St Johns College
What is it about sandstone that brings out the worst in 19-year-old future bankers, lawyers and captains of industry? Is it the architecture? Perhaps gothic gables bring out gothic tendencies.
With the exception of a slightly awkward-looking Tony Abbott (you can take the boy out of John’s…), the reaction to the latest revelations about the piglets inhabiting St John’s College at the University of Sydney, has been total condemnation. The rest of us understand, without having to have it explained to us, that what’s been going on there is bad.
But no one has been able to pin down the root cause of this particularly ugly brand of born-to-rule misogyny. Sure, the college administration has been woefully inadequate in dealing with the escalating PR disaster, and it seems equally unable, or unwilling, to rein in the young men who appear to have staged a coup.
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Humanity is facing a crisis of moral leadership - men and women of character who can choose wisely and well in the difficulties, dilemmas and complexity of contemporary business and government.
One of the biggest risks we face today is an assumption that because people share or subscribe to our corporate values, that they in fact share our moral perspective. Enron, LIBOR, AWB, unanswered questions at Note Printers Australia, and any number of examples would indicate immediately that is not the case.
The public travails of St John’s College and its students throw into stark relief the need to ask questions of potential employees to gain an insight about their moral outlook. It would be foolish of any organisation to assume that academic prowess equates with sound character.
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I went to Sydney Uni, fell in love with a girl who attended one of the residential colleges and married her 10 years later. Our courtship didn’t start smoothly. One night, just as things began to get steamy for the first time, a vomit competition started up in the hallway outside her room.
Yes, a vomit competition. On the hallway carpet. A projectile vomit competition, to be precise. Don’t ask me how the contest worked. Maybe it was a distance thing. Maybe it had something to do with the ratio of carrot chunks. Either way, those competitive vomiters embodied (or should that be disembodied?) everything that is wrong with the old communal colleges in the sandstone universities.
This week, Sydney Archbishop George Pell announced he would step in and try to fix the ongoing mess at Sydney Uni’s St John’s College. His intervention comes after years of shameful incidents, including the near-death of a female student after an initiation ritual gone wrong. It’s a good move by Pell, but I’ve got a better one. Disband the colleges altogether.
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