Questions have been raised about whether taverns belong on university campuses, as part of a wider debate on what communities could expect from universities.
At a community forum at Curtin University yesterday, Tonya McCusker, philanthropic sponsor of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and wife of WA Governor Malcolm McCusker, said universities had a responsibility to change attitudes towards the culture of binge drinking, as they had done with smoking.
“When it comes to the culture of alcohol that’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said. “And I think if the universities can get together, develop common policies, look at situations (such as) should we have taverns on campus, because it’s not only for the individual... but the broader impact on our communities.”
Ms McCusker said though she did not want WA to be a “nanny state”, there were 5000 deaths each year as a result of alcohol and 75 per cent of the police budget went towards dealing with problems caused by binge drinking.
“And the universities can take a big stand on that,” she said.
Curtin vice-chancellor Jeanette Hacket said universities could do more to educate students about the negative effects of alcohol and could take small, practical steps towards changing the binge-drinking culture.
For example, she said Curtin had abolished Octoberfest celebrations, which used to be a major drinking festival involving up to 7000 people.
“Universities need to accept responsibility for the activities on their campus,” she said.
“I think the university has a responsibility in its relationship with student guilds to ensure to the greatest extent possible that student guild fees are not being pumped into drinks.”
Professor Hacket said universities also had to be explicit about what was appropriate behaviour for students.
“We’ve been through a time of liberalism, probably to our own detriment,” she said. “It only takes a very small number of incidents, and always gets a very high profile in the media, to damage the reputation of every student.”
Federal Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said universities should not be held solely responsible for all social problems in the community.
“Alcohol problems in our community start with adults, not with the kids,” he said.
Police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, Edith Cowan University indigenous education professor Colleen Hayward and former Woodside chief operating officer Keith Spence also took part in the panel discussion.
The University of WA recently suspended orientation camps while it reviews claims of inappropriate sexual behaviour and binge drinking.