Farrell said he would consider changes to the Saint John’s College Act 1857. “I will not allow the behaviour of a few to tarnish the global reputation of the University of Sydney,” he said.

    “While any changes would need to be approved by cabinet, I am more than willing to work with Cardinal Pell in his efforts to reform the college’s culture.”
    [...]
    It is understood that among the changes to be considered will be reducing the size of the council and for its appointments to be made by the church and the university.

    At present the university has no control over St John’s College.

    With the resignation of the priests, a total of seven members of the council have quit over the serious behavioural problems, including all six clergy members.

    Without a member of the clergy it is understood the council is unable to make decisions or hold meetings.

    The resignations came before a meeting scheduled for Wednesday at which the future of the college rector, Michael Bongers, was expected to be discussed.

    Rector Bongers must be dancing a little jig of glee, at least on the inside, to see the council made irrelevant through this maneouvre. I don’t know all the provisions of the relevant Act, but from the shape of the reportage this defanging of the council means that not only can they not sack him, but they also can no longer interfere with his pastoral decisions.

    I hope they undertake a review of the various Acts governing all the other residential colleges at the same time. to give the university a seat at all of the oversight tables, which is long overdue, and mandating a few more Independent voices on the boards/councils, to break the hold of certain alumni traditions as well.

  28. Mary

    My views may be somewhat coloured but I wouldn’t be handing Pell any bouquets.

    There’s not much risk of many embracing Pell as an ally on this site, I think! I intend to write to the Premier today asking that cabinet prefer models where the colleges, if placed under another governing body partly or fully, be placed under the university rather than under religious authorities. I will probably write to Spence also to ask that he pushes for this if there’s otherwise a prospect of diocesan control.

    But then, my biases are also pretty secular, and further formed by being at Sydney Uni when the university-owned Village didn’t exist either: I don’t think it’s appropriate that so much of the accommodation available to students who have to re-locate to attend is religious, in name, in practice or in affiliation/governance.

  29. Chris

    ! I intend to write to the Premier today asking that cabinet prefer models where the colleges, if placed under another governing body partly or fully, be placed under the university rather than under religious authorities.

    Why was legislation even needed in the first place? And now couldn’t it just be converted into a non-profit organisation separate from both university and church? Surely residential colleges around Australia are not established by legislation?

  30. tigtog

    Why was legislation even needed in the first place?

    Because there was no provision made in the original university charter for residential colleges specifically for university students only.

    And now couldn’t it just be converted into a non-profit organisation separate from both university and church?

    I’m pretty sure that right now all the residential colleges at Sydney University are either non-profit organisations or dedicated trusts. Changing that status would no doubt be far more complicated than simply altering the rules for the membership of the governing bodies.

    Surely residential colleges around Australia are not established by legislation?

    Pretty sure that they all are, actually. Of course there are other options for student-only accommodation which are not established by legislation, but they are not designated as “residential colleges” in the same way.

  31. Jo Tamar
    Surely residential colleges around Australia are not established by legislation?

    Pretty sure that they all are, actually. Of course there are other options for student-only accommodation which are not established by legislation, but they are not designated as “residential colleges” in the same way.

    This got me curious, so I had a look :)

    University of Sydney colleges tend to be established by statute:

    Wesley College
    Women’s College
    St John’s College
    St Paul’s College
    Sancta Sophia College
    St Andrew’s College

    However, colleges at other NSW universities do not seem to be. Many other universities (eg UNSW) have independent residential colleges, and the university statutes make provision for the university to lease land to such colleges, but I imagine that those colleges are often set up as corporations. This is the more modern (ie 20th century as opposed to 19th century and previously) approach.

    I don’t have time to look into it in more detail, but I suspect that you would see a similar pattern in other states – ie that the 19th century universities would probably have colleges which had separate statutes, but the newer universities probably have colleges which are either run by the university or which are set up as corporations.

    /lawnerdderail

    The practical effect of all of this is as follows:

    (1) If you have an entirely independent college set up by statute, if you want to change the way it works, you generally need legislation. That’s the situation at the University of Sydney at the moment.

    (2) If you have an entirely independent college which is, or is operated by, a corporation or other legal entity (which is not the university), if you want to change the way it works, you would either have to control the controlling body OR have conditions of the lease, if any (NB: not all independent colleges lease university land), or other agreements (eg whether or not the college is listed as a college on the university website or otherwise endorsed by the university).

    However, if you had not included those already, it would be difficult to impose them until the lease/other agreement expired. You could theoretically have legislation passed, but if it was too directed, you could have some problems.

