Putting Criticism in Context

On April 27, The Phillipian printed an editorial titled “Focus on Student Issues,” which brought up a number of the Academy’s shortcomings. The issues discussed, including the student-administrative rift, academic advising, the grading discrepancy, house counseling and cluster sports, all necessitate campus-wide discussion and meaningful change. But occasionally it is important to put this criticism in context. In the 1992 Commencement issue of The Phillipian, Student Council Presidents Dylan Seff (’91-’92) and William Tong (’90-’91) wrote a warning to the Phillips Academy community that PA was “falling rapidly downward.” The editorial, titled “Warning!,” bluntly described the tenuous state of the academy. Just as the graduating class of 1991 was getting ready to leave, the two Presidents claimed that “a huge number of graduates…have no intention of giving money because they are disappointed with the school.” Seff and Tong wrote that some teachers were “truly not interested in their students or their coursework,” calling for these teachers to be fired. They also referred to an increase in drug and alcohol use as a reflection of student malaise. Furthermore, Seff and Tong cited three attempted suicides and an alleged rape as evidence of their claims. According to these leaders, the school was in a dismal state. Whether or not Seff and Tong had portrayed the school accurately, the place they described is not the academy we know. Seff and Tong based their claims primarily on personal observations, but we may use a better methodology. According to The Phillipian’s 2008 State of the Academy survey, 91% of students are happy they came to Andover, and 73% said they would give money as alumni. Of students who responded, 95% said they had never used hard drugs and 84% said they had never consumed alcohol on campus. Approximately 89% PA students reported that their teachers were concerned with their academic performance. If these students have any sense of things, this school is nothing like it was when Seff and Tong wrote. Certainly, there are concerning issues to deal with, and these “administrative bumblings” need to be addressed. But if, in the insanity of Andover life, these are our greatest concerns, then PA must be doing pretty well. Life at Andover is not perfect; in fact, it deserves constant scrutiny. But keep criticism in context. No one is jumping out of windows. Students love their teachers, mostly stay away from drugs and alcohol, work hard and look forward to extremely bright futures. We have a nurturing community that fosters independence, confidence and, on occasion, non sibi. With this context established, we may move forward. This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board.