Committee Considers Central DCs

Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students, and Chad Green, West Quad North Cluster Dean, will lead a Discipline Committee Working Group to analyze the current cluster-based disciplinary system and explore the possibility of converting to a centralized disciplinary system. The group will investigate the disciplinary systems of other peer schools and gather feedback from students and faculty to determine whether or not the current system could be adjusted to best serve the Andover community. The research is scheduled to be completed by the end of October, at which time the group will either decide to keep the current system or investigate possible revisions. Mr. Green will also review the system’s history through a discussion with School Archivist Ruth Quattlebaum. The committee will keep the community informed on its ongoing progress and hopes to reach an ultimate decision sometime before student government elections this spring. Three of the group’s eight members are students: Pine Knoll Senior Representative Akosua Oforiwaa-Ayim ’07, Flagstaff Cluster President Sarah Dewey ’07, and West Quad North Cluster President Michael Jiang ’07. Other members include House Counselor Committee members Fernando Alonso, Instructor in Math, and Kristen Johnson, Instructor in Biology, and Pine Knoll Faculty Discipline Committee Representative Henry Wilmer. The administration is mainly concerned with inconsistencies in the current system, as students in different clusters have received different punishments for the same offenses. According to Ms. Edwards, confidential circumstances always affect these decisions. The current system’s strength rests in its ability to adapt to the individual needs of each student. Since discipline is cluster-based, the DC is more likely to consist of students and faculty who know the offending student better than a school-wide system would. However, some consider the personal nature of the cluster disciplinary system a hindrance to its fairness. One might argue that knowing a student personally can help make a more informed a decision on punishment, but one could also argue that students with stronger in-cluster relationships might have an advantage in their DC hearing. Some peer schools have central disciplinary committees that meet only to discuss cases of possible expulsion. Deans or equivalent faculty members handle less severe cases. Ms. Edwards said, “I think that sitting [through] a DC has become a pedagogical part of a process that’s really important to [help students] learn from [their] mistakes.” Mr. Green said, “My personal take on [the central DC] is that [it’s] not a system…I would support at this particular institution. As a Cluster Dean I very much value the committee’s experience in weighting the response to rule infraction, and the student input, for example, I think is very important.” The group plans to gather further details through discussions with students and faculty at peer schools. The investigation will focus on schools of similar size, such as Choate Rosemary Hall, Lawrenceville, Exeter, and Loomis Chaffee. Mr. Green said, “I’m really curious to see more [about] what’s happening at other schools and how that’s different from here. I’ve only glanced at a couple of different schools in terms of their written material. [At] the schools I’ve looked at, there’s not a comparable DC system.” PA’s current system began in 1970, when the administration first divided the school into six clusters. According to a 1975 Phillipian article, students viewed the previous, centralized system as a harsher process that was unfair because administrators did not investigate specifics of each offense. However, students were also aware of the possible inconsistencies in a cluster-based disciplinary system, and the Academy explored the option of centralizing the system as early as 1975. In the same 1975 Phillipian article, Pine Knoll Cluster President Rich Pietrafesa ’75 mused that there were fair circumstances in which two students could receive two different punishments for the same offense. Pietrafesa cited an extreme family situation as a reason why someone might be allowed to stay on after committing an offense worthy of dismissal. And so the decades-old debate continues, with the same issues at the forefront. The main issue is weighing the importance of having personalized punishments versus concrete punishments for every offense. Although a centralized system may seem more just, many are still debating whether the circumstances surrounding a particular offense should make that offense more or less severe. Former Head of School Ted Sizer said in 1975, “It is important to remember that equal punishment does not necessarily mean equal justice.”