    If something like the St John’s debacle happened at, say,

    (3) If you have a college operated and controlled by the university, then the university is obviously going to have a lot of say. As a matter of practice, the college might have a board largely independent of the university, but it is likely that there will be a general requirement to comply with university rules, and it makes it much easier to say that misconduct within the college impacts on the student’s university career generally.

  32. tigtog

    Thanks for adding facts to my half-arsed memory+speculation, Jo. The 20th century model seems much more sensible, doesn’t it? Converting the 19th century colleges to that model would generally be horrendously complicated though, especially since from memory the Sydney colleges at least actually own their land, not just lease it?

  33. Jo Tamar

    Yes, the conversion would be horrendously complicated, especially if there is a tie-in with how the university itself is constituted.

    As for the land, that seems to be … a bit more complicated. However, the general answer appears to be: largely, yes, but some of the land might be held on trust by the University for particular colleges.

    Independent colleges anywhere could also hold their own land (eg there is one college at UNSW which is just off campus, and might be on land not owned by the university), but there are obvious benefits to being legally on campus.

  34. tigtog

    Looking briefly at the Act for John’s, the “Rector and Fellows of St John’s College” were granted ownership of Crown land on condition that they could not dispose of it “without the consent in writing of the Governor with the advice of the Executive Council for the time being”.

    In 1994 the Act was amended to limit terms for Fellows to 5 years as of January 1995, I don’t know whether previously to that there was any limit at all.

    The university currently has no oversight or control over the College in any way.

  35. tigtog

    Sydney University also has International House, which is University-owned/operated in cooperation with Rotary (thus its primary focus on overseas students), and whose board membership consists of the University and community generally plus 3 representatives from Rotary, rather than the residential-college model of members other than the religious positions having to be graduates of the College.

    Then there’s the newer Sydney University Village, which offers more independent living in apartments that operate on a share-accommodation self-catered model with communal kitchens, and which is operated by a company specialising in campus-village-management, presumably under contract to the University which owns the land/buildings.

    Looks like the traditional residential colleges are far from the currently favoured model, presumably because the University finds the current lack of disciplinary power over the older residential colleges to be a highly unsatisfactory arrangement.

  36. Jo Tamar

    Ah, I knew I was forgetting one (IH) – and I assumed the Village was not independent. No apparent statute for either.

    It appears IH, at least, is not independent. The front page says it is university owned & operated, and the footer says (c) University of Sydney. If it was a separate corporation (even owned/operated by the uni), you’d expect the (c) info to refer to that.

    As for the Village, given the (c) info at the bottom of the page, it appears there is at least a separate corporation for it, but my guess is that is still owned and/or controlled by the university.

  37. Sarah

    Re: the legislation – yes, this is the case for older colleges at the older universities around Australia. It was originally set up that way to get around issues between church(es) and state. In most cases the universities and the state goverments were willing to cede land to the colleges, but not to the various churches. Mostly the colleges own their own land, but Sancta set up in the 1920s has a particular problem in that it is built on land which technically belongs in parts to the University, the parish church of St. Joseph next door and St. John’s College on the other side. Sancta owns its buildings but not the land they sit on. I don’t think that one is going to be unravelled in a tearing hurry.

  38. orlando

    Even if the University has no jurisdiction over the colleges, the people living in the colleges are also students of the university, so you would think that if it had the will to do it the uni could find a way to sanction its own students for behaviour unbecoming to the university, as opposed to the college.

    The implosion in my brain is mostly in response to the dark parenting vortex we’re gazing down into. What parent demands the overturning of a requirement their child do community service? What sort of message does it send to your kids if they see you fight for them not to do something helpful to others? Surely “it’s good for you, suck it up” is the only possible response.

  39. Sarah

    @Orlando: Until recently the University’s policies, specifically the harassment policy, specifically excluded interactions between students which happened on College premises – that changed recently, but I still think the University would find it difficult to exclude a student for behaviour that did not happen on University grounds, unless there was a criminal conviction.

    As for the sort of parents who would behave in this way, it should be pointed out that a very large number of current students at the colleges had one or more parents who attended the same (or a different) college, and sometimes a relationship with the college going back several generations. This behaviour is really *entrenched*.

  40. Mary

    orlando, there’s a bit of info about the university’s actions in 2010 to extend their sexual harassment policies over students at the college at an earlier Hoyden post Sydney University colleges: after “Define Statutory”.

