Faculty Votes In Favor of Breathalyzer

The Phillips Academy faculty has voted in support of acquiring a breathalyzer as well as retaining the “in-the-presence-of” policy. They met last Thursday to discuss the current school drug policy and the possibility of bringing a breathalyzer to campus. Members of the faculty debated whether or not to allow the use of a breathalyzer or a urine test to determine if a student is intoxicated. This was the first time members of the faculty formally shared their opinions on the topic. Mark Efinger, Instructor in Theatre and Dance, noted that the atmosphere in the meeting was very tense. Efinger said, “It is something that we all really care about…This time there was more involvement, commentary and honest listening to different opinions.” According to Kathleen Dalton, Instructor in History, about 90 faculty members voted in favor of the implementation of this policy, while about 30 faculty members opposed it. Some faculty members chose to abstain. They also voted to keep the “in-the-presence-of” policy, meaning that if a student is caught in a situation where there has been substance abuse, he or she will face a meeting with the Disciplinary Committee. The policy presented to the faculty at the meeting stated that if a student denies having used an illegal substance, two faculty members will have to agree that a student is under the influence in order for the school to have the right to require that he or she take a breathalyzer or urine test. Administrators have consulted with lawyers to help judge whether or not this will be effective in strengthening their substance abuse policy. Many of the faculty members in opposition believe that implementing the policy will violate the student’s liberties, as well as negatively affect the level of trust and relationship between the students and the administration. Those who are in favor of the policy believe that if and when a student is asked to take a breathalyzer or urine test, those who were not abusing a substance will have the opportunity to prove their innocence. Andover is a private institution, with the right to discipline any student they believe has has acted inappropriately, and the new policy will clarify a dean’s intentions when punishing a student. Head of School Barbara Chase said, “The moral and intellectual developments of our students, as well as their health and safety are our highest responsibilities. Whenever we, the adults who care about [our students], discuss matters in this realm, we take it very seriously indeed.” Mr. Efinger believes that the policy will help promote honesty among students. “There will be others who will cherish the fact that other kids cannot get away with lying. More students hate the inequity of punishments than the fear of being found out,” he said. Efinger believes that in our current system, honesty is punished because students which come forth and admit improper actions are given the same punishment as those who do not. He also said that the meetinwg was especially controversial because at most of the faculty meetings, they vote unanimously, but this time they were very far from that. Ms. Dalton, who is opposed to bringing a breathalyzer to campus, said, “I appreciate the good intentions and attempt to be fair on the part of the framers of this drug testing proposal, but I oppose it for reasons of political principle and my belief that an educational institution should not violate civil liberties of students.” She expressed concern about the relationship a policy like this will create between students and faculty. “Do we want to concede that they lie to us so much that we have to resort to testing them? Are there no other ways to deal with rule violations?” asked Ms. Dalton. Peter Washburn, West Quad South Cluster Dean, said that the deans created the breathalyzer policy with the intention of hopefully never having to use it. According to Mr. Washburn, the deans feel that they would never have a reason to actually give a breathalyzer test because the threat of being caught lying would persuade students to tell the truth, therefore a breathalyzer would only serve as a way to get information. “In our minds, things have not changed since we first presented the plan. What we were thinking and what the faculty may be thinking are very, very different things,” said Washburn. Many of the boarding schools of with which Phillips Academy is associated have their own substance abuse policies that involve the use of a breathalyzer and/or a urine test, including Phillips Exeter Academy. The Phillips Academy administration has taken into account how the policies have worked at each of the schools and used them to help create a policy appropriate for Andover.