David Richardson, who retired from the University of Otago last week after more than 14 years as director of student services. Photo by Linda Robertson.
The man who stood in the way of Dunedin's campus area
descending ''into chaos'' has retired after 14 years at the
University of Otago.
David Richardson (67) retired from the position of director
of student services last week, after an action-packed tenure,
which included tackling a growing ''reputation issue'' that
threatened the university's future in the 2000s when chaotic
scenes from the Undie 500 were beamed around the country.
His work on that front brought high praise from
vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne who commented on Mr
Richardson's retirement on the university's Otago
''The only reason that the whole place doesn't descend into
chaos is because people like David Richardson organise a
small army of highly dedicated staff who stand steady and
ready - guarding our students from harm, gently pushing back
when necessary, providing support as required, and
celebrating what is so life-affirming about young people,''
Prof Hayne told the Otago Bulletin.
Asked to respond to Prof Hayne's praise, Mr Richardson said
she was being ''very generous''.
''It's more than just one person and it's more than just my
team. It's a wider group of the whole university buying into
what we are on about here,'' he said.
As student services director he was responsible for nearly
1000 staff and his role went far beyond dealing with student
misbehaviour and included overseeing everything from student
health to the University Union and ID card services.
But coming up with a response to riots and behavioural
problems in North Dunedin was an issue that ''consumed'' his
life for a period in the 2000s.
That changes needed to be made was immediately clear to Mr
Richardson, who took up the job after moving from Alexandra,
where he was principal of Dunstan High School.
''Coming in as a high school principal, it was crystal clear
to me that `Man, this wouldn't happen in my school'.''
The need for a shift became clearer in the 2000s, when couch
fires, riots and scenes of drunken chaos in North Dunedin
began making national headlines and causing concern among
parents of would-be students.
''The university suddenly had a reputation issue and a future
that was potentially at risk.''
The response would require a change in direction from the
university, which took on a more hands-on approach.
''At that stage, it was a case of what happens outside the
university's door was not the university's business.''
The hands-on approach led to the introduction of a student
code of conduct in 2007, which allowed the university to kick
out students who seriously misbehaved.
One of the solutions he helped come up with was the
introduction of Campus Watch in 2007, an idea that was
''unique'' to Otago University.
It came with an annual cost of about $1 million and its
introduction was controversial at the time, but Mr Richardson
believed it and other measures had helped transform the
situation in North Dunedin.
''It was a big investment for the university to make, and a
gamble in a way.''
But improving the situation was more than just about the
''big picture''. It was also about making sure individuals
did not ''fall through the cracks''.
This involved having the staff to follow up and speak to
students the next day after Campus Watch helped them home
after they overindulged.
There was only a tiny minority of students who were in the
''Ninety-nine percent of the students I have dealt with at
this university are just the most wonderful young people
that, as an older person now, gives me huge confidence that I
will get old in a society that will be well managed and well
He rejected allegations the university had killed scarfie
culture, saying it was about minimising the risk and not
stopping the fun.
''There were always some people who said that, because there
were always some people who saw things like the Undie 500 as
a good thing to have.''
One of the things he was most proud of was being involved in
efforts to improve the performance of Maori and Pacific
He was looking forward to ticking a few items off his
''bucket list'', which included going on a world trip later
In a statement provided to the Otago Daily Times, Prof
Hayne said Mr Richardson had made an important contribution
to a change in culture at the university.
''Although Castle St and Hyde St still have their moments,
our students are increasingly devoting themselves to more
productive extracurricular activities.
''How times have changed,'' she said.