Students have been in the news lately, and not for the right reasons. I remember when students made headlines by their exemplary work calling into question the advertising of well-established brands. Ah, those happy bygone days...
Last week, we heard a great deal more about the "Undie 500".
For those who have the good fortune not to know what that means, it's an annual event - a "tradition" - of students driving from Christchurch to Dunedin, to go on a pub crawl. Ostensibly it's an occasion for car enthusiasts to show off their lovingly maintained vehicles. But in the way of traditions, it's become so much more than that. Nowadays, to hear the media tell it, it's mostly about drunkenness and rioting in the streets. At the event a couple of weeks ago, some 80 people were arrested and 67 charged.
Politicians love it. The mayor of Dunedin - one Peter Chin, a typical local politithug - was quick to blame out-of-town students for the whole mess, conveniently ignoring the fact that most of those arrested actually lived in or around Dunedin. John Key, our Beloved Leader, seemed unsure whether he should be wringing his hands with sorrow, or gloating over lawbreakers facing the Awful Majesty of their comeuppance. He settled for deploring the "waste of their futures", as a result of graduating with a criminal conviction.
(Yeah, like any employer is going to care about some student misdemeanour... It's just another part of the Great Lie we tell kids, the lie of the "permanent record", that there's some kind of recording angel who knows the wrongs they do and will hold it against them at some unspecified later time. Absolute bollocks, of course. The truth is that almost nobody cares now, and even they will have forgotten by Christmas.)
And today comes the news of another fine tradition, this time from Lincoln University. (That's Lincoln the one-horse town near Christchurch, New Zealand, not Lincoln the historic county town in England. That Lincoln has a university that is, as far as I know, entirely reputable.) New Zealand's self-styled "specialist land-based" university held an Oktoberfest party (huh?) with a German theme. Nothing wrong with that, apart from the date. What got it into the news was the fact that an unspecified number of students turned up sporting Nazi uniforms, regalia and slogans.
"It was not an issue of racism or Nazi ideals, it was a lack of understanding," says student association president Megan Harte. She points out that some of the students were first years who may not have known what the "Holocaust was all about".
I feel for Ms Harte here. She clearly feels it's her job to defend the indefensible. Even so, this is pretty feeble stuff. Lincoln is a very "vocational" university: it doesn't even offer a course in "history" or anything like it. It's not clear why students of "Valuation & Property Management" should be expected to come out of university knowing much more about the Holocaust than when they went in.
Dear Mr Key, Ms Harte, Mr Chin, and countless other Kiwis: university isn't about learning facts and skills that will see you through your working life. Sure you might pick up some of those if you're lucky, but really you'd learn ten times faster by just going out to work. University is a nice sheltered environment where you go to grow up. The courses are just there to give you something to think about while you do it.