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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"It is sad to see these changes taking place with little to
no recognition of the long-standing tradition that the
"It takes years to build up tradition ... once that
reputation has been ruined, it will be very hard to rebuild."