  41. Chris

    Even if the University has no jurisdiction over the colleges, the people living in the colleges are also students of the university, so you would think that if it had the will to do it the uni could find a way to sanction its own students for behaviour unbecoming to the university, as opposed to the college.

    I think that’s a pretty dangerous direction to going. I think it’d be fine for the university to have some response for behaviour on university affiliated accommodation. But opening the door for behaviour outside the university events/areas could lead to students potentially facing discipline for say protests or online activities that they get involved in that the university does not want to be associated with.

    btw the information about residential colleges has been very interesting. A rather hard problem to solve the legacy complications.

    Mixing a large number of students who are often tasting their first experience of living away from home, and perhaps from a very structured environment, along with easy access to alcohol seems on the surface to a recipe for disaster. I certainly saw that during my O-camp experience, though fortunately the leaders (older students) acted reasonably well when it came to protecting students from themselves and others who misused alcohol.

  42. Rebekka

    But opening the door for behaviour outside the university events/areas could lead to students potentially facing discipline for say protests or online activities that they get involved in that the university does not want to be associated with.

    The slippery slope argument is never a terribly convincing one. Laws about sexual harassment in the workplace cover situations where workmates are together in social situations, I don’t see why universities could not have similar responsibilities over such behaviour of their residential students without it extending to protests or (non-sexually harassing) online behaviour.

  43. Chris

    The slippery slope argument is never a terribly convincing one.

    Except that we are already seeing employers start to hold employees responsible for their actions and comments outside of their work (eg comments on social networks) because they believe it reflects on the company they work for. We’re already sliding down that slope!

  44. Rebekka

    Except I don’t think that’s a slope – holding people responsible for sexual harassment doesn’t lead to employers monitoring social media for offensive things their employees have said. One doesn’t follow from the other.

  45. Chris

    Rebekka – just enforcing it for sexual harassment is not what orlando proposed though:

    …. so you would think that if it had the will to do it the uni could find a way to sanction its own students for behaviour unbecoming to the university, as opposed to the college.

    Behaviour unbecoming to a university (much like say celebrities/athletes often have written into their contracts) would
    cover a very broad range of activities.

  46. orlando

    Behaviour unbecoming was a hastily-chosen phrase. I was looking for a way to express that it needn’t mean a criminal conviction, as in many of these situations we are seeing illegal behaviour, and yet charges are never brought. It’s disingenuous of the university to act as if they have no relationship with their own students. The focus is so much on John’s right now, we need to remember that the Paul’s men who put up the pro-rape page never experienced any adverse consequences, in part because Paul’s said that some of its founders were no longer resident with them. They were still university students at the time, but the uni did nothing, and let people speak of it as a college thing. Buck passing round and round and round.

    Behaviour unbecoming to a university (much like say celebrities/athletes often have written into their contracts) would
    cover a very broad range of activities.

    It doesn’t have to, the limits could be clearly defined. How about an announcement that sanctions will apply to students who harass, endanger or assault other students? Like workplace harassment policies, as Rebekka says.

    a very large number of current students at the colleges had one or more parents who attended the same (or a different) college, and sometimes a relationship with the college going back several generations.

    Sure, I get that, but whatever happened to noblesse oblige? Also, I thought there was meant to be something of the Spartans’ attitude in these families: if you can get away with it, good for you, but if you get caught, you take what’s coming to you.

  47. Mary

    if you can get away with it, good for you, but if you get caught, you take what’s coming to you

    That relies on not believing that the behaviour is a good thing, or at least in believing that submission to authority is a paramount good. As far as the nastiness of the behaviour goes my understanding is that the adult (parental, Old Boy) view tends to be: (1) it’s all good fun that everyone will look back on fondly (2) the momentary mild unpleasantness is character-forming in any case and (3) in one or two years time the people swallowing the poisonous mixes etc will be dealing them out in their turn.

    So the attitude is that the young adults are being sanctioned for perfectly normal healthy formative behaviour, and in addition, being elite, they don’t encourage their children to submit to just any old authority. Or at least that’s what I assume is going on: I would resist my children being punished for what I think is healthy normal behaviour too. I hope that my definition is massively less screwed up than theirs, of course.

    SotBO: I do not endorse the views I summarise above.

  48. Chris

    It doesn’t have to, the limits could be clearly defined. How about an announcement that sanctions will apply to students who harass, endanger or assault other students? Like workplace harassment policies, as Rebekka says.

    That sounds pretty reasonable to me. A narrower focus on student safety rather than university reputation.

    or at least in believing that submission to authority is a paramount good.

