Student Rights in the Disciplinary Process

The “Major Rules” section of The Blue Book states that “the use or possession of alcoholic beverages” on or off campus will result in a “formal disciplinary response”. Additionally, if a student is caught lying during disciplinary investigations, no matter how long after the alleged event, he is subject to a discipline committee. As the number of Disciplinary Committee hearings increase, it is time to closely examine the process in order to understand the set of rights bestowed upon students of Phillips Academy. Some students have become concerned recently not only with the approach of the deans to such incidents, but also about certain rights that they deserve. When confronted by cluster deans or faculty members, students should have the option of withholding potentially incriminating information. During Winter Term, a student who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the discipline process was approached by a senior faculty member about a drinking incident. This faculty member claimed to know that the student had been drinking and implied that if the student did not confess, he would face a DC for lying. The student called this “an issue of entrapment that really needs to be dealt with.” Even though the student never felt threatened by the faculty member, he related, “I had no way of knowing if the faculty member knew exactly all that he said he did.” This student did not lie but others have. It is a basic right that our country, the United States, has held together since the constitution was written. People in the USA do not have to incriminate themselves. The school reserves its right as a private institution to make their own rules on campus, but we must always consider the certain benefits that the right to avoid self-incrimination provides. Students should be able to protect themselves if they feel that accusations are based on suspicion alone. The right to avoid self-incrimination should not be enforced to save students from trouble, but to stop them from thinking that lying in a difficult situation is right, because there have been multiple times where a student has lied so that he will not be subject to further disciplinary trouble. Now the Blue Book states on page 27 that “when a rule is violated, a faculty or staff member will normally confront the student with the suspicion or evidence of the rule violation and ask for a response.” Students should not be pressured into admitting their guilt by overzealous faculty members and deans. The role of the faculty at Andover is to protect students from hurting themselves, not to seek out rule-breaking students. I understand that the faculty faces seniors who drink, as it is not abnormal for 18 year olds to experiment with alcohol. The disciplinary system should not be about getting students in trouble, but about helping students and teaching the life lessons and “education” that the Blue Book says is “the focus of our disciplinary system.” Of course not all students feel this negatively about thier DC experiences. Recently when a student, who asked to remain anonymous, got in trouble for drinking off-campus, he was “very impressed” by the way his cluster dean handled his case, but still felt that the facts that were used against him were not portrayed correctly. Still the student did not feel like he was treated unfairly. Instead of coming and accusing the student of consuming alcohol, the dean asked him if he did and gave him the chance to come clean. In another case, a senior boy was accused of dialing an Andover student from off campus while under the influence of alcohol. The student says that he did not consume alcohol that weekend and his phone records, which he willingly presented to the faculty investigation the accusation, corroborated his story completely. Although the sixth amendment explicitly states that the accused “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him,” the faculty member investigating the case adamantly refused to reveal the identity of the accuser. Further investigation led the faculty member to find the source of information completely unsubstantiated. The student still does not know the identity of his faculty accuser or why the accusations were made. There is the potential for students to lie in situations where they feel that the accusations brought against them are only substantiated by suspicion or rumor. But students who are caught later face discipline committee hearings for the double allegation of lying and drinking, which may result in expulsion. I think that in either case, the student should not have to jeopardize their reputation and their word. They should be able to not incriminate themselves or their peers and make the dean come forward with true facts or observations. The Blue Book says that the student will be asked for a response. But must the student give the response? There is no way for them to get out of trouble besides lying. For many students this is the easy way out: if they are caught they may be taught a lesson by being expelled, but others will get away with it and live their life knowing that they successfully lied. Is that not the opposite of Andover’s philosophy of shaping honest, upstanding people? Disciplinary responses should encourage personal growth and acceptance of responsibility, but if students are lying and some are getting away with it, then the DC system involving honesty is not working. The right to avoid self-incrimination would help to guarantee that the student does not lie initially because they are immediately asked for a response. This is a problem that must be further dealt with by a joint study by student council and deans’ table.