Friday 6 June 2014 8:07am
David Richardson with key members of the Student Services Division. Photo: Clive Copeman.
After 14 years as Director of Student Services David Richardson officially retires today.
Leading this vast and varied Division has not been without challenges, but as Mr Richardson prepared to hand the position on to his successor, he told the Otago Bulletin Board how much he has enjoyed the role.
From Student Health, the University Union and the Māori, Pacific and Disability Support Centres to Career Services, OUSA, the Chaplaincy and ID card services, the Student Services Division covers a lot of ground. But all of its tributaries share one overriding goal – to look after the health and wellbeing of Otago students.
As Director of Student Services Mr Richardson held overall responsibility for around 1000 staff who themselves reflect the diversity of the Division: GPs, career advisors, the Proctor and Campus Watch, gym equipment experts and disability note takers to name a few.
His “infectious” easygoing manner has made him an excellent leader of this extensive Division, says Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne.
“Whether working with parents, students, or staff, David quickly lets people know he cares about them and is interested in what they have to say.”
"Whether working with parents, students, or staff, David quickly lets people know he cares about them and is interested in what they have to say."
Mr Richardson took up the position of Director of Student Services in 1999 – jumping from a career as a secondary school principal. He moved from Alexandra, where he had been principal of Dunstan High School. He had spent a decade in that role, and was ready for a change.
As is often the case in life, his career leap was sparked by chance. He happened to spot the job advertisement in the Otago Daily Times while having breakfast in bed.
“It was just what I was looking for. The University was sort of like a big super school.”
Under Mr Richardson’s guidance, the Division has flourished – adapting to some major changes not only in the University, but within the culture of New Zealand as well.
Technology has advanced, social media have sprung up, and attitudes towards alcohol and food have shifted. The University has responded to these changes, and in many ways Student Services has lead this response.
In 2007 Mr Richardson worked with the Proctor to establish Campus Watch – a “tailor-made solution to a local particular environmental structure”.
"Students come not only to learn, but to live. And much of the growing they do during their precious few years with us involves stretching their wings and pushing their boundaries. The only reason that the whole place doesn’t descend into chaos is because people like David Richardson organise a small army of highly dedicated staff who stand steady and ready ..."
Five teams work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, walking the campus and its surrounds to create a safer environment for students. They provide advice, walks home, and ensure that student behaviour is kept to a reasonable level.
“Otago has a unique environment. Eighty-five percent of our students come from out of town, and many live in close-proximity to each other and the University. Campus Watch is a common sense, practical response,” Mr Richardson says. “We know of no other University that does it like this, but it has worked wonderfully here.”
“It’s not about stopping fun, but managing risk and reducing harm.”
He receives three reports from Campus Watch every day. Though he wouldn’t be drawn on their content he said they covered a spectrum of “funny, serious and challenging” issues.
More recently, Mr Richardson was heavily involved in the development of the new Unipol.
Like the establishment of Campus Watch it came at a cost, but has added immensely to the quality of the student experience.
“We have over 600,000 visits a year from 20,000 on-campus students. That is superb.”
Similarly, he helped last year to establish the Student Volunteer Centre, which works to link students with organisations which need help and aims to see volunteering become part of mainstream University culture.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says the work of Student Services underpins what makes Otago so special.
“Students come not only to learn, but to live. And much of the growing they do during their precious few years with us involves stretching their wings and pushing their boundaries.
"I’m not regretful about finishing. I am coming up 68, and I don’t know what is around the corner. There are lots of things I want to do, and I can’t guarantee I will continue to be fit and healthy."
“The only reason that the whole place doesn’t descend into chaos is because people like David Richardson organise a small army of highly dedicated staff who stand steady and ready - guarding our students from harm, gently pushing back when necessary, providing support as required, and celebrating what is so life-affirming about young people.”
Mr Richardson says he has had a “wonderful innings” working for the University. “I’m not regretful about finishing. I am coming up 68, and I don’t know what is around the corner. There are lots of things I want to do, and I can’t guarantee I will continue to be fit and healthy.”
But he will miss it.
“I have had a great team of people around me, both those I report to and those I work with.”
And this team will miss him.
Director of the Pacific Islands Centre Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai says:
“Mr Richardson has played an important role in making the Centre a success. Having a Director that understood the cultural expectations and the university expectations on the Pacific students made it easier for the Centre to carry out its role. He was the guiding force on our annual operations and I will miss him dearly.”
Union General Manager Stephen Baughan says:
“David was a fantastic Director who added significant value to the range of services that the University Union has developed over the last 14 years. I wish him a very long and happy retirement.”
Director of Student Health Services Dr Kim Ma'ia'i says:
“David has been a genuine and compassionate boss with a steady and calm demeanour. He has students' welfare at heart. I've appreciated very much his support over the years and will miss his guidance.”
Karyn Thomson is the new Director of Student Services.