    I suspect there’s a lot of this in old-school-tie families. An attitude of even if you don’t agree with the authority you should publicly always comply.

    (1) it’s all good fun that everyone will look back on fondly (2) the momentary mild unpleasantness is character-forming in any case and

    From the responses that Abbott and Hockey gave I’d say that those two take this kind of attitude. Perhaps for them it was – for example Hockey seemed to bear no hard feelings for example for getting punched by Abbott who was one of the team coaches at the time. But that doesn’t mean that they should expect everyone to respond in the same way.

  49. Mindy

    Getting punched by someone is one thing, getting hospitalised for being forced to do something you know to be dangerous to your health is another. I don’t think either Abbott or Hockey understand the seriousness of the behaviour happening now, or if they do perhaps they don’t care. Not someone I would want running the country.

  50. Chris

    Getting punched by someone is one thing, getting hospitalised for being forced to do something you know to be dangerous to your health is another.

    Oh yes, there’s always the exceptional circumstance – where its probably an initiation that has been done many times, just there wasn’t someone that had a medical condition that could result in hospitalisation or death. And has been pointed out a lot recently a single punch might seem fairly benign, but one punch can kill if the victim gets unlucky or has a medical condition which makes them more vulnerable.

  51. tigtog

    St John’s patron in racial outrage

    A leading Sydney barrister and senior counsel at the trouble-plagued St John’s College has sparked outrage after mocking the Aboriginal community at an official dinner at the University of Sydney.

    Jeffrey Phillips, SC, stood in the college’s 150-year-old Great Hall and, in front of more than 250 staff, students and guests, paid tribute to the “traditional custodians of this place” whom he identified as being the “Benedictines who came from the great English nation”.

  52. Arcadia

    I’m not trying to be intentionally dense here, and I see from the comments upthread that St John’s has it’s own laws governing how the place is run etc, but since when does any of that trump the more basic laws that cover society as a whole that forbid such ordinary things as assault, sexual harassment, theft, destruction of property etc??

    I don’t see why, when illegal things occur within certain organisations or in certain locations (university colleges, churches, on football fields, in hospitals), that suddenly it’s not illegal (or treated as such) by others, seemingly including the people who belong to and run such places, and police.

    I just can’t see a similar assault occurring at say, a tennis club, or a bikie club (which also has it’s own rules a procedures) and then being dealt with in-house, rather than by police.

  53. tigtog

    Arcadia, the police may not have heard about the assault on the young woman who was hospitalised until last week when the rest of us did. Even if she did make a complaint to them, they have to be able to identify perpetrators to the satisfaction of a prosecutor that a case can stand up in court rather than fall at the first challenge. Since all 33 students who were present at the time were sticking to a code of silence about who actually perpetrated the assault, that is why the rector suspended all of them. Given how many high powered lawyers are amongst the relatives of these students, it’s doubtful that any action by the police would have broken through that tactic either, so how could a jury convict?

  54. Mary

    The St John’s orientation week drinking game hospitalisation has been public since shortly after it occurred, see eg this article from March: Inside a uni drinking scandal. The reason it’s popped back up in the news is the election of alleged perpetrators to the student committee for 2013.

    Re why the police aren’t routinely involved, I don’t think it’s merely practical considerations with regard to convictions: students who are enrolled in law degrees especially are treated differently by university authorities, both college and central, in my recollection. This is because a criminal conviction will affect their ability to practice. I recall this even coming into play in some people’s accounts of left actions (eg sit-ins): “anyone enrolled in law might want to go now!” kind of announcements. (To be clear, I never saw that happen directly, it was in other people’s accounts of protests they’d attended, and so only has the standard of gossip!)

    This isn’t right, that students enrolled in law are indulged with regard to criminal activity, but it seems to be pervasive. And no doubt the privilege thing plays into that too: not only are law students disproportionately children of privilege, they have access to family legal expertise that is especially invested in and talented at preserving their child’s access to the family career.

  55. Mary

    Honi Soit has an amusing open letter to Georgie Carter:

    I compiled this Handy Guide To Not Being Recognised. You might like to borrow it for the next time you and your St John’s House Committee mates settle on a plan that involves lying to an audience of several hundred thousand people and an organisation that employs professional fact-checkers.

  56. tigtog

    The new council has acted to fully support the decisions of the college rector, Dr Bongers.

    Expelled: St John’s kicks out students after bullying rituals

  57. Mary

    It’s not clear to me from press reports whether the State Government will follow through on reforming the college’s governance model. I hope so.

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