Communication Breakdown

Recently, I discussed with several faculty members the idea of instituting a regular forum at which PA students can interact with the faculty and administration. Like many of my peers, I sense, regrettably, that the student body is more and more disengaged from the decision-making process on campus, and I see a growing disconnect between students and the “adult bureaucracy.” This is an idea I have trouble grappling with; I am on cordial and open terms with the all of my previous and current teachers, my house counselors, and particularly my complementary counselors. Furthermore, I have easily been able to contact the department heads, the deans, and even the head-of-school. However, often these conversations about school changes and my analysis on Andover politics in general exist only between a particular faculty member and myself. While such an exchange in itself is thought-provoking and valuable, none of the ideas addressed will ever be seriously addressed by those on campus with the power to make decisions. My intuition tells me that I am not the only student who feels denied the right to offer insights to those in charge. While student council may assemble an infrequent “School Congress,” which is a rare opportunity to address the PA faculty directly, all students ought to have the right to meet and converse with those who fundamentally control the school’s affairs and policies. It’s outrageous that interested PA students, who supposedly exemplify the academy’s principles, are not consulted about future plans that will have a profound impact on the entire student body. When students matriculate at Phillips Academy, they essentially sign a mutual contract pledging to abide by the academic and behavioral standards of Phillips Academy. And by virtue of their agreement, students, in my estimation, must have the inherent right to at least engage in a lively and continual dialogue with faculty and administrators in an effort to convey the student perspective on issues. While the school’s efforts to financially support campus leaders and organizations are praiseworthy and healthy for the institution, this is only one product of the PA equation. The second aspect, engaging the PA student body, requires more attention. Here, the school could do a better job to facilitate an ongoing dialogue relating to the important issues affecting the community. From my observations, students too are vigorously devoted to the philosophical framework and mission of the academy. As the Strategic Plan is undergoing intense review, why can’t students actively propose amendments to help further define the mission of the school or to suggest possible alterations to the curriculum? All polling of the student-body, as well as the vast majority of my conversations, indicate that students universally agree that there should not be as many requirements on their academic schedules. An idea I’ve proposed for revising the curriculum is to permit English and history students to enroll in elective-style courses at an earlier level after basic courses in the 100 and 200 sequences (as Juniors and Lowers). In this model, passionate students can explore their interests in intensive electives and still learn the fundamental skills that they would in the currently mandatory classes. English 300, for instance, could be taught in specific sections that appeal to students’ particular tastes in literature and writing. There are more elective courses now, in English, history, and other disciplines, than I can count. Why not actually utilize the electives that presently exist in the PA Course of Study – and what sometimes, at least from my conversations with upperclassmen, are inaccessible to Seniors or Uppers who are still restricted by their requirements? The present faculty/administration debate on course requirements has centered on the possibility of eliminating or reducing art, music, or theatre requirements. This is not the only solution. Why not foster an inclusive conversation, where a multitude of innovative, diverse, and intelligent proposals are addressed? There are other tremendous benefits that would result from students, faculty, and administrators interacting with each other. For one thing, all three groups can develop a better understanding of each others’ positions and opinions. According to The Phillipian, the illegal abuse of substances is rising among the student body. By virtue of a student’s enrollment at PA, he or she must abide by the legal and moral values expected by The Blue Book. This rule-breaking degrades the academy’s name. More importantly, however, a large-scale “drug bust” or rule violation scandal would prove devastating for the academy and might indefinitely haunt relations between all members of the school community. So why, amidst this, do the majority of students — who abide by the rules — faculty, and administrators, sit complacently, even as they recognize the disturbing reality of the possible repercussions of a major disciplinary scandal? The long term consequences of an uncommunicative relationship between students and administrators will be detrimental over time. In turn, the school will be unable to satisfactorily resolve difficult problems within the academy. The alternative is gradually developing stronger relations through constant dialogue. Unfortunately, according to a number of teachers with whom I’ve spoken, the administration is largely ignoring the faculty’s call to engage in a discussion about pertinent campus issues. This was apparent after the administration decided to alter the academy’s academic calendar without seeking the approval of faculty members. So, I’d say to students and faculty alike that creating a new PA forum might be the ideal to unify the community. Such forums could stand to resolve both the everyday and more complex difficulties and concerns that members of the community encounter. I wholeheartedly believe that there is a pressing need on the part the entire PA community to move past the bureaucracy and to reach for a healthier and more direct dialogue.