Honesty Is the Best Policy: The Blue

My sister is learning how to tap dance. A few nights ago, after her second class, she asked me to tell her what I thought of her new moves. After seeing them, I proclaimed that it was the most amazing performance I had ever seen. But even if I had been a world-renowned tap dancing specialist and I had heard thousands of better performances, I would still have made the same judgment about her performance. I was always taught to be honest. But, honestly, the truth is a tricky matter. On one hand, some people’s integrity is based on the principle that the truth is always better than a lie. But there are always situations when stretching the truth is preferential to hurting someone’s feelings. But no matter what your definition of honesty is, I can assure you that the Disciplinary Committee system’s definition is quite different. According to PA’s new policy on “cooperation,” students are expected to aid in their own demise. In response to concerns about that possibility, Dean of Students Marlys Edwards sent an all-school e-mail that clarified, “although it is sometimes difficult for a student to admit to involvement in a rule violation, [we of the administration] have not ever had a student who has not cooperated when asked to do so.” However, the implications of this statement bring up the cardinal problem with the current disciplinary process: if a student is assumed guilty, he must automatically attend a DC meeting in which the school seeks to find the rule infraction the student has committed and decide on an appropriate response. The guidelines will leave students who truly are innocent of an alleged infraction in more trouble, because the committee will mistake the student’s attempt at defending himself for an act of an “uncooperative” nature. In effect, the student would be “guilty” of two Blue Book violations: the initial alleged violation and his own defense. All in all, the “cooperation” issue would be resolved if one more statement was added to the discipline section of The Blue Book: that a student who proclaims his own innocence is not behaving in an “uncooperative” manner. It’s true that a Disciplinary Committee can’t require students to reveal certain details, such as with whom you were breaking a rule. But while your expectations in a DC meeting are incredibly strict and defined, the committee’s are not so. For example, most cluster deans will ask a student in a substance abuse situation, “Do you and your friends do this sort of thing often?” And, because most cluster deans have at least a sense of whom certain kids hang out with, that question is really the same as, “Who was with you?” This subversion of the system is entirely dishonest on the administration’s part. If the school wants honesty from us, why doesn’t it demand honesty from the committees? Before my DC, I was given the great advice by the faculty around me that honesty would be the key to my salvation during a DC meeting, and this seems to be sound advice. I was a strong advocate of the Student’s Bill of Rights, a document written by former Upper Representative Will Scharf ’04 on behalf of the Student Council that outlined the basic rights of each student and included clauses about honesty relating to both the student and the committee. Alas, last winter, the administration waited until there were no student representatives present and then voted down the Student’s Bill of Rights. The clauses of that bill, in fact, were nothing more than the unwritten guidelines that students, faculty and administrators have always agreed upon. For that reason, it seems baffling that it would be voted down. The situation is getting worse. Phillips Academy is becoming more and more conservative in its policies towards students and their activities—more businesslike and less personal. Faculty who regularly stand up for students as Cluster DC Faculty Representatives are no longer asked to be on Disciplinary Committees. Students who truly have partaken in no rule breaking are found innocent in their DC meetings and, because there is no such thing as a “no punishment verdict” in the system, are censured. Students who attempt to defend themselves will be deemed “uncooperative,” and thus, according to the new rule, be in yet more trouble.