In the wake of cruise-ship passengers crowding Dunedin
streets comes the hubbub and display of an entirely different
species of wild life: the university year is about to
The influx of students is already evident in shops, bars and
restaurants, and the second-hand furniture traders from which
yet another year's batch of scarfie flats is furnished.
Once again the streets are alive with the sound of youthful
excitement, bubbling with optimism, hungry for adventure.
The city is an altogether more vibrant place when, like the
godwits, these scholars migrate south to continue their
studies or begin a new chapter in their lives.
And as summer belatedly finds it feet, the sun shines and the
silent symphony of eftpos transactions hits pre-semester high
notes, even those curmudgeons who, in the dank winter months
habitually cuss their grungy presence, allow themselves a wry
smile and a sideways, almost affectionate word or two of
The University of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic, their
student, teacher and administrative bodies, comprise a
good-sized town - some estimates vary up towards 30,000 - and
are integral to the character of the modern city of Dunedin:
to its physical appearance, its economy, its social and
Too often they are regarded as an entity apart, and somehow
outside the norms, behavioural and otherwise, to which other
citizens either aspire or are required to adhere.
In as much as significant numbers of the student body are
indeed "immigrants" who over a period of several years,
perhaps more, come and go from the environs, this perception
is understandable if not necessarily accurate.
But it is underscored when, every year, there are outbreaks
of mass misbehaviour among this sector of the city's
High-jinks are understandable among such a large, excitable,
sometimes immature, collection of youthful personalities,
some of whom have slipped the leash of parental surveillance
for the first time.
But if they have come south to learn, one of the first and
most important lessons they must accede to is that life is
not, and cannot be, all care and no responsibility.
It was therefore a timely reminder for those new arrivals,
and perhaps a useful noticeboard item for those still in
transit, to see printed in this newspaper the details of the
punishments meted out to University of Otago students last
year for a variety of transgressions.
More than 600 of their number were disciplined for criminal,
disorderly or dishonesty offences.
The offending ranged from academic-related incidents -
electronically altering exam results, falsifying documents,
plagiarism and stealing other students' work - to social or
public misdemeanours and crimes: assault, trespass, offensive
behaviour wilful damage, couch-burning and so on.
Just under 500 of such cases were dealt with by university
staff with others coming before the courts, according to a
series of reports released by the university last Tuesday.
These showed there had been a significant increase in the
numbers disciplined - up more than 60 to almost 140 - for
disorderly behaviour over the previous year.
The reports suggested this was almost entirely due to the
toga parade during last February's Orientation, and the Undie
500 weekend in September.
Three students were excluded from the university by
vice-chancellor Prof Sir David Skegg for their behaviour
during the parade and a further six for matters arising from
the Undie 500.
Both events, and the negative media coverage they attracted -
which travelled around the world - reflected poorly on the
university, Dunedin's reputation as a centre of education
excellence, and the wider city.
The university has made great strides in the past few years
to address issues of student safety, intoxication and illegal
or wantonly anti-social behaviour, not least through its
Campus Watch group, but also in imposing serious penalties on
those who break the university's own rules, or the law.
In turn, as much as the consequences of student misbehaviour
- as, indeed, of any other kind - must be faced by the
offending individuals, those at the other end of the
town-and-gown equation, whose equilibrium is disturbed at the
first hint of a student prank, would do well to reconsider
their own response.
The "us-and-them" attitude towards the issues sometimes
associated with having 20,000-odd hormonally charged young
men and women descend on the city is neither constructive nor
The University of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic are very
much at the beating heart of this city.
They are central to its future character and prosperity.
Their problems are the city's, and vice-versa.
But in saying as much, context is required: and that is, for
most of the year, most students are responsible citizens who
contribute in myriad ways to Dunedin life.
Many will go on doing so when they leave.
As such, their presence and all they bring to the city is