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May 11, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Vice Chancellor’s booze memorandum “dodges main issue”

A memorandum on alcohol policy issues on Victoria University of Wellington campuses has been criticised for avoiding the crux of the issue.

The letter, written by Victoria Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh to officials from the Victoria University of Wellington Law Students Society (VUWLSS), was penned in response to concerns raised by the group regarding the provision of alcohol at VUWLSS events.

VUWLSS officials were upset at being required to purchase alcohol solely through the university for their annual ‘Welcome to Law School’ barbeque, which they claimed was four times the cost of alcohol quoted by a sponsor.

In his memorandum, the Vice Chancellor acknowledges the different interpretations that could be rendered in regards to Appendix A of the university’s Alcohol on Campus Policy, but was resolute in his defence of it.

“Over the last five years, the Student Union has been flexible in its interpretation of this [policy] with respect to VUWLSS events,” Walsh wrote. “The difference between Orientation 208 and this year is that in the intervening period the university has adopted the ‘Management of the Promotion of Alcohol on Campus Procedure.’ This is the result of an initiative which is aimed at addressing evidence between the level of exposure to alcohol advertising and promotion on campus, and binge drinking by students.”

President of the VUWLSS, Amelia Keene, took umbrage with the Vice Chancellor’s assessment.

“[The memorandum] places reliance on the Responsible Drinking policy—VUWLSS was never in contravention of this policy, as we were not encouraging excessive drinking nor did our posters advertise the fact that there would be free alcohol at the BBQ, had we been able to provide it,” Keene said.

“Certainly the Student Union never expressed a concern with our advertising in their correspondence with VUWLSS. Instead, the concern was only surrounding who supplied the alcohol. Thus the essential issue still remains—that the Student Union are forcing Student Groups who wish to hold events on campus to purchase alcohol through the University at higher than market rates.”

The memorandum goes on to suggest that the quoted cost of fuelling the BBQ with alcohol was done primarily as a means of wooing patronage from the VUWLSS, and may in fact have contravened supply protocols. “This is certainly the opinion of the District Licensing Authority, who recommended to the supplier that they would be in breach of the National Protocols should they continue with the supply of alcohol for this student event on this basis,” Walsh said.

However, Victoria University’s Alcohol on Campus Policy is currently undergoing review, and the Vice Chancellor was eager for the VUWLSS to have “meaningful input” through the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) into its drafting process.

The invitation was welcomed by the VUWLSS, but it emphasised the need for such a review to be conducted outside the reach of the university’s governance.

“I commend his encouraging the Student Union to consult with VUWSA. However the very fact that he had to suggest that they do so illustrates why they are not the right body to be in charge of this review. An independent body needs to be set up to review the alcohol policy, with staff and student control, not just consultation,” Keene said.

The VUWLSS, in conjunction with VUWSA, presented a petition of 183 signatures to the Vice Chancellor last semester calling for alterations to the university’s policy on alcohol supply on campus.

Keene notes, however, that the memorandum seemingly ignores the petition and fails to make any reference to it at all. “Pat has not engaged with our petition requesting an independent review of the Alcohol Policy (which was what stopped us having the alcohol at the BBQ, not the Responsible Drinking policy). Although I note that he has promised to circulate it to those involved in the review.”

“One of the most ironic aspects of Pat’s memorandum is that he suggests that VUWLSS should continue its relationships with outside hostelries. In our experience, drinking is much more likely to occur at responsible levels on campus, under VUWLSS control. VUWLSS encourages responsible drinking by its members, but the more we are driven off campus, the harder it is to enforce this,” she said.

However, VUWLSS remained optimistic that with continued engagement with the Vice Chancellor, an acceptable policy could be tabled that would satisfy all parties.

“VUWLSS hopes that we can continue to work with the Vice-Chancellor and the University to create a fair alcohol policy that does not drive Student Events off campus,” Keene said.

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