Knox students petition faculties over changes

Knox College. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Knox College. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Hundreds of Knox College students and alumni are petitioning the University of Otago and the Presbyterian Church, calling for public consultation on plans to scrap some of the college's traditions.

The online petition has been promoted through a Facebook page created this week to oppose the changes at Knox, and had by yesterday afternoon attracted more than 300 signatures.

Each completed signature sent a form email to university vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne and commission chairman Dr John Kernohan, of Auckland.

The petition called for a clear set of proposed changes at Knox to be made public, and for public submissions to be considered before changes were implemented, to allow a "fair hearing" for past and present students.

"It seems reasonable to hear the views of students who applied [to the college] on the basis of their understanding of the college at the time.

And it seems reasonable to hear the views of the wider community."

Presbyterian Church council of assembly executive secretary Martin Baker, of Wellington, would not commit to fresh consultation over a complete list of changes when contacted yesterday.

He told the Otago Daily Times some changes were needed to bring the college into line with the university's health and safety practices, and "those matters ... aren't open to negotiation".

However, the commission had already discussed other changes with students in recent weeks, and there was room for further talks between the two sides as the commission continued its work over the coming months, he said.

"We're not talking about closed-book here ... It's an ongoing, open-ended process, so within that I think there is some movement for discussion and negotiation."

The students' petition came after the ODT on Wednesday reported the Presbyterian Church had replaced the college's master and council with a commission of the church's general assembly, headed by Dr Kernohan.

The commission had also moved to ban initiation ceremonies, scrap elitist symbols and tighten rules governing alcohol at the college.

Past and present students concerned by the changes voiced their opposition to the changes on Facebook and in emails to the ODT, with many fearing treasured traditions were being lost amid the shake-up.

The outcry prompted a letter addressed to past and present Knox College residents from Dr Kernohan, of Auckland, on Wednesday.

In it, he acknowledged the "reaction and speculation" caused by the changes, but said the commission's highest priority was the safety and welfare of college residents.

Those on the commission, including representatives from the University of Otago and two Knox College fellows, were mindful of its "rich history and special character" and would seek to preserve it, he said.

Some traditions would remain, albeit in a "modified form", while others had to change, he said.

A seven-year review found alcohol had "been a concern" at the college, and changes would bring Knox into line with other colleges and the university's own policies, "all of which operate within the constraints of New Zealand law", he said.

Some students, writing on the Facebook page and in messages attached to the petition, acknowledged changes relating to alcohol at the college were justified, but criticised other changes.

The changes included a ban on "feather-ruffling" initiation ceremonies for new arrivals to Knox, as well as the use of the term "fresher" to describe new students.

A bar in the Buttery - a small room within the college complex - had been closed, while traditional names for the Buttery, as well as the Porters Lodge and Ab Epistulis, had been changed to the canteen, reception and administration officer.

A requirement for semi-formal dining attire at Knox was also dropped, and the Knox College Students' Club had lost control of its budget.

Victoria Jenkins, a Knox resident in 2007-08 and former vice-president of the Knox College Students' Club in 2008, said in a petition message she was "shocked to hear of such drastic changes".

"It is sad to see these changes taking place with little to no recognition of the long-standing tradition that the college holds.

"It takes years to build up tradition ... once that reputation has been ruined, it will be very hard to rebuild."



Alcohol a wider problem than just Knox

The university is clearly working very hard to change the drinking culture (which was always there, but became an overwhelming problem when the purchase age was reduced to 18). However, education isn't enough to counteract years of advertising from the booze industry.  I've been told that part of Selwyn College's initiation this year was a scavenger hunt in which a can of a particular type of beer was one of the items. Sad!    

Real suffering

Several people leaving comments on the ODT page have reported suffering some sort of abuse.  I was offering them my condolences.  Maybe you would like to do the same?  I am glad you did not personally experience anything traumatic.   I cannot go to the proctor on their behalf and it is up to them to deal with the issues they have suffered themselves.  Don't be so callous as to assume people who make reports of abuse are lying.

As for the facebook page:  yes people were bullied.  This is undeniable.  I took several screen shots before I and others were  blocked from the page and I am looking at them now.

Bullying, really?

No one is being bullied or censored on the Facebook page.

People are merely being asked to tell the truth and not overstate, exaggerate or embelish their stories for the sake of sensationalism and score settling.

Please Max, point me to the places in the Commission's various pieces where they are initiating actual changes to bring about the "betterment" if student health, safety and academics? The new Blue Book contains, as far as I see it, no references to where to go or what to do if you are in need of any services.

Also Max please stop making spurious claims about those residing at Knox experiencing physical, sexual or mental abuse. If you have evidence of such acts occuring take them to the University and the Police. 

Sick of the term "feather-ruffling"

This term has been bandied around in all the kerfuffle over the changes at Knox but no-one will acknowledge that it is not as innocent as it sounds. In the years that I attended Knox 'feather-ruffling' was based on belief by second year students that they had the right to inflict hazing-style initiations on first year students because when they were first years the same treatment was afforded them. How does this is anyway lend itself to creating a "family" or "supportive" environment?

Facebook bullying another example of Knox "culture"?

If the Facebook page set up to discuss this issue is representative of the way Knox students act in person then this is one more example of why the changes are so desperately needed.

Those who dare to speak out against even one aspect of the college's running and culture are bullied and then blocked from the page.  This example of people closing ranks to cover over any negative aspects of Knox to protect image even over the safety of their fellow knoxies is despicable.

There are many people who have themselves suffered at this college, or whose children have suffered whose voice is not represented by this Facebook page and who are not being allowed to contribute to the page.

Once more, congratulations to the council and university for standing up for the rights and safety of students - and my condolencies to the students who have suffered physical, sexual, and mental abuse due to the culture which is long overdue for a change.

Support for long overdue steps

As an old-Knoxonian (2 years in the college) I have been following and watching the status of Knox in recent years, and been very disappointed.   I support the university, the church, and the commission in taking some long overdue steps to address the ills of a once proud college.  Knox has some great cultural traditions but has lost the plot.  A fresh start is well overdue. 

The culture of drinking (as bad as any at Otago) and organised stupidity, thinly disguised as tradition, is no longer acceptable, if it ever was. Knox has no need of traditions that include breaking down people's doors in the middle of the night, waving genitals around and bullying - instead take this opportunity to build on the positive aspects of the culture and create some new traditions.