Wilson da Silva

Science journalist, feature writer and editor.

Sep. 28, 1988
5 min read
NEWS | 'Out of control' students deny wild behaviour

WILSON da SILVA

Students of the University of NSW's Kensington Colleges yesterday denied allegations of widespread unruliness, but a vice-chancellor's report on an incident in April describes them as "absolutely drunk and completely beyond control".

Yesterday, the Herald reported that the chief executive of the colleges, Dr Bruce Avis, had resigned because of the disorderly conduct of students. Dr Avis has declined to comment.

The report by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Birt, was produced in response to an incident on April 8 in which a new student, Mark Rauch, was seriously injured while on his way to a "fresher auction" ceremony at Basser College.

Prior to the auction, the 19-year-old student had been drinking with other"fresher" students at the university's Roundhouse Bar. When leaving the bar with other "freshers" on his way to the auction, he mounted a bannister, overbalanced and fell, fracturing his skull.

The report details wild activities at the auction that night, with students"half-naked on the balcony of the tutorial room, swearing, making rude gestures, and urinating from the balcony ... close to the bedroom window of the Chief Executive Officer's residence". In the room where the auction was held, students were " ... absolutely drunk and completely beyond control".

However, resident student Jonathan Todd, 21, said: "Whatever problems Basser might have had, they don't apply to all the colleges. The incident is not relevant. Behaviour has never been as extreme as they (the board governing the colleges) have made it out to be.

"You can pick out events and misrepresent them (as being part of normal college activity). You're always going to have some problems with 400 people living together."

"We're being treated like 12-year-olds," said Cathy McMaugh, 19. "If we were a pack of animals, this place wouldn't be running at all, and I wouldn't be getting the good marks I'm getting."

One of the college wardens, Professor Randall Albury, called the flap over Dr Avis' resignation "a total put-up job" to discredit the students and justify a tougher line against them.

"It's very easy to save up over a period of time then drop it in a bundle and make it look like the place is out of control," he said.

The warden of Basser College, Mr Josh Owen, admitted there had been serious problems with student behaviour two years ago - when Dr Avis' predecessor, Mr Peter O'Brien, resigned after alleged student victimisation - but he said that these no longer exist.

"(The March 29 fresher auction) was an isolated incident. This year, unlike all the others before it, we did not have third-year students present to supervise. That's why things didn't go on as they should have."

The vice-chancellor's report also details three other injuries sustained by students that night: "a female, suffering mild concussion from 'horseplay'during the barbecue preceding the auction; one to a female student, following a fall and requiring stitches to the eyebrow; and the third to a male student, who fractured a toe."

The report goes on: "It is clear that the consumption of alcohol before and during the auction was considerable. The Warden of Basser notes that the House Treasurer and Social Director had purchased additional alcohol on the night of the fresher auction to the value of $151.91, without the prior approval of the House Committee.

" ... despite the agreement that there should not be any 'degrading activities' connected with the auction, it was clear that, in any normal usage of the word, there certainly had been."

An executive of the university's Students' Union, Andy Wright, criticised yesterday's Herald report.

"It's a slight on the 90 per cent of students in the colleges who are quite normal people," he said. "The (Rauch incident) is being portrayed as the normal social and cultural activities of the colleges, which is wrong. People drink in the outside world all the time. It's not up to some establishment paper to criticise that."

A spokesman for the university said the colleges were organised along company lines and run by a board of directors separate to the operation of the university. He said a review of student behaviour at the colleges, and the management structure, had been under way for some time and a decision would soon be made.