Silk and Dean of Studies Plan Advisory Group

Danny Silk ’07, School President, and John Rogers, Dean of Studies, are planning a new group to increase student input in administrative decisions, the Academic Advisory Committee. It will work to maintain constant dialogue between the administration and students, to insure that students have a voice in the administration other than Student Council. Silk said that he came up with the idea while “talking over the summer to [Betsy] Korn, the Assistant Dean of Advising, and one big thing we found out is that there is no student group for the administration to turn to. For instance, last spring there were three pretty big issues voted on by faculty that didn’t have a lot of student input.” Silk was referring to the choice of a new academic calendar, the decision to replace finals week with assessment week, and the combination of the Abbot Scholars program with independent projects. Mr. Rogers agreed that constant conversation between the students and faculty is important, and helps avoid to conflict and disputes on campus. “From my perspective, it would be great to have a standing committee of students who could give input on academic matters,” he said.  He continued, “Because we live in dorms and coach and work so closely with students in our classes, we often have a sense of what students think and feel, but it is very useful to have a group that can explicitly provide opinion and answer questions.” The committee will consist of one Junior, one Lower, two Uppers, and three Seniors, all appointed by the Student Council. There is still the question of why a third committee is necessary, when Phillips Academy already has the Cluster Councils and Student Council as a means for students to voice their opinions. However, many students consider these established forms of student government ineffective. “I’m hoping we’ll get some things done this year. We’re not here just to say what we want and hear ‘No,’” said Silk. When asked about the same issue, Mr. Rogers said, “The role of students is strictly advisory, and faculty will consider what students believe very carefully.  Of course, we may not always agree, but we should be clear about what students are saying and thinking before we make our decisions.” The Academic Advisory Committee will also work with the Academic Council, which is comprised of all the department and division heads on campus. When the chairs are deciding about curriculums and course requirements, students would be able to proved feedback through the committee. However, perhaps the most useful function of the Student Advisory Committee will be its role as an alternative way to communicate a problem about a teacher or curriculum. Silk said, “[For example] say you have a class and the teacher is consistently giving two hours of homework a night in a forty-five-minute per night class. You say to him, ‘I can’t get it all done,’ and the teacher doesn’t change anything. Going to the department head can be very intimidating. And it’s even worse when your teacher is the department head. “The student would then be able to go to this group, tell them the problem, and the committee would help the student maybe approach it in a different way. The Student Advisory Committee can also bring [the problem] to the Dean of Studies. He continued, “One uncertainty I have is that because the group is going to work with students a lot, I don’t want it to be just a place to complain about teachers. I’m hoping it will be about real issues and serious problems. I hope kids won’t abuse that part of the committee.” While the idea is still in its formative stages, according Mr. Rogers, it should formally begin by next year. The current 2006-2007 school year will be a trial year for the Academic Advisory Committee, and if all goes well, it will be established as an institution at Phillips Academy.