Lost Opportunities

In turbulent times, it seems natural that students at Andover, an institution of rich political lineage, should gravitate towards widespread political discourse and debate. And indeed, that logic has held true. Empowered students enjoy many opportunities for traditional, party-based political involvement both on and off campus. Our Democratic and Republican forums are enjoying record-high roster levels; public debates (the latest on Tuesday) between the groups see excellent attendance; both groups offer weekend campaign work and trips to meet prominent politicians; and the Commentary section of this paper is filled with opinions and debates on local, national, and international political issues. The revival of campus political buzz is also evidenced by the popularity of several issue-oriented societies recently founded: The Sweet Honey Society and Phillips Academy Environmental Conservation Society are only two of many widely-attended and well-funded groups of this nature. Andover’s students, and the faculty who advise, moderate, and often politically inform their students, should be applauded. Political participation is the ultimate end of democracy, and the ultimate in American ideals, but in a community where students and faculty alike live harried lives, the willingness to sacrifice precious time to pursue our causes and concerns is by no means inevitable. But while many students and faculty have assumed their mandate, the Academy administration has been less than eager in its support for student involvement in the most important of causes. More than a dozen students with Andover Young Democrats were denied the opportunity to meet with presidential candidate Howard Dean because the event would last into study hours – a decision curiously applied to Seniors as well as underclassmen, though Seniors do not observe 8 p.m. sign-in. The administration’s recent creation of a Political Speakers Committee stands out as well-intended. However, it seems to be a poorly conceived apparatus whose bureaucratic structure and unwieldy nature may ultimately hinder, not benefit, its cause. And perhaps the simplest and most rudimentary indicator of all: the school makes no concessions for students to vote on Election Day, meaning that many eligible students are unable to attend the polls because of required commitments throughout the day. If we are to achieve the level of political discourse and involvement which our school’s history and our students’ behavior suggest we must, the administration of Phillips Academy must achieve more flexibility in its protocol to facilitate this. Politics, perhaps more than any other, will forever remain a fluid world. Though Andover students are blessed with opportunity many high-school students can only imagine, chances to meet the movers and shakers of the world do not fit neatly into evening time before study hours, nor are prominent politicians who have offered to visit our campus able to wait the weeks our bureaucracy requires to approve the engagement. Andover students display exceptional passion for politics, but turning our interest into real involvement in our nation’s political processes will require more flexibility and understanding on our administration’s part. Its failures have arisen out of the best intentions – notably the bureaucratic tendencies of any institution and unwillingness to exacerbate further students’ pace of life – but are sorely misguided. The administration’s continued failure to recognize this will mean only lost opportunities and disenchantment among our students, the future leaders of our world.